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Monday, April 7, 2014

Annual "not-always-homeschool" matzah bake.

imageSo the one thing that apparently never changes is – I forgot to take pictures of the finished matzah.  Some years, I do; others, I just get so distracted and carried away by that point in the festivities that… well, I don’t.

(previous years’ Matzah Bake posts:  5773, 5772, 5771, 5770 (just us, no friends))

Like everything this year, it was both weird and bittersweet.  I’ll be honest:  I don’t like kids that much.  I mean, before you slam the browser shut, you should know up front:  I LOVE baking with kids.  But I don’t like kids that aren’t mine, even the nicest ones, and all my closest friends know it.

So when I invite “kids” over for matzah baking… yeah, there is the element of having fun and playing with dough.  But you can be sure it’s also my main “social thing” for the day / week and perhaps year.  Here, apparently nobody gets that.  Instead, we got two kids we kind of know, bigger boys than I’ve baked with before (but that’s okay; big boys are sometimes suckers for this kind of stuff!), and two random friends they brought along, off the street, perhaps.


(Two random friends baking matzahs.)

The catch is – the two random friends don’t really speak English.  The boy kind of knows some words.  The girl, not at all.

So I ended up doing the whole thing pretty much in Hebrew, with the help of the biggest boy in the red shirt at my right.  In general, it was okay, except for needing to be taught certain Crucial Vocabulary Words, like rolling pin, flat, and “stuck to the table,” several times over.

imageBut I had a great concept for this year’s matzah bake, given that the kids were older than I’ve had before, and the homeschooler in me totally wants to share it.  Instead of just baking matzahs, I decided to do a Baking Science Experiment.  (“Hayom, anachnu madanim”… “Today, we are scientists.”  “How do you say experiment???”)

In order to do a Science Experiment, you need a Critical Question to investigate – in this case, “how are chametz and non-chametz doughs different?”

And you need at least two Experimental Things to test, preferably with only one small difference that allows you to investigate the Critical Question.  So I decided to let the kids work with OLD DOUGH and NEW DOUGH to see which was easier to work with. 

I told them we were going to make a SLOW DOUGH and a FAST DOUGH.

First, I explained the 3 steps we’d use for both:  1) Make the dough, 2) Roll the dough, 3) Bake the dough.

Then, we jumped right in. 

image1.  The slow dough was first.  I gave each kid half a cup of flour in a bowl and added a bit of water.  They had as much time as they wanted to knead it into a nice dough (“batzek yafeh” – it took a few tries for me to stop saying “batzak” and “betzek”!).  Once they each had a dough, we stuck it in a baggie – SLOW DOUGH done and resting (ha batzak nach).

Happily, the “slow dough” gave us a good practice run at making the dough before it was time to make the “non-chametz” 18-minute matzah dough.  NOTE TO SELF:  No matter how they beg, do NOT allow children to wash their hands in between batches!!!

2.  Now it was time for the FAST DOUGH.  This was the one that would be timed, so we could try to finish in 18 minutes.  I doled out more half-cups of flour, we started the timer, and OFF.  Except for the youngest, everybody had a nice dough made pretty quickly.  This time, we rolled it out right away (yay for last year’s rolling pins!), poked it with a fork and popped it into the oven.

imageSo the question on all of your minds, I’m sure, is… Did we finish in time?  Well, some things never change.  The matzahs were ALMOST ready by the time our 18 minutes was up.  At that point, I turned on the convection and they promptly crisped up, probably 2-3 minutes late.

No, we didn’t make it within 18 minutes.

But that wasn’t our goal – our goal here was Scientific Discovery.

So while the FAST DOUGH baked, it was time to pull out the SLOW DOUGH again for Step 3.

3.  Time to bring back the SLOW DOUGH out of the baggies (happily, we wrote names on each baggie).  I held up mine in triumph to show them the truth of chametz vs matzah:  it’s not about yeast (as everyone thinks), it’s not about baking soda (huh?), it’s not really about air and “puffing up” – it’s about fundamental chemical changes in wheat flour once it has rested in contact with water for more than 18 minutes.

