Saturday, 19 January 2008

Move over Mr Grodzinski

This one's for you, Israel Grandma!

A few weeks ago I bought a Jewish cookbook in a discount bookshop. No matter that Jewish staples like roast chicken, chicken soup and salt beef sandwiches are taboo for me, many of my happy memories of childhood are associated with family celebrations of Jewish festivals and their associated foods. Whatever else one may think about organised religion, Jews know how to do a fun festival. Cheesecake, cinnamon balls, kugel, cholent, matzo brei, challah, charoset, apple and honey, doughnuts... all these things remind me of being a child, and they are often how I go about recreating my nicest cultural memories (which is why my friends have a rather confused picture of Judaism, loosely linked to baked goods and no obvious fixed reference points since they're based on a lunar calendar).

So anyway, I had fun looking through my new cookbook, and picked out several things I wanted to try. One was bagels, which I have since attempted with pretty good success, and another was rugelach. These are little rolled up pastries, filled with chocolatey jammy goodness. I don't really remember eating them myself, but I associate them with Israel Grandma, who often has a box or two in her cupboard. Before I had a chance to start thinking more seriously about them, however, I came across a post about them on Fresh from the Oven blog. I always like following a recipe which has been tried and tested, and I had pretty much all the ingredients already, so I gave it a go.

It was a recipe in several stages, but I quite like that, especially if I want a little break from work during the day. I made the pastry one evening, and then rolled it out, made the filling and baked the rugelach in several stages the next day. The pastry has cream cheese in it (so it's a milk-meal only treat) and I did find that the pastry stuck a bit, but adding a bit more flour helped there. I used home-made blackberry jam for the filling with dried cranberries and chocolate chips because that's what I had. The rolled out and topped pastry looked like some sort of unfortunate pizza, but was already smelling pretty good from the warm jam.

The pizza is then cut in to segments (which I've already done in this picture), and then you roll each segment up into a little cigar. Mine didn't look absolutely as they should, but I proceeded to bake them, at which point the kitchen filled with some of the best smells I have ever been responsible for. They tasted gorgeous as well - jammy, sweet from the cranberries, and with a nice bit of chocolate too. In fact I would have happily eaten them without the chocolate. Definitely a success. Here are some of the more photogenic ones posing next to a cup of my ubiquitous and beloved hot chocolate.

When I went back to look at the pictures in the original book, I realised why they looked a bit unusual though - I had rolled them up THE WRONG WAY! You're supposed to start from the wide edge so that you end up with a pretty tapering effect from the narrow part lying uppermost. However, I hadn't thought this through properly and started from the middle out. Perhaps Mr Grodzinski can shift another few boxes of his rugelach yet. He'd better watch out though - these were beautiful and I will definitely be trying again! Now I need an expert taster - are you ready for the job, Israel Grandma?!

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