A sweet sticky, Succot

Cookbook author Paula Shoyer shares her theory on holiday cooking – and some delightful fall recipes.

Sticky toffee pudding (photo credit: MICHAEL BENNETT KRESS)
Sticky toffee pudding
Most families have holiday traditions that revolve around food. Paula Shoyer is no different: the cookbook author always makes cinnamon buns… for tashlich. “Not that we throw them in the river!” she quickly interjects. “Everybody comes to my house before or after tashlich,” the Rosh Hashana afternoon ceremony where Jews symbolically cast their sins in to water, she said. “We go to the creek down my block and I always make cinnamon buns, and then we take bread and we throw the bread in the creek.”
For Shoyer, author of The Kosher Baker and The Holiday Kosher Baker, Rosh Hashana is about keeping family traditions, while Succot is all about experimenting in the kitchen.
“I have a theory that for holidays like Rosh Hashana, Thanksgiving or Passover you should have traditional family dishes you serve every year, so your kids have something that you associate with that holiday,” she said. “For Rosh Hashana I like to do more traditional – it’ll be an interesting brisket, but I’ll do brisket, turkey, tzimmes, kasha varnishkes... I want to have traditional Jewish dishes that will help people remember their grandmother’s and great grandmother’s kitchen,” she said. “On Succot I tend to be a little bit more creative.”
Her creativity is held back slightly, however, by the practical needs of the holiday.
“On Succot there is only so much you can carry back and forth [to the succa],” she said. “On a typical Shabbat I’d make three or four vegetable side dishes, but I’m just not going to do that on Succot.”
Instead, she said, she’ll make big one-pot dishes, that include protein, carbs and vegetables.
“I tend to make things like veal osso bucco, chicken with barley, Moroccan stews,” she said. “I feel like you have to keep it simple otherwise it just takes so much time.”
And though she’s known for her desserts and baking, Shoyer – an environmental lawyer turned French-trained pastry chef – has spent the past year working on an upcoming Passover cookbook featuring savory dishes, to be published in February 2015.
“Everywhere I go on my tour, people will say ‘We love your dessert recipes, do you cook too?’” she recounts. So when her publisher called about writing a savory Passover cookbook, she jumped at the opportunity.
Still, she said, there was a serious adjustment from writing about baking to cooking.
“When I’m in the kitchen at the end of the day [cooking for my family], I don’t look at recipes, I just look in the fridge and see what I have,” she said. “It was so tedious at first to be measuring pepper for salad dressing and measuring vegetables and ingredients for roasted vegetables.”
“It’s hard for me to be precise with food because I feel like it’s such an imprecise science, cooking vs. baking,” she said. “When that cake comes out of the oven, you can put a white chocolate glaze on it or chocolate frosting or powdered sugar, but you can’t change the cake. When it comes to savory food, you can fix almost everything.”
And though she loves to cook, Shoyer’s mind will always drift back to the desserts.
“Since it’s usually chilly here [in Maryland] it’s nice to bring out something warm and comforting, she said, “cobblers, sticky toffee pudding, you have the last of the summer fruits and some fall fruits with crumbs on top. When it gets to Succot, I like to move from the summer desserts into... the more fall-like desserts, more pumpkin, more carrots… more goo.”
Sticky Toffee Pudding
• 1 1/2 cups (200g) pitted dates
• 1 3/4 cups flour, plus 1 teaspoon for sprinkling on dates
• 1 cup boiling water
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 4 tablespoons margarine, softened
• 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
• 2 large eggs
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
Toffee Topping:
• 1/2 cup (1 stick/100g) margarine
• 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
• 1/3 cup non-dairy whipping cream
1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33-cm.) pan and set it aside.
2. Toss the dates in a small bowl with one teaspoon of flour to prevent the dates from sticking to your knife while you’re chopping them. On a cutting board, use a large knife to chop the dates into ¼ to ½-inch (6mm to 1.25-cm.) pieces. Put the dates back in the bowl and pour the boiling water on top. Add the baking soda and vanilla and stir. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl, beat the margarine and brown sugar on medium speed until creamed together. Add the eggs and beat for one minute, stopping to scrape down the bowl once, and beat until thick and creamy. Add ¼ cup flour and baking powder and mix on low speed. Add ½ cup flour and mix until just mixed in. Add the last ½ cup flour and mix until just combined. Add the date-and water mixture and mix well with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon.
4. Pour the mixture into the greased pan and bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Check the cake for doneness, starting after about 19 minutes of baking – you want to remove the cake precisely when it is just baked and not a minute longer.
