Homemade strudel sweetens every simcha

For those of you who watched my camping Webisode on www.inthemotherhood.com, I just want to make one thing clear: I DO NOT have a tattoo anywhere on my body, unlike the portrayal of Leah Remini’s character. Actually, I have a freckle on my — never mind. Hollywood will do anything for a laugh.

Okay, back to reality and the bar mitzvah. As the big day approaches, my dining room table disappears underneath a hodgepodge of paper goods, yarmulkes, party favors, platters, snacks, reply cards, place cards, and so many Judaic items that I’m ready to open up my own gift shop.

However, the most important provision for the bar mitzvah party is not found on my padded table but is sealed in heavy-duty aluminum foil in my freezer. I’m talking about the strudel. And anyone who tries to sneak a peak inside the mysterious silver-wrapped shoeboxes that are stacked inside my LG appliance won’t live to hear the words, “mazel tov” ever again.

I’m talking about rows and rows of meticulously packed homemade pastries that, in my opinion, are the sweetest, flakiest, and tastiest treats to land in one’s mouth. The strudel to be served at Jack’s bar mitzvah comes from the loving hands of great-grandma Ruth and my mom’s dear friend Estelle Kent. Over the last several decades, these queens of cuisine have perfected their own strudel recipes, and they are the best at hand-stretching the dough until it’s thin enough to read a newspaper through. Plus, they don’t mind a little flour on their noses when they skillfully work the rolling pin. With much practice, they have mastered the technique of rolling and filling the delicate dough with just the right amount of jelly, raisins, nuts, coconut, and other secret ingredients. (You didn’t think I really would give you the recipe, did you?)

When it comes to a Jewish celebration, their strudel dominates the dessert table like a challah on Shabbat or a cantor on the High Holidays.

Recently, I was lucky enough to help (mostly observe) Grandma Ruth make strudel for the bar mitzvah of her first great-grandchild, who is my son. My job is to grind the pecans, while the expert magically flattens each ball of dough on the floured countertop. The sweet, cinnamon aroma fills her little kitchen as I carefully pull each warped cookie sheet out of the oven. I can hear the crackling of the sizzling hot strawberry, apricot, and pineapple preserves as they melt inside the crisp, golden brown pastry. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into an end piece.

Strudel is a German word that literally means “vortex,” which doesn’t refer to the name of the dough, but simply the method of rolling the dough around the filling. Most of all, strudel is a Jewish tradition. Other traditions that I have come to cherish are my mother Charlotte’s muhn cookies and my mother-in-law Vicki’s kamish bread, which I have yet to try to make. It’s a Jewish custom to have family and friends bake for a simcha, and I’m fortunate to have my own personal “baking squad,” thanks to the coordination of my special crony Rochelle, who is in charge of assembling all the goodies. When it comes to the love of people who you care about, nothing is sweeter. Except maybe ruggalah.

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Currently, she is obsessing over the seating chart for her son’s upcoming bar mitzvah, so please feel free to send any advice to: [email protected] or visit her website at www.mishegasofmotherhood.com.

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