The dough was perfect.  After it had rested for a while in the baggie, I let the kids touch it and pull it to see that it truly was stretchier than the FAST DOUGH that they’d just worked with.  Then, I gave them theirs to roll out, hole punch, and we baked those up as well.  There wasn’t much difference in the baked end results… but I hope the significant difference in workability in the SLOW DOUGH made an impact.

If you wanted to extend this scientific concept, by the way, for a complete lesson in chametz and matzah, you could try it with different grains.  Corn meal, for instance, probably won’t do much of anything even if you soak it. 

You could also test if these changes apply to all the “five grains” (wheat, oats, barley, rye, spelt) that are considered true grains in Jewish tradition (I suspect they wouldn’t to oats and rye, since they have very little gluten; not sure about barley).

Or, you could do like I did and schmear your matzahs with butter and salt and chow down, thankful to be here in Israel even if I do miss my “regular crowd” terribly much, even if I am surrounded by kids who don’t understand me or my experiments (okay, that one isn’t really new!).

Thankful to be free at this Season of Freedom.

Whether you’re making it yourself or just chowing down on your matzah, have a happy and kosher Pesach… from the entire BreadLand crew!!!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Getting “back” to normal… On baking in Israel.

Decorating challahs with kids makes me feel "normal," like we're at home, no matter where we happen to be living...

We are starting to get into a bit of a routine, but things are still difficult.  I don’t know; the ingredients are all the same, for the most part, but a lot of what I bake just doesn’t turn out “normal.”  I had a few weeks of making lemon bars that were just awful, like practically inedible. 

Part of the problem is the pan size – you can’t get 8 x 8 or pie pans here, so you have to adapt recipes or they will turn out wrong.  The lemon bars, for instance – I was making them in a bigger pan and it just didn’t work.  They were too thin and overbaked.  Last week, I hauled out my one 8x8 pan, which is dairy, and made the whole lemon bars dairy just so I could use the pan.  (Well, they were pareve, but used dairy things for cutting and squeezing and grating and mixing the lemons.)

Other things just taste weird, or disappointing.  I made blueberry buns a few weeks ago, and they looked beautiful, but the only blueberry pie filling you can buy here is just awful.  Like chemically-tasting instead of good.  So I couldn’t eat these either.  (No, you cannot buy fresh or frozen blueberries here to save your life.)


If I want to make blueberry buns again, I will have to figure out another filling.  We have lots of nice fresh strawberries right now… but somehow, “strawberry buns” doesn’t have the same ring.

There are other little problems, like the fake baking chocolate known as Cimcao or Tsimcao:

To quote a pithy description I found on a baking group:  “tzimkao is a revolting mix of sugar and a bit of cocoa. maybe some fake vanilla as well. not only is it nothing like unsweetened baking chocolate, but it's not even bittersweet chocolate. it's soft and *very* sweet, with a slight cocoa aftertaste. yeeeeech.”

Of course, most of the vanilla here is fake, which affects the taste of things, and I’m almost out of my imported Canadian vanilla, but you can make your own easily enough with vodka and a vanilla bean. 

The maple is also fake, which made it fun when we went out for a nice Chinese restaurant meal in Haifa last week.  For dessert, I ordered the fried banana, which was yummy, but they served it with a fake-maple syrup dip. 


Well, obviously, as a Canadian, that’s not something I was going to stand for!  I had seen several honey-based things on the menu, so I requested that they replace it with plain honey.  Here’s what they brought:


I think even from a picture, you can tell that it’s not honey.  It was very watery, and also (when I hesitantly tasted it to see what they’d brought!), it was quite salty.  “Zeh lo dvash ragil,” I said.  (“It’s not regular honey.”)  “Well, that’s what we have,” argued the waiter.  “But it’s salty,” I said.  “Regular honey isn’t salty.”  He took it back to the kitchen and ended up bringing me two little disposable packets of honey from the hotel’s dining room (the restaurant was in a hotel). 

