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Thursday, September 11, 2014

The ugliest challah


I had such high hopes… but it turned out so, so badly.  Well, tasty enough.  But UGLY as sin.

It all started with a video that showed a beautiful, trim Israeli lady making the most gorgeous braids with the kind of ease that you only acquire after having made thousands of them.

I watched it.  Naomi Rivka watched it.  We were inspired – hooray!

As soon as I started to pull of this complicated six-braid, everything began to go horribly wrong, starting with the ginormous octopus contraption you see at the top of this post.

From there, I created a not-too-shabby looking braided thingy…


And then tucked it together to resemble – um, a mummified dog?


Yuck, says Naomi Rivka.


Meanwhile, she herself was inspired by another technique she’d seen in the video to create a round challah, wrapped with a band to make it more regal.  Beautiful!

IMG_00005204 IMG_00005205 

Just to make the situation even more ridiculous, it turned out there wasn’t room on my (entire-oven-sized) baking pan for both of our challahs… so, ever the martyr, I sacrificed the (nonexistent) beauty of my own to give hers the space it needed.


After baking, she had a gorgeous, Rosh Hashanah-worthy creation, and I had something that more closely resembling a six-string guitar or the footprint a filthy giant might make, stomping through the sand.


Fortunately, the sting of failure was tempered a little by the first honeycake muffin tops of the year…


Mmm… honeycake muffin tops.  The sweet smell that proves Elul is in the air.

Speaking of Elul, did I mention I have been writing books?  It’s as good an excuse as any not to blog regularly, and if you’d like to see some you might be interested in, in case you’re shopping for kids’ picture books for Jewish holidays.

If you’d like to hear from me more often, I’ve included a signup below so you can get on my mailing list.  No obligation, just tons of (very, very occasional) fun.

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

Friday, July 18, 2014

With love from Israel: mega-easy pareve “rogelach”


Many social media people have been worried over the last few days:  apparently, if you Google “Israel,” you get all kinds of dire, terrible images.

This post is my attempt to fix that.

So why is the word “rogelach” in quotes up at the top?  Because if you just google rogelach (or, as I did, rugelach), most of the recipes you’ll find involve cream cheese, and possibly milk and butter.  It seems that us pareve people are in the minority when it comes to rogelach.

And because dairy does such incredible, delicious things when it lives inside a dough, these can never be truly “real” rogelach.  But they can be a tasty, rogelach-shaped puffy cookie on your Shabbos table (or any other day of the week’s table), and some weeks, it just doesn’t get better than that.

I started with regular leftover challah dough.  If you need a recipe, you can try my Reliable Challah recipe.

If you happen to have leftover dough sitting around, you may find these so easy you’ll wonder why people bother going out to bakeries to buy them in the first place.

You will also need some filling ready.  My standby chocolate filling recipe is below, and takes about 30 seconds to mix up.

1.  Roll our your dough into a circle.  Mine were pretty thin, because I prefer more filling and less dough.


2.  “Shmeer” it with chocolate filling.  You could also add chocolate chips at this point, or almond paste, or anything else you like inside.


3.  Cut it up like a pizza.  I cut it in half first, then cut each half in half, and do that once more, to get 16 roughly even-sized pieces.


4.  Starting at the outside, roll up the pieces, one by one.

 IMG_00004917  IMG_00004919 IMG_00004920 IMG_00004921    

5.  Transfer each finished “rogela” to a baking pan.

6.  Bake about 15-20 minutes at 350-ish (my oven here is only approximate; it’s turned to a notch below 200 Celsius) until lightly golden brown on top, as seen above.

In case you need one, Here’s my Standby Chocolate Filling recipe, which I have used from everything to hamentashen to kokosh to rogelach and beyond.  The corn starch gives this a little bit of body, so it doesn’t just turn flat during the baking process, which happened with every previous filling recipe I tried.


Unless you are feeding an army, use the half recipe!!!

Full Recipe (a ton – too much for most things)

Half Recipe (a lot – enough for most things)

3 cups sugar

2 cups powdered sugar

1/2 cup corn starch
2 cups cocoa
approx 2 cups oil – but don’t dump it all in!

