Just Baked

February 27, 2010


Oy vey, I've eaten so many hamantaschen I could plotz. There's a huge pile of them sitting on my kitchen table, and that's even after I dropped half of them on the floor, like the klutzy schlemiel that I am.

... And now that I've pretty much exhausted all of the Yiddish that I know...

One of the foods my gram always seemed to have around were hamantaschen, even though they aren't normally a year round treat. She must have had a magical box hidden in the pantry that created the cookies from thin air, since I never saw her make them, but yet if you requested one, there it was! A neatly folded, buttery triangular cookie, stuffed with prunes and nuts or ground apricots - yum!

I guess I should explain what exactly a "hamantasch" is, for anyone out there without a Jewish grandmother. Hamantaschen are triangular cookies, typically filled with ground up fruit and nuts, although chocolate or poppy seed fillings are not unheard of.

They're made to celebrate the holiday of Purim, which is a festival that involves a lot eating and gifts of food; sometimes it also involves dressing up as various biblical characters. I just learned that it's also a drinking holiday, with one portion of the Talmud* saying "one should drink on Purim until he can no longer distinguish between the phrases 'Cursed is Haman' and 'Blessed is Mordecai.'"** They never taught me that in Hebrew school!

*A book of Jewish laws
** There are other books that promote a much more moderate approach.

I now present to you my jumbled memories of the Purim story, which have been laying unused in my brain since my early years: 
There was a king, who married a Jewish woman named Esther, without realizing that she was Jewish. One of the higher ups in the king's court, Haman, got mad at the Jews for some reason, and convinced a bunch of people, and maybe even the king, that they should kill all of them. Esther found out about this, and went to the king, told him that she was Jewish and said that he better overrule Haman and save her people. Somehow a guy named Mordecai was also heroic, Haman was sentenced to the gallows, and now we eat pastries shaped like his triangular hat. THE END

If you would like a more accurate/in depth explanation of Purim, I suggest you check out this summary on Jewishfaq.org or the Wikipedia page.

Anyway, the important thing to remember here is the hamantaschen, because they are very tasty, and my gram's recipe for them is delicious- the pastry outside is buttery and smooth and the filling isn't overpoweringly sweet. I found 5 different recipes for hamantaschen in the recipe box, but decided to go with the one that she had 2 vanilla stained copies of. Maybe next year I'll share her quick cake mix based hamantaschen recipe. 

Purim starts tonight at sundown tonight, and continues until Monday, the 1st, so I guess we better get baking! 

February 25, 2010

Helpful Tip 001: Minimizing Mess

You should see my kitchen counter while I'm baking. Actually, you shouldn't, I would be embarrassed by how messy it is. I always seem to end up with a layer of flour and sugar on the counter. When I go to clean it up, I end up smearing it around and getting it on the floor and myself. Of course, all this could be avoided if I would only listen to something my gram would tell me every we made cookies.

Use the sink.
It's so simple, so obvious, but something I rarely remember to do.

Before you start baking, make sure the sink is emptied of dishes and glasses and all of those pans from last night's dinner that you haven't gotten around to washing yet. Now, when you need some flour, place the container in the sink before you scoop and level the measurement. Any flour that misses its target can be instantly washed down the drain, no mess! If you keep your baking supplies in canisters, putting them in the sink before you refill them also keeps the messiness to a minimum.

My gram would insist on measuring out everything this way, and I was always trying to get around it, not wanting to take the ingredients the few steps over to the sink and then back to the mixing bowl. Any time that she was distracted by the phone ringing or her dog barking, I would try to measure out things over the counter, and every time, she would catch me.

"ahh ahh ahh, there's flour on the counter."
"Just a little..."

And then of course we would have to pause in the cookie making to clean up the flour before it spread around and got out of hand.

It seems like such a little, silly thing to do, but when it comes to saving on clean up time, every little bit helps, especially when you hate cleaning up as much as I do.

February 19, 2010

Double Chocolate Nuggets

These cookies taste like the crispy edges of the best brownies ever, but better because the chewy/crispy part isn't just a portion of the treat, but the entire thing. Honestly, I'm not normally a fan of brownies, but these cookies are like the best brownies I've ever had. The have just a thin moist layer in the middle, and are chock full of nuts and chocolate chunks. Honestly, these might be my new favorite super-fast-'n-easy cookie.

