Next Up: Umm…

From here on I’ve got no big project plans, just some by-the-numbers holiday baking to do. I may put up a new tea bread flavor or pie recipe here and there, but there’ll be no rhyme or reason to my posting up to Christmas. I’m around to answer questions if you have any of course, but posts will be sporadic though next Wednesday at which point I’ll go dark through the first of the year. Here’s to the holiday baking rush!

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On the Road Again

I’m up in Chicago on business for a couple of days. It’s always nice to see Michigan Avenue at Christmas time I must say. Also I got a chance to drop in at the much-hyped food boutique Eataly. The short review: very slick, very big with an impressive selection top-quality Continental foods and groceries. It’s very “on-trend” in the sense that it’s a good example of “experiential retail”, but I wonder how many people can afford to shop at a place like this. It’s like Whole Foods only…more. Only time will tell if a concept like this can succeed with…

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Making Rugelach

I like to make rugelach in the shape of croissants because it’s very likely that rugelach were modeled on croissants. Or the other way around, it’s hard to say. What’s true is that croissants, rugelach and kipfel are all members of the same pastry family, and none of them have anything to do with the Battle of Vienna.

These are cream cheese short pastry rugelach, just one of several possible styles. They’re a bit fussy to make but worth the results. And anyway after the first dozen or so the shaping process will become so automatic you’ll scarcely know you even doing it. This recipe makes either 24 or 32, but can easily be scaled up if you like. Start by combining the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle. …

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Rugelach Recipe

Rugelach come in a couple of different styles. There’s the classic croissant shape and what you might call the “strudel: shape. Either one will work with this formula. Any time I take on a classic I try to be aware that there are dozens of possible alternatives, most with an equal claim to the “definitive version” title. That rule certainly applies to rugelach. Some versions are made with sour cream and are a little more cake-like, some with cream cheese and are a little more pie crust-like. This formula is the latter, because that’s the version I first tasted and learned how to make. Calle me sentimental. The proportions for this style of rugelach are fairly standard:

For the Pastry

For the Pastry

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
4 ounces (1 stick) butter or margarine, room temperature
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
5 ounces (1 cup) all-purpose flour

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Filed under:  Pastry, Rugelach | 23 Comments

Back to the Battle of Vienna

Very early on in the evolution of I noticed something odd about baking and pastry history. Specifically that much of it led back to the same event in European history: the Battle of Vienna in 1683. The development of this bread can be traced back to the Battle of Vienna in 1683. I seemed to find lines like that everywhere. This pastry originated at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. Food historians trace the croissant, brioche, bagels, kipfel, rugelach (and undoubtedly many others) back to it. It’s the reason I came to call the Battle of Vienna the most baking-intensive conflict in the history of man.

So what exactly was the Battle of Vienna of 1683? Though most people today aren’t familiar with it, it was quite possibly the critical battle in early modern European history. It was the point at which the Ottoman Turks — who at the time seemed poised overrun northern Europe and in the process extinguish centuries of European tradition, Christian rule, the Westphalian nation state system and emerging concepts of individual rights and democracy — were routed by a combined army of Habsburgs and Poles. As I said we don’t think much about the battle now, but at the time it was considered, you know, important.

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What are rugelach?

They are little tube-shaped pastries usually made with a cream cheese dough. They resemble small croissants when they’re rolled, small cinnamon buns when they’re cut. Nuts or raisins with spices are the most common fillings, at least in my experience, though they’re wicked good when they’re filled with chocolate or marzipan. Just about any sweet pastry filling can work in rugelach so long as it won’t entirely melt and run out during baking. Rugelach are best known as a Jewish delicacy, though where I learned to make them — Chicago’s North Shore — non-Jews have been wise to them for…

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Next Up: Rugelach

There’s been a surge of interest in knishes lately and that’s reminded me about rugelach, which I used to roll in a bakery every day but haven’t made in ages. I think it’s well past time to do some, no?

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Making Esterházy Torte

The combination of thin meringue layers and buttercream has been so cherished in Europe for so long that there’s even a special word for it: dacquoise. Which in French means ah, sweet mystery of life at last I found you. Top eleven layers of dacquoise with a smear of apricot glaze, then ice the whole works with chocolate-striped vanilla fondant and you have one of the all-time classics of Viennese pastry: Esterházy torte.

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Filed under:  Esterházy Torte, Pastry | 34 Comments

What is “salt rising bread”?

Reader Katie asks, since I live in Kentucky, if I’ve ever heard of salt rising bread and if so, could I tell her what it is. Katie, I certainly have heard of it. It’s a type of bread favored by Appalachian folk that’s leavened not with baking powder or yeast but with a bacterium that goes by the name of Clostridium perfringens.

If that name sounds familiar it’s probably because C. perfringens is a well known food pathogen, one that can and very often does make people sick, sometimes seriously so. That however doesn’t stop some people from raising their bread with it. Why? Because unlike just about every other microbe that can grow in a starter bowl (aside from yeast) C. perfringens creates copious amounts of CO2. The rise you get from it is every bit as good, maybe even better, than actual yeast. …

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Where does rum come from?

Now there’s a dandy question for a rainy afternoon. Reader Faith, I thank you for it. Rum is a New World spirit, a product of the West Indian sugar industry, originally invented when a vat of either cane juice or rain-diluted molasses was allowed to ferment. And of course one of the happy by-products of fermentation is alcohol.

Historians say it was probably plantation slaves that first began to drink this rough and ready grog — basically a sugar cane beer — which must have been horrible stuff. But it was cheap and intoxicating. Eventually it occurred to some enterprising souls to distill the beer into concentrated spirits and bingo — rum came into being. Before long people throughout the West Indies and in the Colonies were drinking this new “rumbullion.”

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