1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup powdered sugar

¼ cup corn starch
1 cup cocoa

approx 1 cup oil – but don’t dump it all in!

1. Mix in bowl.  No mixer required, just stir it around until evenly mixed.

2. Store in fridge until ready to use.  It will thicken slightly in the fridge, but will still be spreadable.

Optional:  For Almond-Chocolate Filling, I added ground almonds and roasted cinnamon when I made this once and it made the filling taste special and less generic.

Enjoy!  And please share this around to prove that there are still great, DELICIOUS things happening here in Israel.

Good Shabbos from the holy land!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The taste of s’mores in Israel


Quit kvetching.  At least, that’s what everybody says when I blog about the problems I’ve had baking here in Israel. 

Which, just to recap, range from teeny tiny oven in small, hellishly-hot kitchen, to weird fake ingredients (tzimkao, vanillin sugar), to things that are missing altogether or wildly expensive (maple anything, corn syrup).

Fair enough; you’re more likely to be successful in your aliyah if you adapt quickly and learn to savour the wonderful foods that can be found here, rather than moping about what you miss from “back home.”  In truth, I don’t even say the words “back home” because this IS home.

But one thing I’ve found myself missing – heaven help me! - is the taste of s’mores.  Particularly the delectable S’mores Bars in this pareve recipe.  Cleverly, these bars recreate the gooey goodness of s’mores in a versatile dessert-bar form.  After searching for a perfect “s’mores dessert” for a whle, I finally discovered this recipe and have now made it many times over the last few years… (you can peek at them in this post if you scroll down)

Almost everything about the recipe was perfectly do-able in an Israeli kitchen… except the graham cracker crumbs which make up a large percentage of the dry ingredients (by replacing some of the flour with graham cracker crumbs, you recreate the taste of the cracker part of the s’mores without compromising the delectable cookie dough texture).

Happily, although graham crackers are nowhere to be seen, my husband brought home two hard-to-find imported American pie crusts before Shavuos.  I let him bake his cheesecake in one, but I already knew what I would do with mine… S’mores Dessert Bars.  Especially because he brought home two jars of real American-style marshmallow fluff in the same haul.

Mmm… graham.  Mmm… marshmallow.


Goodbye, crust!

There’s not even a WORD for Graham Cracker in Hebrew.  Or, for that matter, pie.  (The closest I’ve found is Pashtida, which is not at all the same.) 

This imported crust, bought specially from our local “trayfe” supermarket (so-called because they have many trayfe products, so you have to look carefully for a hechsher) is labelled:  Baked Tachtit (bottom) for “Pie.”  (in Hebrew, פאי).


So after all the effort of importing the crust, sourcing it, buying it, and (for my husband) shlepping it home intact… it felt more than a little sacrilegious smashing it up into little teeny morsels.


But smash it up I did – and I’m glad I did.  It was delicious!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Recipe: Old cake, new cake… on Shavuos, we have two cakes!

IMG_00004735 And no, they’re not both cheesecakes… although one is; a special all-Israeli cheesecake for which you can find the recipe a bit further down.  And okay, both are dairy-based; sorry to anyone who can’t have dairy at this very milky time of year…

(In fact, since I started to write this, my husband decided to make a classic North American lemony cheesecake, deapite my predictions of doom that it wouldn’t work with Israeli cheese… so we may end up with three cakes.)

With all of my dooming and glooming about baking in Israel, I was happy to receive a recipe from my ulpan teacher on Sunday night which she guaranteed would work with Israeli ingredients – given that she’s never baked it anywhere else.  I figure as an old dog making aliyah, it’s time for a new trick… with cheesecake.

Except, except, except… her cheesecake doesn’t have a crust.  Heresy!  I couldn’t bake a crustless cheesecake.  Honestly, I was about to pour it into the pan (#26, according to her instructions, which took some measuring, because I’d never heard of this size before), when I broke down and decided I simply couldn’t do it.

Hence, a last-minute, Lotus biscuit crust.  If you have never had Lotus / Biscoff / Speculoos biscuits before, you must.  I was already dreaming of them before we got here, having read on several baking sites that they are simply delicious.  Indeed, I found a copycat recipe a number of years ago and tried to recreate them, but really, they were nothing like the real thing. 