Once they got it right, it was yummy!  Which is how I feel about everything I bake here.  It’s frustrating, starting from scratch, when recipes I’ve used for years simply don’t turn out, for one reason or another, or for no reason at all.

The challah, at least, seems to work every time.  And that’s why it’s so comforting.  Something I can make, using the regular recipe, and it tastes… like home.

Here’s how “his” challahs turned out, by the way.  I let him go a little crazy with the poppy seeds… fortunately, when that happens, most of them get knocked off in the baking / transferring process.


I wish you all a very good Shabbos and, if you are new to baking in Israel or any other new place… a klitah neimah, a pleasant absorption.  Which always makes me think about the Borg, but okay. 

A little absorption is probably a good thing, except when it comes to liking that blueberry filling, baking with Tzimcao, or accepting fake maple syrup when the real thing is so very, very awesome.

Good Shabbos!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Which are you: moon or prune?


There are only two kinds of hamentaschen for those who don’t mess around:  moon and prune.

This is a truth I learned as a small child, growing up in a home where, for whatever reason, the Two Kinds (let’s capitalize them for convenience) were the Only Kinds.

Moon = poppy seed.  Prune = dried plums.

(the word moon = my father’s variation on the Yiddish/german mohn)

A few years back, my sister, who’s a baker, offered for sale a pastry she’d made with “dried plums” because it sounded way classier than saying “prunes.”  It sure does.  In Hebrew, there’s no distinction.  “Dried plums” is the only thing you can call them.

But they do mess around a LOT, with all kinds of flavours, from chocolate (okay) to halva (kind of okay) and many others… but they also don’t call them hamentashen – they’re called oznei haman; haman’s ears.  For those who don’t mess around, they’re hamentaschen – haman’s pockets.

My way or the highway.  A lesson I learned from my father, who considered every type of ice cream that wasn’t vanilla “polluted.”

IMG_00004007As a kid, I had to learn the difference between the Two Kinds very early because they look so similar.  Both kind of dark and almost chocolatey-looking.  But poppy tastes of horror and disgustingness, while prune tastes fruity and bright (thanks to citrus, which is added in almost every recipe to boost the dried-plum taste).

Despite all the different kinds of hamentashen in bakeries around here these days, prune are seemingly impossible to buy… while the dank, disgusting moon hamentashen are everywhere.

Folks here LOoooove their poppy seeds on the inside of everything, it seems.  For me, poppy is strictly an “exterior” phenomenon.

So this is me, toiling away to pit two bags of prunes (dried plums), boil them with some lemon zest and fresh Jaffa orange juice, and purée them in my Israeli blender into some semblance of lekvar, the jammy filling that tomorrow will become part of my annual hamentashen.

With two of my children gone, I’m still not sure who-all is going to eat them.  You have to be careful, when it comes to the eating of the prune hamentashen.  There’s only a dollop of filling in each, but you don’t want to venture into the “too much prune” territory. 

One year, my first husband decided that prunes’ reputation was ill-deserved and that he’d take a few to snack on.  He loved them!  He ate a whole bunch!  And discovered, miserably, that it really was true what they say about prunes.

Not wanting to discover this for myself, I always a) urge moderation, and b) make some other type of hamentasch that I can snack on freely without incurring the Wrath of Prunes.  No idea what kind it will be this year, but a search of my past posts reveals some mighty tempting prune alternatives…

Whatever hamentaschen you’re making, moon, prune, or one of the heretical varieties, I wish you all the sweetness, light and joy of this happy, happy Purim season.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Giant Cinnamon Bun for Shabbos

It’s no secret that I’ve been searching years for the perfect pareve cinnamon bun.  When I saw this recipe, for a Giant Cinnamon Roll Cake, mentioned on a facebook group last week, it looked sort of perfect – simple, low-key and kind of pretty, to boot.

I didn’t use the dough recommended in the recipe – I just made my regular challah dough a bit sweeter than usual.


Roll it out into a “rectangle” (okay, not exact, but you can tug at the corners gently to make it prettier).