The main reason they're so fast and easy is because of (you guessed it) my gram's love of cake mix. She says to use Dunkin Hines, and gives you the option of two different chocolate cakes; I went with the Devil's Food. As usual, I'm sure whatever brand you like will work out just fine. She also says you have to top them with pecans, but I doubt that it will be the end of the world if you prefer to use walnuts.


February 09, 2010

Sour Cream Cookies

I can practically see the puzzled look on your faces. "Sour Cream Cookies? But... But you promised us the best bran muffin ever!"

I know I did. I'm sorry. I tried, really tried, to make my gram's bran muffins this weekend; if you don't believe me, feel free to ask my dreamy boyfriend about it (I'm sure he'll have some choice words to say on the subject.) I made him trudge with me, through the blinding blizzard, to three different supermarkets in search of the ingredients. It seems that the panicking masses, worried that they wouldn't be able to dig themselves out of their houses in time for a Sunday brunch outing, bought up all of the buttermilk in the city. I jest, of course. If it had been open, I probably would have been able to find the buttermilk at Wholefoods.

The problem is with the bran flakes themselves. The recipe calls for two different varieties of flakes, and it seems that one has been discontinued and the other is just difficult to find. I'll try to come up with a good substitute for the discontinued bran flakes over the next few weeks, and let you know as soon as I've devised something close enough to the original muffins.

So, Sour Cream Cookies. I chose this recipe in part because, for once, I already had sour cream in my 'fridge, a remnant of a quesadilla craving last week. The sour cream I had was low-fat, which is something that I doubt my gram would have used in these cookies, so if you can stand a couple of extra calories, I'd say go for it and use full fat sour cream; your cookies will have a richer flavor than batch I made.

February 05, 2010

Memento from Japan, 1979

I realized the other day that I've been sharing my gram's recipes and some stories about her and her cooking, but I haven't shown any photos of her or her house.

Besides the usual family snapshots from birthdays and long weekends, I actually have quite a few photos of just her house and belongings, remnants of a slightly (ok more than slightly) self indulgent photography project about "painting a portrait of a person through the things they owned." Yadda yadda yadda.  Really, I just wanted an excuse to photograph her beautiful house and built a justification from that.

Anyway, I've decided to occasionally share a photo or two of my Gram and her house, in between recipes.

This first photo is of a souvenir plate that she brought back from a trip to Japan in 1979. I know she liked this photograph of herself, because the plate was always on prominent display next to one of the many candy dishes in the living room. My grandmother is the smiling woman kneeling on the mat on the left. The woman standing on the right is her friend Roselle Como, who my grandmother sometimes traveled with.

Just look at how immaculate her hair is in this photo! That's how her hair looked for the entirety of my life, although perhaps the color wasn't always natural.

If you want to see the photo in more detail, just click through to the Flickr photo page, and you can view a larger image.

What's up next, recipe-wise? I don't want to overexcite you, but I've been eyeballing my gram's renowned bran muffin recipe.

February 03, 2010

2 Ingredient Muffins

I told you that my Gram wasn't above taking shortcuts and using pre-packaged things in her baking, and this muffin recipe sure proves it! When I first found this recipe card I couldn't help but laugh and shake my head. "No way will this ever work" was my first reaction.

I thought about it some more, and realized that making muffins from just these two items did make sense, in a weird way. All of the typical muffin-making ingredients are present, in one way or another.

The final result is a muffin that's a bit more like a sweet tasting biscuit than a moist muffin, but I think that they're worth making once or twice, just for the novelty of it. As you hand one of these muffins to your friend/significant other/child you can shock them by saying that you made it using only 2 ingredients-- trust me, they will be so darn impressed with you that you will appear as a God to them, for at least 5 minutes... Well, maybe not, but they'll at least be intrigued.

I can hear you gnashing your teeth and shouting "just tell me what two things I need to make the stupid muffins already!" so without further ado:

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Honey Never Spoils by Temma Hankin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.