(imageTrust me, this is a cookie people love so much that they made it into a spread.  So if you’re eating a biscuit that isn’t a Lotus, you can “convert” it with a dab of spread!)

Anyway, we had a bunch here, but the catch is that they’re individually wrapped… which meant individually unwrapping about four dozen of the things to make a crust in my #26 pan.

Crumble, crumble, crumble…




As you can see in the picture above, the cake was already completely mixed.  Like I said, I was about to pour it into the naked tinfoil pan, but simply couldn’t do it.  So the cheese part waited while the crust baked.

… Baked crust!


At last… time to pour the cheesecake stuff in.  Waah!  Even without a crust, this would barely have fit in the pan.  Maybe I did something wrong…?  But I sampled a bit to make sure it was yummy before slipping it into the oven, so I think it’s okay.


Here’s the recipe. 

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Lucky for you, I have transcribed it below so you can try it out yourself without needing to squint through my Hebrew handwriting.

But what about the second cake? 

It wouldn’t be Shavuos without an old cake, a familiar family friend.  And the most familiar of all is my Grama’s Neapolitan Cake.  Which sounds all hoity-toity, unless you think of it (as I do) as “pudding-cookie cake.”  Really – it’s just pudding and cookies; it really is that simple.

STEP 1:  Take four HUGE cookies:


STEP 2:  Slop some pudding onto them… and sprinkle with toasty almonds so it doesn’t look like so much something a child made:



For the full Grama’s Neapolitan Cake recipe, click here.

And for the “new” cheesecake recipe from my ulpan teacher Galya… well, read on.


(if you try to make this outside of Israel, your results may vary)

Cheesecake Ingredients:

  • 750g gevina levana / white cheese (I used 2 tubs, 1 500g and 1 250g)
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 200ml (1 regular tub) 15% shamenet chamutza / sour shamenet = roughly like sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar, divided
  • 4 tbsp korenflor / cornflour = corn starch (not corn meal!)
  • 3 tbsp instant vanilla pudding mix (the Hebrew term for this: “eenstant pooooodeeeeeng vaneeeel”)
  • 1 packet vanilla sugar OR real vanilla extract (that’s what I used)

How to make it:

  1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees.
  2. Mix well the egg yolks, shamenet, corn flour, pudding mix, gevina levana, vanilla sugar / extract, half cup white sugar
  3. Beat egg whites with one cup sugar until they form peaks
  4. Gently but thoroughly combine egg whites with other ingredients (which you mixed in Step 2).
  5. Place in a greased round #26 pan (= 26 cm)
  6. Bake around one hour until golden-brown (I generally bake cheesecake a little less than it feels like you ought to so it doesn’t dry out and crack!)
  7. For best results, leave in oven to cool at least 1 hour after baking.
  8. Ice with “krem” if desired (see below).


(one HUGE cheesecake, as demonstrated by my husband)

“Krem” (frosting) ingredients:

  • 1 small container of sweet whipping cream
  • the rest of the vanilla instant pudding from the cheesecake
  • 3/4 cup milk

How to make it:

  1. Beat all “krem” ingredients together.
  2. Spread on cheesecake when cool.

NOTE:  I haven’t made the “krem” yet and can’t vouch for its yumminess!

For more information about Shavuos, please check out:  Shavuos Adventures from Adventures in MamaLand.  The adventures you’ll find there include…

Good Yom Tov / Chag Sameach / Happy Shavooooooo-ot from the holy land!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Name that cooking implement

Every once in a while, I have to ask someone to pass me something in the kitchen… and sometimes, I get stuck.  Consider, for example, the humble spatula.


Oh… unless you mean


Or – did you mean


Yeah, it’s hard to tell.  What?  You call this last one a RUBBER spatula?  Well, good for you, but doesn’t that mean you think it’s a spatula?  “Rubber” is just an adjective, after all… it shouldn’t have the power to make you hand me the totally wrong implement.

