Spice up your Life!

I decided to try something new for a change. I have been wanting to play around with warka leaves for sometime now. Warka leaves are a very thin pastry, thinner than phyllo which are used to make Maghrebi savoury and sweet pastries, such as beestiya and cigars. For an good explanation of warka and Algerian cuisine, see my friend, Chef Zadi’s blog.

I also made some clove-cinnamon ice cream. I really love the flavour of cloves and thought it would be an excellent compliment to the peach briwatt. It was. As usual, I doubled the amount of cloves and used about 9 cinnamon sticks. My husband loved the strong clove flavour, but you might want to follow the recipe the first time unless you are a spice junkie like me.

Cinnamon-Clove Ice Cream

Yield: About 1 liter (quart)

2 cups whole milk

2 cups whipping cream

1 cup sugar

6 whole cinnamon sticks

16 whole cloves, slightly crushed

8 large egg yolks

Combine milk, cream, 1/2 cup sugar, cinnamon and cloves in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Cover; steep 1 hour. Then, strain the milk mixture and put back in a clean saucepan.

Whisk yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in bowl until well blended. Bring milk mixture to simmer. Gradually whisk hot milk mixture into yolk mixture; return to same pan. Stir over medium-low heat until custard thickens and leaves path on back of spoon when finger is drawn across (do not boil). Strain into another medium bowl; chill uncovered until cold, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours.

Process chilled custard in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer ice cream to container; cover and freeze. (Can be prepared 3 days ahead. Keep frozen.)


My husband thought the the peach flavour was a bit too subtle for the ice cream, but I liked it. You can use any fruit of your choice, but if you use a harder fruit, such as apple, you might want to sautée them before placing them in the pastry.

Peach Birwatt

Serving Size: 2

2 warka leaves (also known as brik, brick, dioul and malsouqa)

1 peach, peeled, halved and cut into thin slices

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon ras al hanout or cinnamon

Sliced almonds

50 g butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

Thaw out two warka leaves and cover them until ready to use. Place one warka leave on a flat surface and place the slices of one half of the peach onto the bottom half of the warka leaf. Sprinkle some sliced almonds, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of ras al hanout or cinnamon on the peaches. Dot with a pat of butter.

Brush water on the edges of the warka and fold the bottom edge over the peaches and then the sides. The, roll the parcel up until you have a burrito or blintz shape.

Melt the butter and the olive oil in a medium heat pan and fry the parcels until lightly brown on either side. Serve warm with ice cream.


Passover Desserts

As Pesach is fast approaching, I have decided on what desserts I am going to make to make this year: Chocolate-Pistachio Cake and the Orange-Ginger Cake (See Passover Preparations).

This pistachio cake is based on a recipe from Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, Italian Easy: Recipes from the River Cafe. It is a very easy cake to make. I would prefer to make it with butter, but I must make a parve cake for Passover.

Normally, I do not like Passover cakes made with matza meal, but this cake only calls for 1/2 cup and you really don’t notice it. Substitute with flour when it is not Passover.

Since the Passover hostess is a chocoholic, I am covering the cake with a bittersweet chocolate glaze, but the original recipe is served plain with a lemon glaze.

Chocolate Pistachio Cake

Serving Size: 8 to 10

For the cake:

250g (2-1/4 sticks) unsalted butter or margarine

1 lemon

1 vanilla bean or equivalent of vanilla paste

150g (2/3 cup) blanched almonds

170 g (3/4 cup) pistachios

1-1/4 cups superfine sugar

4 eggs

1/2 cup matza cake flour

For the lemon topping:

1 lemon

113g (1/2 cup) pistachios

1/4 cup superfine sugar

For the chocolate glaze:

85g (3 oz) fine-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

85g (3/4 stick) margarine or butter, cut into pieces

57g (1/4 cup) ground pistachios

Make the cake

Heat the oven to 300°F (150°C). Grease a 9-inch (22cm) springform pan with 4 teaspoons of the butter and line with baking parchment.

