Bake up an antidote to winter

Cranberry, Oat and White Chocolate Biscuits

BY MARGI LENGA KAHN, Special to the Jewish Light

Winter has arrived, and it won’t be leaving anytime soon. For me, someone who abhors cold weather and everything that comes with it – snow, ice, below-zero wind chills – the prospect of heading outdoors is frightful. I am happiest in my kitchen, concocting delicious soups, roasting one-pot meals, and … baking breads, cakes, cookies, tarts, muffins, scones and biscuits. 

And lest you think there are better ways to spend your time, research shows that the creativity involved in baking and,  more specifically, baking for others, has profound psychological benefits.

Therapy has never tasted so good! So let’s get started.

I review four new baking cookbooks below and have tested at least one recipe from each. Chances are you might not be able to eat everything you bake at once. Bear in mind that just about everything can be frozen and defrosted months later when you would rather be outdoors. And of course, remember to enlist your friends, neighbors and co-workers, who will gladly volunteer to help consume those goodies.

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Huckleberry: Stories, Secrets and Recipes from Our Kitchen” by Zoe Nathan

Huckleberry is a beloved bakery in Santa Monica, Calif., where married co-owners Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb have been keeping customers happy since 2009. Their cookbook by the same name, which includes many of the items on their menu, is a collection of inspiring and easy-to-follow recipes for everything you might hope to find in your dream bakery. 

It includes riffs on muffins, from fig-brown sugar to chocolate chunk to lemon cornmeal with lemon glaze; stunning sweet and savory galettes, from grapefruit to goat cheese and quince; donuts, fritters, beignets, brioche, bagels and English muffins; assorted tea cakes, pancakes, bagels and muffins, including gluten-free options; and hearty plates made with a variety of meats, grains and roasted vegetables, all topped with an egg. 

These recipes will make you wish that breakfast could last all day, and it certainly can with you in control. 

Nathan, pastry chef extraordinaire, honed her skills while working at Tartine, my favorite San Francisco. She is a perfectionist who refuses to put anything in her bakery case that does not meet her standards. In addition to testing all of her recipes, Nathan explains why many of her recipes work, and she offers baking tips and optional ingredients.  

I tested her recipe for “Chocolate Chocolate Teacake,” using her suggestion to bake the batter into muffins rather than a cake. I just happened to have some mint buttercream in my refrigerator, so I iced half of the muffins with the buttercream and dusted the other half with confectioner’s sugar. The result: truly decadent and delicious!

Sweet” by Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh

Just as with Ottolenghi’s other award winning cookbooks (including “Plenty,” “Plenty More” and “Jerusalem”), “Sweet” is, well, sweet. The talented Ottolenghi began his career as a pastry chef and, in collaboration with outstanding head pastry chef and good friend Helen Goh, has compiled a collection of the most exciting and innovative recipes imaginable. The greatest challenge with this book is deciding just what to bake.

“Sweet” includes recipes for luscious cakes, such as coffee and cardamom pound cake, and passion fruit cheesecake with spiced pineapple. There are lemon and raspberry cupcakes and chocolate, banana and pecan cookies, and a pistachio roulade with raspberries and white chocolate. There are more than 120 recipes, many of which incorporate the spices and ingredients from Ottolenghi’s Middle Eastern roots: saffron, cardamom, tahini, almonds, pistachios, oranges, orange blossom water, rose water, semolina and sesame seeds.

As brilliant as this cookbook is, it has a humble side to it. The introductions before each recipe often mention its origins, listing friends, colleagues, and other bakers and bakeries all over the world who have inspired each recipe.  

Most of the recipes are quite approachable, from the exceptional cranberry, oat and white chocolate biscuits (which I made and include the recipe on page 17 ) and the almond butter cake with cardamom and spiced plums (which I also made) to the more complicated lemon and black currant stripe cake. This cookbook is sure to provide hours and hours of delicious baking.

Golden: Sweet & Savory Baked Delights from the Ovens of London’s Honey & Co.” by Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer

Honey & Co. is a famous Middle Eastern restaurant and bakery in London. Its owners, who met in Israel, moved to London together and eventually worked with Yotam Ottolenghi in his restaurants. They realized their dream in 2012 when they opened their restaurant.

One look through “Golden” and I was sold. This is Middle Eastern baking with a shot of creativity. From yeast breads, such as a gooey savory Balkan cheese bread that I made, to sweet yeast breads, such as poppy seed roses and tahini and white chocolate plait, to a fig, orange and walnut loaf and blood orange and pistachio cake, to baked doughnuts filled with lime and lemon curd and salty-sweet orange and tahini pretzels, there is no recipe in this book you will want to skip. Trust me.

With an entire chapter on baking tips and another devoted to recipes for jams, marmalades, flavored sugars and a savory spice mix to stock your cupboards, this collection by Srulovich and Packer is a delight to read and a pleasure to cook from.

Zingerman’s Bakehouse,” by Amy Emberling and Frank Carollo

Even if you aren’t a University of Michigan alum, you may still associate the Zingerman’s name with the bread bakery that opened in Ann Arbor back in 1992. That legendary bakery turned out quality artisan breads long before the term “artisan bread” entered our culinary lingo. Zingerman’s Bakehouse, from which this cookbook gets its name, didn’t go retail until 1996, at which time it also opened its BAKE cooking school, for which our dear family friend Sara Molinaro is the principal.

In addition to wonderful recipes, the cookbook is as much a tutorial in baking as it is a handbook on how to run a successful business. If I had to predict, this collection of recipes will stand the test of time. You will use them over and over. The recipes range from traditional to creative to exceptional. 

For starters, you can try the bakehouse brownies, hamantaschen, or sweet and savory strudels. If you are looking for something a bit more exotic, bake the dios beigli (Hungarian walnut roll) or the lovely spiced new deli crumb cake that I made. 

If baking yeast-risen breads is your thing, try baking Zingerman’s Pecan Sticky Obama Buns or focaccia with gorgonzola and caramelized onions. And if you are ready for a challenge, learn to make your own sourdough starter and use it to bake roadhouse bread, chestnut baguettes or dinkelbrot (German Spelt Bread). 

In addition to the variety and clarity of the recipes, everyone will appreciate the sidebar information that provides baking tips and even a little of the recipe’s background.

A few baking tips

For baking novices to baking machers, here are a few of my tips before you try one of the recipes in these cookbooks, including the one below:

Follow the rule of mise en place. The term, used by professional bakers, translates into “prepare all the ingredients and equipment before you start the recipe.” That means chopping nuts, measuring ingredient amounts and the like. Trust me: following the rule of mise en place will simplify your baking experience and make it much more pleasurable.

Treat yourself to a kitchen scale that will measure in ounces and grams. When baking, weighing your ingredients is far more accurate than measuring them in cups and spoons.

Use parchment paper to line the bottom of your baking pans. Even when a recipe doesn’t call for it, using paper will insure that your cookies won’t stick to the baking sheet and that your cake will come out in one piece.

Always preheat your oven and, if you are using more than one baking sheet, rotate the sheets on the racks (from upper to lower and back to front) at least once during the baking cycle.

Recipe: Chocolate Chocolate Teacake

Recipe: Cranberry, Oat and White Chocolate Biscuits

Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of five. A cooking instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is working on a project to preserve  the stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at [email protected].