The cinnamon spread was easy, and I was impressed that it didn’t have a ton of margarine in it.  I used butter-flavoured.  Use fresh cinnamon, if at all possible!

IMG_00004036 IMG_00004037


Now, you’re supposed to cut the dough into nice, neat strips.  Theoretically, the recipe asks you to use a ruler and make sure they’re equal so your “cake” doesn’t look all lumpy and bumpy.  My philosophy is that it all tastes the same anyway (probably not true, exactly, because if you have lumps sticking up, they may burn, which then won’t taste the same at all… but anyway).  Here are how my strips turned out.  (I used my handy-dandy bench scraper to cut the strips sharply – I don’t know if you’d want to run a pizza cutter, as recommended, over any table surface you really liked!)



Start rolling!  From the inside, coil each strip to form the cake, adding the next strip when one runs out.  The recipe author says “I always crimp the ends together with my fingers to press them together as I’m coiling.”  That is why hers turns out looking so gorgeous.  Mine didn’t, but still.  Here’s what it looked like when I was done coiling.  It sure didn’t look like I had enough to fill the pan.



I almost never proof in a warm place.  It just feels like cheating.  But in this case, I wanted monstrous growth, to fill up the pan, and I was also in a bit of a rush.  I had just turned off the oven, aired it a bit so it wasn’t scorching hot, then popped the “cinnamon roll” inside.  Tada!



Don’t ask me for how long.  I pulled it out just when I figured it was about to start burning on the parts that were sticking up.



You’re supposed to let it cool for a while before drizzling with frosting,  I used icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar) mixed with coconut milk to make the frosting (coconut MILK, not coconut water, as my husband always helpfully suggests!).  At first, I made it too thin; you can see that the frosting looks watery on the “roll.”


After I thickened it up a bit with more icing sugar, the frosting was perfect.  Yes, it had a bit of a coconut taste, but nothing bad or offensive, and it certainly didn’t clash with the cinnamon of the roll.  If I wanted a more neutral flavour, I suppose I could have used either pareve whipping cream or a pareve milk, though my experience with pareve milks and frostings has been disappointing so far.


Mmm, mmm, mmm… Shabbos!

I hesitated to bite into this after Shabbos dinner.  I have been disappointed too many times by cinnamon buns that were overly dry, overly bready, or just missing the certain desserty je-ne-sais-quoi.  But I am happy to reveal that I was NOT disappointed!  Maybe because I was super-generous with the drizzle, but every bite of this was absolutely perfect, and I’m excited not only to recommend this giant cinnamon bun but to try it again sometime soon.

Now.  What about me?

I suppose if you’re a longtime reader seeing this, my first post in about seven months, you may wonder what I’ve been up to.

Life has been busy.  No, scratch that – life has been CRAZY.

In case you haven’t noticed, we moved to Israel over the summer and haven’t quite bounced back.  I don’t know if we’ll ever bounce back… given that there’s no “back” to bounce to.  I’m not homeschooling, I’m working full-time as a freelance writer, and have severed so many connections to our old lives that I’m left wondering, most days, what’s left. 

I am baking – back to my once-a-week challah routine, and have been for months.  The good news is that my sourdough starter made it across the ocean alive!  I used it for a while and perfected some nice sourdough challahs, but then it went smelly and got shelved until I had the proper care and attention to give to it.  And I never blogged about any of it.  Most weeks, there’s only time to bake the challahs… and no time to blog about them.

But I’m coming back.  I’m on my way back.

Until I get all the way here, please join me over at…

Feel free to leave comments letting me know what you’d like to see when I do get back!!!  Or just to say, “hi, it’s nice to see you!”

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Want, want, want… (ice cream bread?)

 image Hmm… maybe I’ve got time to make this before we go?!?!?!?

  • Three ingredients (two if you omit sugar, which sounds like a good plan)!
  • Three minutes (not counting thaw time)!
  • No kneading!
  • (Apparently) not too sweet!

… Holy Oh-Em-Jee, everybody – it’s ICE CREAM BREAD.