Soften the remaining margarine or butter. Finely grate the lemon peel. Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Finely grind the almonds and pistachios together.

Beat the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the lemon peel and vanilla seeds, then fold in the nuts and sift in the flour.

Spoon the batter into the pan and bake for 45-60 minutes. The cake is ready when a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool in the pan, then turn out.

Make the lemon topping

Grate the lemon peel and squeeze the juice. Halve the pistachios.

Mix the lemon juice with the sugar, boil until reduced to a syrup, then add the peel. Stir in the pistachios and pour over the cake.

Make the chocolate glaze

Melt chocolate with 1 tablespoon butter in a small heavy saucepan over very low heat, stirring. Remove from heat and add remaining 5 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring until smooth.

Transfer the glaze to a bowl and chill, covered, until slightly thickened and spreadable, about 30 minutes.

Spread the glaze over cake with a small metal spatula. Sprinkle pistachios on the top and sides of the cake.



The other cake I considered making this year is another favourite of mine. It is a spice cake with a chocolate glaze. Simple and delicious. I do not remember where I got this recipe.

Chocolate Almond Torte
For the cake:

1/2 cup sugar plus additional for dusting

400g (1-3/4 cups ) finely ground almonds

85g (3 oz) fine-quality bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, coarsely grated

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

5 large egg yolks

2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest

4 large egg whites

1/2 teaspoon salt

For the chocolate icing:

85g (3 oz) fine-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

85g (3/4 stick) margarine or butter, cut into pieces

75g (1/3 cup) sliced almonds

22cm (9-inch) cake pan or springform pan ( I use a springform)

For the cake:

Preheat oven to 180C (350°F). Butter pan and dust with sugar, knocking out excess.

Stir together ground almonds, chocolate, and spices in a bowl. Beat yolks with 1/4 cup sugar in another bowl with an electric mixer until thick and pale, then beat in zest.

Beat whites with salt with cleaned beaters in a large bowl until they just hold soft peaks. Gradually beat in remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until whites just hold stiff peaks.

Stir one third of whites into yolk mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites in 2 more batches. Fold in ground almond mixture.

Pour batter into mold and bake in middle of oven until golden and a tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool cake in mold on a rack 10 minutes, then invert onto rack and cool completely.

For the chocolate icing:

Melt chocolate with 1 tablespoon margarine in a small heavy saucepan over very low heat, stirring. Remove from heat and add remaining 5 tablespoons margarine, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring until smooth. Transfer icing to a bowl and chill, covered, until slightly thickened and spreadable, about 30 minutes.

Spread icing over cake with a small metal spatula. Sprinkle almonds on the top and sides of the cake. Chill cake until icing is set, at least 1 hour. Transfer cake to a platter and bring to room temperature before serving.


Your Great-Great Grandfather’s House is Still Standing!

These are the words of an email that I read in shock last April.

I received an email via JewishGen from a man from my paternal great-grandmother’s hometown, Giershagen, Hochsauerland, Nord Rhein-Westphalia, Germany. He asked if he could be of assistance and I wrote him back. We exchanged a few emails and after I explained who I was and which relative lived in Giershagen he proceeded to tell me that my great-great-grandfather’s house and the synagogue that he attended are still standing. I cried. I lived in Germany for two-half years, rather close to Giershagen and never went there. Okay, I was young and stupid.

Since my job takes me to Germany every 3-4 months, I decided on the next trip I would drive up to Giershagen. Fortunately, my husband was able to join me for the weekend.

David and I drove for almost 3 hours to the beautiful Hochsauerland village of Olsberg and stayed at a lovely hotel recommended by our host, Wolfgang.

Olsberg is 30km from Giershagen. While we were driving on dark winding roads at night, my husband remarked, “Leave it to your family to live in the middle of nowhere!”, but when he woke up the next morning and saw the beauty of the area, he said that he understood why our family lived here. It is green and hilly and really picturesque.