A few years ago, I started noticing another entrant in the spatula competition.  Happily, the world seems to have acknowledged the confusion and informally dubbed it the SPOONULA.  You could also call it a SCOOPULA, because it’s scoopier than a regular spatula.  But in my head, I admit… it’s always going to be a SPLATULA.  (Why?  It holds more stuff… and stuff goes splat.)


Some people call the first kind of spatula a TURNER, like as in a “pancake turner” or “fish turner”.  But to me, THIS is turning.


What you do with fish and pancakes isn’t turning, it’s flipping.  So you can call it a FLIPPER if you like, I suppose.  But I don’t, and neither does anybody else.  It’s a SPATULA (but so are the others).

I’ve noticed that in some circles, the third gadget from the top has come to be called a BOWL SCRAPER.  Especially the ones that are a little rounder and bowlier shaped.


But once we’ve entered the category of things that are called SCRAPERS… well, here are my two favourite scrapers in the kitchen department.


Silicone BOWL SCRAPER, bought from Breadtopia.  Also known as a dough scraper because, you know, nothing’s simple.  I like how it has a hole so if I were a professional, I could mount it on a lanyard and carry it around on my neck.  It’s made of silicone, but it’s full of steel in the middle; like a good pair of steel-toed boots, it can take a licking.

My other main scraper is this guy, sold as a PAN SCRAPER.  but why can’t you use it for bowls?  It’s stiffer than the silicone one, so you can also use it to cut stuff if you want.


In the “scrapers I’ve always wanted” category (doesn’t everybody have one of these?) are these Matfer nylon scrapers, touted in this Bon Appetit article I read years ago as “the only kitchen tool you need.”  You have to dye them yourself to get this kind of colour, but I would… I really would.


Here in the scraper category is also where I find my… BENCH SCRAPER. 


Also known as a “bench knife,” this guy is one of my Three Essential Tools if you’re working with wet dough of any kind.  I usually just call it a SCRAPER, causing no end of confusion.

“Pass the scraper,” I say, to anyone who will listen.  “Which one?” they ask, in perplexity.  “Oh, you know,” I’ll answer, although they probably don’t.  Perhaps this is why nobody helps out in the kitchen?

In fact, I forgot two newish entries in my current scraper collection… these stiff polycarbonate CAST-IRON PAN SCRAPERS I recently bought from Lodge.


I adore cast-iron, which is as non-stick as anything Teflon, T-fal or Calphalon ever made, and far less toxic, but every once in a while, they need a bit of help to get back to squeaky-clean, and these scrapers are very, very useful.


Speaking of cast-iron, I have to admit that I absolutely can’t stand using plastic, silicone, or any other kind of implement in cast iron. 

I will use them if I have to (I admit, nothing has a sharp, clean edge for getting under fried eggs like a plastic spatula), but by far, my favourite implements to use with cast iron are wooden spoons.  As Alton Brown says, basically the only thing that can go wrong with a wooden spoon is if you set fire to it. 


If you can get hold of a really BIG wooden spoon, it’s great for stirring all manner of things.  I used to have one but it seems to have gone missing years ago.  I had no problem coming up with a name for that gadget.  It was always, from Day One, known as…


(I hasten to add here – this was absolutely NEVER used for spanking, or even just as a threat.  I would never condone such a thing… in case it’s not completely obvious.)

Beyond spoons, I also like other wooden shapes of things.  They feel warm and organic in your hand, and take on a nice dingy-grey patina with age.  I especially this one last tool that I admit I don’t have a name for.  Coming full circle, it’s shaped a bit like a spatula.  But it’s made of wood.  Plus, unlike most things that are called a spatula, it’s flat.  Which leaves me, woefully, in my head, never out loud, calling this last critter – one of my favourites…


If you can think of a better name for any of these gadgets… please leave a comment and let me know!

Friday, May 9, 2014

From “too-wet” dough… to perfect no-knead challah


Okay, I will spoil the surprise with a great shot of the finished challahs and the message that there is NO such thing (short of cake batter) as a too-wet dough.  Are you cut out for no-knead challah baking?  Maybe!  Read on to find out.

When people find out I bake challah, their first question is usually, “do you use a mixer?”  The assumption here is that making bread is onerous; so onerous that we need heavy-duty motorized tools to accomplish it. 

