Shavuot 2008 – Updated

Being away for most of May didn’t give me a lot of time to decide what to make for Shavuot this year. I decided to keep it simple and not over do it. My menu was:

Salad of baby mixed greens with nectarines

Trout stuffed with dried apricots and pistachios

Mashed potatoes with basil

Steamed broccoli

All of the dishes were delicious. I have to admit the trout dish really caught my eye because of the unusual stuffing. I would have never have thought that apricot and pistachios should be stuffed inside of any fish, but it really married well with the trout. The sour apricots and the crunch of the pistachios lent such a nice flavour to the mild flavour of the trout. I will definitely make this again.

Trout Stuffed with Dried Apricots and Pistachios

Serving Size: 2

25g/1oz white breadcrumbs

55g/2oz dried sour (California) apricots, finely chopped

2 tablespoons parsley or coriander, finely chopped

40g/1-1/2 oz pistachio nuts, finely chopped

55g/2oz melted butter

Salt and pepper

2 fresh whole trout, gutted and rinsed

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).

Apricot-Pistachio Stuffing

Place the breadcrumbs, apricots, parsley, pistachios, half the butter, salt and pepper into a bowl and mix well.

Stuffed Trout

Place each of the trout on a large sheet of buttered foil on a baking tray. Spoon half the mixture into each of cavities. Brush the trout with the rest of the melted butter and enclose the foil around each of the fish to form two parcels. Place the tray into the oven for 25-30 minutes. Remove from the foil and serve.


I know you are going to say that every French baker is going to sentence me to death for making brioche with whole wheat flour, but I have to tell you that the bread was delicious. Okay, it wasn’t as delicate as regular brioche, but it is was still very tasty.

Whole Wheat Brioche with Dried Fruit

Yield: 2 loaves

1/2 cup hand-hot water

1 tablespoon dried yeast or 25g fresh yeast

3 tablespoons sugar

6 large eggs, room temperature

4-1/2 cups whole wheat flour or white flour (for traditional brioche)

2 teaspoons salt

226g (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature

1 cup of mixed dried fruit (such as cranberries, raisins, apricots)

1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon milk, for egg wash

Combine the water, yeast and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.

Let stand for five minutes to let the yeast and sugar dissolve.

Add the eggs and beat at medium speed for one minute, until well mixed. At low speed, add two cups of flour and the salt. Mix for five minutes. Add an additional two cups of flour and mix for five minutes. Still on low speed, add the softened butter in chunks and mix for two minutes, scraping down the beater and sides of the bowl, until well blended. Sprinkle in the remaining 1/2 cup of flour.

Use the dough hook or knead the dough by hand for two minutes. Scrape the dough into a large buttered bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

The next day, allow the dough to sit a room temperature for one hour. Grease two loaf pans. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and cut in half. Pat each portion into a rectangle, then roll up each rectangle into a cylindrical loaf. Place each loaf, seam-side down, into a greased pan. Cover the pans with a damp towel and set aside to rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, 2 to 2-1/2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). When the dough has risen, brush the top of each with the egg wash and bake for approximately 45 minutes or until the top springs back and it sounds slightly hollow when tapped. Turn the loaves onto a wire rack to cool.

Torta di Chioccolata al Forno con Vaniglia e Nocciola (Perugian-style chocolate hazelnut cheesecake)

This cheesecake is to die for! I used Israeli 5% white cheese instead of cream cheese and it was just as creamy, but with a lot less calories. I am not a big chocolate eater, but this was made with 60% bittersweet chocolate and it was just sweet enough. I really liked that this recipe did not call for a lot of sugar and the hazelnuts really make the cake. I felt like I was eating a Perugina Baci. Smacking delicious it was.

Chag Sameach everyone!

Passover Preparations

I am busy deciding what to prepare for the main dish and dessert for Passover, since most of the other items on the menu are the expected traditional fare. I am considering the following:

Roasted Poussins with Pomegranate Sauce

Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Spiced Pinenuts (from my friend Chef Farid Zadi)

Patatine e Carciofi Arrosto (Roasted Potatoes and Artichokes)

Torta del Re

Nottingham Nut Cake

Lemon, Creme Fraiche and Chestnut Cake (for a dairy meal)

Damp Apple and Almond Cake


For more ideas, click here. I will post my menu in a couple of weeks.