Wolfgang met us at our hotel for breakfast and then our journey began. First, at his lovely home, where he showed me letters, newspaper clippings and photographs of the area. Some of the letters were quite humorous. One of them was from a woman originally from Giershagen who heard from a distant relative that one of my great aunts had grown very fat! It reminded me of living in my hometown.

We then stopped in the village of Padberg to see the synagogue where my great-great grandfather, nicknamed Chicken Opa, prayed and had to walk 7km one way to get to. I found out that he would walk to synagogue and walk right back. Walking 7 km was “no big deal” back then. We walk 2 km to our synagogue.

The synagogue is the oldest half-timbered (fachwerk) synagogue in Westphalia, first mentioned in 1751, and is on the property of a local farmer. The Jews in Beringhausen, Giershagen, Helminghausen, Madfeld, Messinghausen and Roesenbeck were all members of the Padberg synagogue.

The synagogue is so tiny. Maybe 30 men could sit on the ground floor and 15 women on the top floor. It was quite emotional being in the synagogue, I could almost see people praying there…I felt their presence. The synagogue survived Kristalnacht in 1939 because the building was sold in 1932 when the congregation could no longer get a minyan together. The synagogue was made into a memorial and small museum in 1999. Some of the prayer books, a mezuzah and other artifacts are on display.

After looking at all of the pictures, architectural drawings and prayer books in the synagogue we headed to the cemetery in Beringhausen where some of my family are buried. The cemetery is located on a hill in the middle of the forest. It is a beautiful resting place.

The cemetery has 38 tombstones dating from 1862 to 1932. Some of the tombstones were turned over during the war, but the town of Marsberg put the stones in their proper place after the war.

Our first stop in Giershagen was to see the Jewish path. The 7 km path through forest and up and down hills to the Padberg synagogue. It wouldn’t have been fun to walk that in the rain or snow, but I want to go back and do the walk. It must be a beautiful walk in good weather. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any photos of this. There is even a marker at the beginning of the path that says Judenpfad or Jewish Path.

We went to visit a neighbor of Chicken Opa who was about 6 or 7 when my great-great grandfather left in 1937. Chicken Opa baby-sat him from time to time while his parents tended their fields. He had nothing but fond memories of going to his house. He told us that Chicken Opa had the largest apple tree in the village and that he could play and make as much noise as he wanted, except when Opa was praying. He also told us that when the house was sold to someone else, he went over and got a sausage hanging rack that Opa used to hang the beef sausages he made.

He then asked to be excused for a minute and he came back to the room with this:

He explained that Chicken Opa bought a Leica camera before he left Germany and he gave him the box with some money before my great-great grandfather, one daughter and my grandparents left for Alabama in December 1937. I was quite moved that he still had this box. It was all I could do to keep from crying. I was speechless. He was also teary when he told us how sad he and his family was when Chicken Opa left. He then gave me a glass with the crest of Giershagen on it and we said good-bye. It was really a lovely meeting and I hope to spend more time with him the next time I go back.

Then, we left his house and stood in the street and saw the one thing that brought me here in the first place, the house:

The house has been completely renovated and looks nothing like the original one in the picture below, but I know that the heart of the home is still there and Chicken Opa is smiling somewhere knowing that I went back to see where his life began.

Solomon Freibaum, a.k.a Chicken Opa, left his home and all his possessions at the age of 81 to go to a country where he didn’t speak the language, that didn’t have kosher food for him and didn’t pray like he did. But he lived to the ripe old age of 88. My grandfather told me a lovely story about him. Chicken Opa was Orthodox and he always wore a kippah and a hat when he went to synagogue in Germany. The first time he went to the ultra-reform (at the time) synagogue in my hometown he wore his kippah and hat. He noticed that no one was wearing a kippah let alone a hat and he removed them. My grandfather said, “Opa, it is ok; you can keep your hat on.”, to which he replied, “Child, I pray with my heart, not with my hat.”

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