  1. Ice.
  2. Cream.
  3. Bread.

Step the First.  You thaw the ice cream.

Step the Second.  You stir in self-rising flour.  Okay, this isn’t exactly ONE ingredient, and I normally consider it an abomination, but I happen to have TWO bags of the stuff here that Ted bought by accident.

Step the Third.  Bake.

Step the Fourth.  Indulge.

The “secret recipe” is more of a ratio than anything else:

1 cup full-fat ice cream : 3/4 cup self-rising flour

Bake at 350° for 25-45 minutes (depending on how big a batch) until toothpick comes out clean.

This version recommends Triple Brownie ice cream, 1 cup : 3/4 cup and bakes for 25-30 minutes.  This version uses Butter Pecan, doubled to have 2 cup : 1 1/2 cup and baked for 45 minutes.

Play with it, let me know which you love best.  And I’ll report back here if I get a chance to try this before I move.

Sorry to fans of this, my most-neglected blog.  Israel is my big project at the moment and I suspect it will be a while before I am free to bake again regularly… :-(

Feel free to follow our adventures at my aliyah blog in the meantime!!!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cheapo Make n’ Take Muffin Tote idea

park picnic (35)Came up with this concept on my way out the door with a bunch of piping-hot-from-the-oven Berry Smash Muffins this morning…

This Cookie Crisp box was on top of the recycle bin, still nice and clean, and it turns out it’s exactly the right height to fit these muffins.  And fifteen muffins fit perfectly into the box.  I slid them in, taped it firmly shut, and we were on our way! 

They arrived much happier than usual.  I also happened to have a pair of scissors, so I could cut it open in perfect “Kel-Bol-Pak” style.  As Jerry Seinfeld used to say, “what was the point of this?  Pretending your parents couldn’t afford a bowl?”

Separated at birth???

park picnic (34) 

I made the muffins without streusel, by the way, since it never seems to travel well anyway.  I also cut down the sugar a bit, to 3/4 or 1 cup instead of 1 1/3 cups.

So there it is – my token post to my much-neglected Bread Blog.

To see more of my currently overwhelming project, check out my aliyah blog!!!

Friday, May 10, 2013

More blueberry buns! (a poem)

bluebunsI don’t make these very often, so it always feel like an Occasion.  I got so exited that I took a bunch of pictures, but then I turns out I already blogged here about the process (you can perhaps forgive my memory lapse given that it was almost three years ago!).

Since I have included the pictures already in this post, I will take the liberty of writ out the steps in poetic form instead:


  1. Snatch a round wad of fresh, fresh, fresh, dough / That’s already had sev’ral hours to grow;
  2. Roll it out pancake-flat and round / With two tablespoons of blue-filling crowned;bluebuns (8)
  3. Fold it tight-closed like half of a moon / Fingertips pounce upon’t to form a cocoon.bluebuns (5)
  4. Peel it on up from its bed on the table / pinching as tight as your fingers are able;
  5. bluebuns (6)
  6. Pinch and pinch and pinch some more / Lest blueberry filling sploosh out on the floor;bluebuns (10)
  7. When the pinching time’s fully done / Lie it so gently next to your last bun;
  8. bluebuns (11)
  9. Now if, on the pan, a bun should crack open / Pinch ever more tightly and start in to hopin’
  10. bluebuns (3)
  11. Pinch one more time when all are at ready / Brushing with egg, your painting-hand steady,
  12. bluebuns (2)bluebuns (1)
  13. Sprinkle with sugar a bit oversized / That all of your bun-dreams may be realized.
  14. Now toast them all gently at three-fifty degrees / Half an hour, and beware of “burnt-hue disease.”
  15. Now cool on a rack and keep off grubby paws / For “Filling is Hot” comes with no escape clause.
  16. bluebuns (14)
  17. For ten to fifteen you will be forced to wait / But the reward for patience is sure to elate…
  18. As your teeth sink with joy in the prize that you’ve won / Your very own homemade blueberry bun!