Baking for Mama – May She Rest in Peace 1912-2007

My 95-year-old Grandmother has not been well lately passed away Saturday 29 December in the USA, which had me thinking of all of the wonderful times we had cooking together. I owe a lot of my cooking skills to her. She encouraged me to take cooking lessons and taught me how to make all of the family holiday recipes. During December, we always baked all of the special goodies for family near and far. Family would always come to visit during the Christmas vacation, and even though we did not celebrate Christmas, we always had special goodies around, such as her chocolate cake, 1-2-3-4 cake, her amazing butter cookies, Rose’s apricot tarts, and her schnecken. But the baked goods that she always looked forward to was the big package of German goodies that family friends in Germany sent my grandparents. The package came from the famous Lebkuchen Schmidt bakery in Nürnberg. She would open the package and take a deep whiff, and then delicately open the packages. We would stand there in excitement smelling the spicey goodness and salivating, waiting to take a bite of the lovely Elisen lebkuchen and speculaas cookies. You could smell the cardamom, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg all over the house.

I usually buy lebkuchen when I am in Germany, but this year I was unable to make a trip there before Christmas, so I decided to do the impossible and try to make some myself. I knew that they would not be as good as Lebkuchen Schmidt, who have been making these amazing biscuits since 1927. My first attempt resulted in overbaked biscuits because I had spread the dough too thin on the oblaten wafer. However, the second time round I managed to get it right and even my famously critical other half drooled every time he came close to one. I decided to leave my lebkuchen natural and used square oblaten instead of round. If you cannot find oblaten wafers, which are similar to communion wafers, then use rice paper.

I couldn’t find candied orange, so I made it myself using thick-skinned navel oranges.

Mama, I made these for you and if I didn’t live so far away, I would have brought you some to savour.

Nürnberger Elisenlebkuchen

Yield: 75 pieces of five centimeter (2 inches) diameter

470 g (2-1/3 cups) sugar

4 eggs

1 teaspoon of vanilla sugar

400 g (14 ounces) hazelnuts (one-half milled rough and the other fine)

80g (3 ounces) whole almonds, finely chopped

50 g (1.7 ounces) roughly chopped walnuts

100 g (3.5 ounces) of finely cut candied orange and lemon peel respectively

Freshly grated untreated orange and lemon peel

1 teaspoon of finely chopped ginger root in syrup

1 teaspoon of the following milled spices: cinnamon, cloves, allspice, coriander, mace, cardamom, nutmeg

Oblaten Package

2 packets of oblaten wafers (5 cm (2 inches) diameter)

Punch Icing

130 g (1 cup) icing sugar, sifted

2 teaspoon of rum

2 teaspoons of red wine

Chocolate Icing

20 g (.7 ounces) of bittersweet chocolate (preferably 70%; high quality)

For decoration:

A selection of nuts and candied fruit

Use the egg whisk attachment of an electric beater to beat sugar, eggs and vanilla sugar so that the foamed mass has doubled and the sugar is dissolved.

Ground Hazelnuts and Almonds

Candied Orange Lemon and Ginger

Then add the nuts, candied and fresh orange and lemon peel, ginger and spices. Cover the batter and leave it in a cool place for 24 hours.

Oblaten Sheets

Unbaked Lebkuchen

The next day form small, approx. 15 g (1 rounded tablespoon), balls from the mix with wet hands and place each on a wafer so that a 3 to 5 mm broad margin remains. Place the wafers on a baking paper lined baking tray and bake until light brown for 10 to 12 minutes at 200C (400F) in a preheated oven.

The Lebkuchen should be well risen but not quite finished inside because they have to further develop and remain soft inside. The finished Lebkuchen should be slid onto a drying rack to cool. Place one-third of the cookies to the side: they should remain natural, e.g. without icing.

For the punch icing:

Mix the sifted icing sugar and to a smooth consistency with rum and red wine. Then dip the upper surface of a further third of the Lebkuchen (not the wafer side) into this icing.