Um, hello?  For thousands of years people baked bread without mixers.  Okay, they also did laundry without washing machines… so maybe that isn’t as good a point as I thought.

But here’s my point:  making bread dough is easy, and you don’t need a mixer.  Heck, you don’t even need to mix the dough at all.  And if you play your cards right, your bread will be even moister and more delicious for the experience.

Aside:  You do, however, need one important tool:  a dough scraper.  This is almost exactly like a paint scraper.  You can see it in the picture of my dough, just down there below.  I think this one cost about $10 in Kensington Market a few years ago when I was down there looking to buy something else.  You could probably use a dedicated paint scraper, in a pinch, but it has to have a firm blade, not a bendy one.

Last night, I dug my good old dough bucket out so I could make no-knead challahs for the first time since our move.  I used this "do-not-knead" challah recipe.  I decided to halve the recipe, but then got so distracted and tired that I dumped in all the sugar and salt before I’d noticed.  So then I upped the flour, water and oil so it’s more like 3/4 of the full recipe.  You can play with challah dough; it’s forgiving that way.

Here’s what it looked like when I dumped it out of the bucket in the morning.  This is the “slime blob” stage.


When you see your dough in this state, flopped out all over the table, don’t worry!  It just means it’s time for the Stretch n’ Fold!  This operation toughens up the dough, but gently,  without losing all those great bubbles it’s been working to build up overnight.  (Click here to find out more about the process.)

Here I go – wheeeee… took a minute to get back into it (at first, I just used the scraper), but then I remembered how much I love getting my hands right in the glop.

IMG_00004504 IMG_00004507

Here’s what it looked like when I was done.  Sort of looks like it’s straightened its shouders, squared its jaw… nearly ready to face the world.


No?  Well, anyway, it’s a definite improvement. 

Now it’s time to rise again, back in the bucket.  I took this picture to show you that even after I was done, there were still bubbles in the dough.  You NEVER want to punch out all those bubbles.


After a rest, it’s time to roll it out.  I don’t just pull off hunks of dough – this dough isn’t nearly strong enough to just roll them out that way.  You can see the process a bit better in this post, but essentially, it goes like this: 

My process:

Big ball o’ dough –> small balls o’ dough (I weigh them out on the scale) –> pancakes –> slugs –> snakes –> braid. 

These are names I made up in my head for each of the stages, not some official baking-school terminology.  You can see a few “slugs” in the top-left corner of the picture below, along with a finished braid that came precariously close to the edge of the table.  By handling the dough in stages this way, you build up the “structure” of the bread so that it’s capable of holding the braid shape as it rises:

IMG_00004513 IMG_00004514

As you can see (scroll up), they turned out fantastically well.  (A little squished because I had to fit them 4 on a pan, as you can see above.  Our oven is tiny and I sometimes lack the patience to bake them in 2 batches.

As always on a Friday, I have to blog the bread before I taste it.  Sure, I could wait ‘till after Shabbos to post, but let’s just assume they’re delicious!

If you’re wondering whether no-knead challah will “work” for you, the answer is:  Probably.  But be prepared (and prepare your family!) to endure a few weeks of experimentation, getting down and dirty, so to speak (it’s not dirt!  it’s dough!), for the cause.  Even this basic recipe that I call my Reliable Challah tends not to work the first time you use it, for whatever reason.  Or people try it and say it tastes great, but they can’t get their challahs to look nearly as nice as mine.

The truth is that we endured years and years and YEARS of pitiful-tasting, gruesome-looking challahs.  As a young newlywed, even my husband could make better-looking challahs than I could.  His looked magnificent, like bakery-quality (he bragged that his experience with leatherworking had made him an expert braider!), while mine looked like flopsy, infested toads.

And guess what?  It never stops, maybe because I love to experiment (or simply get bored).  We still get a loser challah every once in a while, such as oh, 2 weeks ago, when I forgot to add the YEAST.  So if yours turns out awful, laugh it off and then get back up on that challah horse and try again the next week.

If you’re as fascinated by no-knead challah as I am, you might also want to read…

Good Shabbos from sunny Kiryat Shmuel, Haifa!