5. To prepare the topping, in a small saucepan, warm the margarine and brown sugar over medium heat until the margarine is melted, stirring often. Mix in the cream. Heat the mixture until it boils and continue cooking for three more minutes.
Reduce the heat to low and cook the mixture for another two minutes.
6. When the pudding is baked, remove it from the oven and raise the oven temperature to broil. Use a lollipop stick or skewer to poke holes all over the cake. Pour the toffee over the top of the cake and put it in the oven for one minute, allowing the mixture to bubble.
7. To serve, cut the warm pudding into squares or scoop it out of the pan with a spoon. Store covered at room temperature for up to five days or freeze for up to three months.
Reheat to serve.
Pear and Almond Pithivier Cake
• 4 cups water
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 tablespoon vanilla
• 1 bunch thyme stems (about 10)
• Juice from 1/2 a lemon
• 2 firm pears
Almond Cream:
• 4 tablespoons margarine or butter
• 1/3 cup sugar
• 1/2 cup almond flour
• 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
• 1 large egg
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets from a 500g box)
• 1 large egg, beaten
• 2 teaspoons sugar
1. Put the water, sugar, vanilla and thyme branches in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, squeeze the lemon juice into a shallow bowl. Slice off the stem and very bottom of each pear and peel them. Halve them from stem to bottom. With a measuring spoon or melon-baller, scoop out the core of the pear, including the vein that runs from top to bottom; then coat each half of the fruit in the lemon juice.
2. When the syrup has boiled, reduce the heat so the liquid simmers and add the pear halves. Cook for 20-25 minutes, or until the tip of a sharp knife slides easily into the inside of one of the pear halves. Let the fruit cool in the saucepan. The pears may be made two days in advance and stored covered in the fridge with some of the poaching liquid.
3. For the almond cream, in a medium bowl, beat the margarine with an electric mixer on high speed until soft. Add the sugar, almond flour and flour and beat until creamy. Add the egg and vanilla. Increase the speed to high and beat for one minute, until the mixture is light and airy. Cover the cream and leave it in the fridge for up to three days, until you’re ready to assemble the cake.
4. Thaw the puff pastry at room temperature for at least 45 minutes. You will need two dinner plates or round baking pans, one that is about 8” in diameter and one about 10” in diameter.
5. Place a piece of parchment on a baking sheet and sprinkle it with some flour. Unroll one sheet of puff pastry and use a rolling pin to smooth out the lines until it is larger than a 10” plate. Put the plate over the pastry and run a knife around the plate to cut out a 10” circle. Discard the trimmings.
6. Take an 8” pan or plate and press it on top of the pastry to mark a smaller circle in the center of the pastry circle, or use a dull knife to score the circle without cutting through it. Set it aside. On another piece of parchment paper, roll out the second sheet of pastry the same way you rolled out the first one. Make sure to lift the dough off the parchment from time to time and sprinkle some flour underneath it so that it doesn’t stick. Place a 10” plate on top and cut out another circle.
7. Remove the almond cream from the fridge. Lift the pear halves out of the syrup and place them on paper towels to dry. Slice the pears lengthways into 1/4” slices. Brush the beaten egg on the 2” border made between the scored circle and the outer edge of the puff pastry. Using a silicone spatula, spread the almond cream on the circle inside of the egg-brushed border (not on the border). Try to spread it as evenly as possible.
8. Place the pear slices cut side down on top of the almond cream, overlapping if necessary to use most of them up. With your hand under the parchment, gently flip the second pastry circle over on top of the almond cream. Peel off the parchment and stretch the dough so that you can press the edges of the two pastry sheets together to seal the top and bottom pieces. Pinch to seal tightly.
9. Place your 8” plate or pan on top of the pastry, and use the back of a knife to score but not cut a circle around the filled center so you have a border around the part that contains the cream filling.
Use a knife to cut a scalloped pattern on the border, being careful not to cut the two pastry sheets where the filling is.
10. Use a knife to mark but not cut a pattern on top of the pastry, by holding the tip of the back of the knife in the center and marking curves from the center to the inside border. Brush the cake with the beaten egg. Reserve the egg to brush the top again before baking. Place the pan with the cake into the freezer for 20 minutes.
11. Preheat oven to 230°C. Remove the cookie sheet from the freezer and brush the dough again with the beaten egg. Sprinkle the top with 2 tsp of sugar. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 200°C and bake another 25-30 minutes, or until browned. Serve slices warm or at room temperature. Store covered in plastic at room temperature for up to three days.
Recipes reprinted with permission from Holiday Kosher Baker © 2013 by Paula Shoyer, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.