Today on “What’s Cooking Wednesday,” we are excited to share a special guest post and recipe from food writer Joan Nathan, who will be speaking at the National Archives on May 25 with Chef Spike Mendelsohn about Jewish holiday traditions and cooking.
In all the years I have been writing about food, I thought that I would have heard of every Jewish recipe known to mankind. To my delighted surprise, I have not—something that keeps this profession so very dynamic.
The United States is such a multicultural country that every ethnic group can find its culinary roots in one of the many immigrant communities throughout this amazing land. Jews are no different. Our food has gone mainstream in many areas: bagels, brisket, matzo balls, chopped liver, and challah. Who hasn’t heard of challah French toast?
Although the ancestors of three-quarters of America’s Jews came here in the Great Migration from Eastern Europe between the 1880s and early 1900s, today’s Jews are a mishmash of many backgrounds, Jewish and non-Jewish.
I just tasted, for example, one of the best bagels in America at Cincinnati’s Marx Hot Bagels; considered so American that it was featured at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 1976. John Marx, who learned to make bagels from a Jewish bagel baker in the 60s, only learned recently that he had a Jewish great-grandfather.
In the past year or so, perhaps because of the Internet, or perhaps because people feel a need to connect to their roots, I am getting an overflow of questions about old Jewish American recipes. “My aunt used to stuff matzo balls . . . my great uncle longs for pirishkes . . . my mother used to make fine kufen at Passover . . . my Jewish neighbor used to make bebelach,” and my all time favorite, “I can still taste kuchem-buchem, a melt in your mouth cocoa-dipped babka-knot from Baltimore, but can’t find a recipe!”
With the increasing proliferation of American Jewish cookbooks, you would think that most Jewish recipes have been documented. But, to my surprise, many have not. And the joy that it brings people to rediscover their childhood favorites is another reason I keep my nose in the books.
Kuchem-Buchem from Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook
- ¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter or pareve margarine, at room temperature
¼ cup Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa
¾ cup sugar
2 cups babka dough (1/3 of the babka dough recipe below)
- 1) Melt the butter or margarine and mix it with the cocoa and sugar.
- 2) Take the dough from the refrigerator and knead it for about 5 minutes.
- 3) Divide the dough into 9 pieces and shape them into balls. Take a teaspoon of the cocoa mixture and, using your fingers, press it into the middle of the ball, and gently reshape the ball. Repeat with the other balls of dough. Place the remaining cocoa mixture in a wide bowl and roll the balls of dough in it. Then fit them side-by-side into a greased 8-by-8-inch pan. Cover and let the balls of dough rise in a warm place for about 1-½ hours.
- 4) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake the kuchem-buchem on the middle rack for 25-30 minutes or until firm outside.
- 1 cup lukewarm milk or water
1 scant teaspoon (1 package) active dry yeast
5-½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (approximately)
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter or pareve margarine, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1-½ teaspoons salt
5 large eggs
1-½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1) Place the milk or water, yeast, and 2 cups of the flour in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle. Mix for about 1 minute on low speed until well incorporated. Transfer this “sponge” to a large, greased bowl. Cover with a towel and let it sit for an hour, until doubled in size.
- 2) Cream the butter or margarine and the sugar in thebowl of an electric mixer. Add the sponge, salt, eggs, and vanilla, and continue mixing at a low speed until incorporated, about 3 minutes. Gradually add the remaining 3-½ cups of flour and work the ingredients for 12-15 minutes on low speed until the dough is smooth, adding more flour as needed. The dough will be soft. Remove the dough from the bowl. Divide it into 3 pieces and dust the pieces with flour. Cover each loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.
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