For the chocolate icing:

Melt and temper the chocolate, and then dip the upper surface of the remaining Lebkuchen. Leave the iced Lebkuchen on a drying rack to dry.

Decorate the lebkuchen with nuts and candied fruit while the icing or natural cookie is still soft.

Store the completed Lebkuchen in an airtight tin. Cover the cakes with greaseproof paper and lay a few apple peelings on top. This keeps them soft and moist. Try to let the cookies mature for about ten days before serving them.

The House that Escoffier Built

I tend to do a lot of research when planning a trip. I always buy a guidebook and look for interesting places to visit on the internet. I spent weeks collecting information for our trip to Provence, including printing out maps on the Michelin website. It was quite helpful and we used those maps for our various day trips that we made.

One of those places that I insisted on visiting was the village of Villeneuve-Loubet, because it is the childhood home of Auguste Escoffier and his birth home contains the Musee de l’Art Culinaire, or Museum of Culinary Art.

This museum is dedicated to Auguste Escoffier, “King of Chefs and Chef to Kings”, the creator of the famous Peach Melba, strawberries Romanoff and who, according to his obituary in a British newspaper, “put frogs’ legs on the West End menu.”

The museum has eight rooms that display souvenirs, objects, sugar sculptures and utensils from his time, a collection of menus and a number of photographs and articles.

One of the museum’s eight exhibit rooms features the fireplace and spit used by the Escoffier family.

A photograph of the Australian opera star Nellie Melba is signed “A Monsieur Escoffier avec mes remerciements pour la creation Peche Melba,” (To Monsieur Escoffier with my thanks for the creation of Peach Melba) and dated 1914.

The museum has menus from his days at the Carlton and at London’s Savoy Hotel, as well as menus for the coronation dinner honoring King George V.

I recommend stopping and seeing this interesting museum and walking around the beautiful village.

I know I should show you a picture of the Peach Melba or Strawberries Romanoff I made, but I haven’t made either one. However, in keeping with the ice cream that you serve with the peach melba, I thought I would give you a recipe for a luscious coffee ice cream with a warm ganache sauce.

Coffee Ice Cream with Warm Chocolate Ganache

Serving Size: 4

For the ganache:

1 cup finely chopped premium bittersweet chocolate

1/2 cup heavy cream

For the ice cream:

1 cup whole Italian-roast coffee beans

2 cups whole milk

1 1/4 cups sugar

2 cups heavy cream

8 large egg yolks

For the assembly:

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped


Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl. Heat the cream over medium heat until it begins to bubble. Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate. Whisk the mixture until the chocolate has completely melted and forms into a thick sauce. Use immediately or keep warm over a hot water bath on very low heat until ready to use.

Ice cream

Crush the beans into coarse pieces by placing them in a ziploc bag and smashing them with a rolling pin. Add the crushed beans, the milk, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1 cup cream into a saucepan . Place the saucepan over medium heat and slowly bring the milk mixture to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat as soon as bubbles break the surface. Steep the coffee beans in the milk mixture for at least 1 hour. Strain the mixture and set aside. Discard the coffee beans.

Have ready a large bowl filled with ice water. Whisk the egg yolks with the remaining 3/4 cup sugar until the mixture becomes pale yellow and forms a ribbon.

Reheat the coffee-flavored milk mixture, bringing it to a simmer. Immediately remove it from the heat, and with the mixer on low speed, slowly add 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture into the beaten eggs and sugar. While mixing, add the remaining hot milk mixture in a slow, steady stream until incorporated. Scrape the mixture from the sides and the bottom of the bowl mix well, and pour through a sieve into another bowl. Add the remaining 1 cup cold cream and stir well to combine.

Place in the ice bath. Stir until the mixture has completely cooled. Transfer the mixture to a covered container and chill thoroughly in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or until ready to churn.

Churn the ice cream and place in the freezer for about 1 hour.


Place two scoops of ice cream in a bowl and pour the hot ganache over the ice cream, top with whip cream and the chopped hazelnuts.

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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