Food and religion seem to me to go hand and hand. My dad’s family is Jewish and my mom’s is Christian, so my brother and I were raised celebrating holidays from both religions. (And no, this does not mean twice the presents. It just means half the presents twice.) Except for some family bar/bat mitzvahs, we never set foot in a church or temple. Sometimes I’ve wished that I had that connection to religion, but after living satisfactorily for so long without it, I doubt I’ll ever form one. Since my religious exertion extends only as far as my phonetic memorization of the Hanukah prayers, pretty much all I know about religion boils down to what we eat and when.
If I have to check a box on a form about religion, I usually just check ‘other.’ But I consider myself a Food Jew, which means I go to celebrations for Passover (Seder), Rosh Hashanah, Hanukah, and Yom Kippur, and stuff myself silly with whatever we’re supposed to eat.
Passover has always been my favorite—one long meal: who can complain? Though I’m not a fan of gifelte fish, matzoh ball soup ranks high on the list of foods I love, and I may be the only person in the world who enjoys Manischewitz wine.
I grew up going to various Jewish celebrations that rotated among the houses of my grandparents’ friends. My brother and I were the only kids for a long time, so we got silver dollars and two-dollar bills for finding the hidden matzoh on Passover, and we got lots of attention in general.
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, was about two weeks ago. On Rosh Hashanah, there aren’t any rules, so it’s pretty much an eating free-for-all. We went over to Nana and Papa’s house for some matzoh ball soup and Nana’s brisket.
Nana’s brisket is not at all like the thirteen-pound behemoth I recently featured. Hers is cooked in the oven with some carrots and I think some Coke (the soft drink, not the drug).
Those carrots may be the best part of the brisket.
Nana also indulged me an let me make dessert. I’ve wanted to make bread pudding for a long time, and since Papa is a bread pudding lover, I went for it. I made some challah a few days beforehand, and while I let it get a little bit stale, I agonized over what kind of bread pudding I wanted to make. There were so many options, so many different ratios of bread to custard. Oy! I got so ferklempt I thought I was gonna plotz!
Eventually I made my own recipe by fusing together two recipes. The bread pudding came out soft and squishy, but it still had a bread-y texture as opposed to a pudding-y one, which I preferred. It was so good Nana even liked it, and she hates pudding fervently (along with raisins, runny egg yolks, and a lot of other things I can’t remember). Score one for ellis!
This past Thursday (technically Wednesday at sundown) was Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, when you fast from sundown Wednesday to sundown Thursday and then break the fast Thursday night. I managed to fast from lunch to dinner. Does that count? Bad Jew!
The fast breaking was held at the house of some of Nana and Papa’s friends, and the hostess was gracious enough to give me the responsibility of bringing crackers, hummus, and a dessert. So I just went to the store and bought a brownie mix and some hummus and Wheat Thins.
Yeah, right. What could have been done in an afternoon was actually a week-long process, in which I vetted ideas and agonized over which desserts to make. I wasn’t just going to make a pan of brownies. Oh no. No no no. I have on loan three of Rose Levy Bernbaum’s baking books: The Cake Bible, The Pie and Pastry Bible, and her Christmas cookie book. I was no about to let those go to waste.
I went through eight sticks of butter in two days. I felt like Paula Deen.
I made two batches of Rose’s brownie puddle, bittersweet chocolate brownies with chocolate and cocoa powder, and some cream cheese for moisture. Then when the cookies finish baking, you make holes in the top with a wooden spoon and dribble in some chocolate ganache. These are brownies the hard way.
I don’t know if it’s worth it; my aversion to chocolate makes me a rather biased critic.
They gave me a bit of a headache, too. First I seemed to lose all ability to count tablespoons of butter; somehow I tricked myself into thinking that there were ten tablespoons to a stick instead of eight and had to throw out the first chocolate-butter mix. Then my first batch would NOT bake through in the center but the outsides were done. I blame this on using the wrong pan. I did not make that mistake on the second batch, which came out just fine.
Then I moved on to silver-dollar-sized ginger molasses cookies into which I forgot to add the molasses, what some may call a key ingredient. I realized this just as I was about to pipe them on to the baking sheet, so I had to take the dough out, beat in the molasses after I had already beaten in the flour (over beating flour gives cookies wrong texture). You can see where some of the un-molasses-ed dough stayed in the bag and didn’t mix with the molasses. These are the skunk cookies.
They still tasted wonderful. While I though that they were just a touch sweet, they were a hit at the party.
Next I churned out some bars that have a chocolate shortbread base, an orange curd topping, and a little drizzle of a chocolate-Grand Marnier ganache.
Though my drizzling skills need a little work, these went smoothly even though it was my first time making curd.
As you can see I’m one of those clean-as-you-go cooks.
No messy kitchens around here.
Oh, yes. I am also one of those crazy people who makes her own crackers. The most recent Daring Bakers challenge was lavash crackers, so I just took the recipe the participants used and made that. I didn’t think it was too hard or time consuming, as long as you have the time to knead the dough for ten minutes and then roll it out into thin sheets.
But I do. Oh, I have time time, nothing but.
And in case you’re wondering why the hell I’m not in China already, well. I was told it would be a few weeks, which I took to mean less than four, but it actually meant six to eight. So while we wait for all the paper work (oh, bureaucracy), I’m supposedly on track for a mid-November departure.
Pumpkin Bread Pudding
10 cups cubed, slightly stale challah
2 cups whole milk
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
¾ cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
pinch ground cloves
3 tablespoons bourbon
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and put the rack in the middle.
Whisk together everything except the bread in a bowl. Fold in the bread cubes. Transfer everything to an 11”x17” glass baking dish. Let it stand for fifteen minutes. Bake about 40 minutes or until the custard has set.
You could also add raisins or other dried fruit to this, or make up a little caramel sauce to serve on top of it. It’s pretty flexible.America, baking, butter, dessert, recipes