Category Archives: Jewish

Sour Cherry Babka with Quark Cheese & Maple Glaze Recipe

Keep the Metamucil close, because I’m coming at you with this totally irresistible, incredibly addictive Babka with sour cherries, quark/cream cheese and maple syrup glaze. This brioche-like Babka is an awesome culinary cross between Slavic and Jewish Easter recipes. It’s a great sweet bread to make few days in advance of Easter and keep it at the room temperature or in the fridge (while secretly cutting slices at night when no one can see you devouring it with melted chocolate drizzle and ice cream).

The maple syrup glaze made with one of those gorgeous maple products you procured the other day at the SS fair will have time to get absorbed and you can add a fresh layer of it just before serving.

The down side of this yeasted cake is that you have to find half a day to make it. Allow yourself exactly 4 hours and 40 minutes to have the Babka finally baked and cooling. We made it last night, finished at almost midnight, so there will be no detailed pictures of the steps of making the dough, but I don’t think you really need them. I know the leavening part is imputed to often baking flops. Many of home bakers lambaste themselves over it, but you’ll never know until you try, right? When armed with the proper ingredients, right proportions and yeast that IS actually ACTIVE, I see no reason anyone would fail this mission.

On the upside, this Babka is incredibly deliscious and versatile with some extra additions like honey, melted chocolate, butter, maple syrup, caramel, etc. It can be stored at the room temperature for up to three days or for few days longer in the fridge.

Sour cherries give a great fresh tang balanced delicately with the cheese mix (lightened with the quark cheese instead of pure cream cheese and maple syrup to replace sugar) and spongy, yeasty dough. Simple and attainable goodness and a stunning center piece (given you saved your night trips to the fridge for the better days).

Our midnight steps… followed by some blurry final shots…

The boring part is the waiting times for the dough to rise, which on the other hand, gives you time to do many other things in between. Otherwise it’s fun to whisk, rock and roll. But if you feel that you are not yet ready for the challenge and might find the experience still humiliating, just wait till I post something much simpler but equally adorable next week.

Happy Easter Baking!
PS: Here are some other good ideas for the Easter breads we’ve posted previously:  
Yields: 10 to 12 portions
For the Babka Dough:
2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast
¼ cup, plus 2 tbsp plus a pinch of granulated sugar
¾ cup warm milk
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk
3 cups all-purpose flour, extra for the surface
Kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature, extra for the bowl, pan and lining parchment paper
1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp of cream for an egg wash
1 ½ cups pitted fresh, thawed or drained sour cherries
For the Filling:
6 ounces quark cheese
8 ounces softened cream cheese
1 egg yolk
¼ cup maple syrup plus 2 tbsp confectioner’s sugar
For the Glaze:
½ cup maple syrup
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
2 tbsp milk
Sprinkle yeast and a pinch of granulated sugar over warm milk in a medium bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes until foamy.
Whisk together remaining ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, the egg, and yolk. Whisk into the yeast mixture.
Combine flour and ½ teaspoon salt in the bowl of a mixer. Add egg mixture. Beat on low speed until almost fully combined, for about 30 seconds. Switch to the dough-hook attachment. Add butter. Beat until smooth, soft and slightly sticky, for about 10 minutes.
Butter a large bowl. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface; knead for a few minutes until smooth. Place in bowl, turn to coat, and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand in warm place until doubled in volume, 1 to 1 ½ hours.
Make the filling: stir together quark cheese, cream cheese, egg yolk, maple syrup and confectioner’s sugar.
Punch down dough. Transfer to a floured work surface. Let stand for 5 minutes. Roll out to an 18-inch square (about 1/8 inch thick). Brush edges with egg wash. Spread the filling over the dough. Top with cherries. Tightly roll dough like a jelly roll. Pinch seam to seal. Coil into a snail shape on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush top with egg wash.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Drape plastic wrap over dough. Let stand in a warm place until risen by half, 20 to 30 minutes.
Remove plastic wrap. Cut six ½-inch slits into top. Bake rotating halfway through, until golden, for about 55 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325F. Bake until deeply golden, 15 to 20 minutes more (cover with foil if the top gets too dark). Transfer pan to a wire rack. Let cake cool.
Make the glaze: Mix together maple syrup, confectioner’s sugar and milk. Add more sugar or milk to reach the desired consistency. Drizzle over cake. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Adapted from: Martha Stewart’s Yeasted Cheese and Sour Cherry Coffee Cake

Where Bagel Rules & Smoked Fish Lures

I would also add ‘when’ to the title, since yesterday was an International No Diet Day – a perfect occasion to follow my tummy travelogue guide and go wild. Ditching the spring diet for these wonderful 24 hours, I opted for something extremely haute and decadent… Montreal-New York inspired, I went out and bought a pack of the iconic bagels, a chunk of hot smoked salmon, a pack of Philadelphia cream cheese, few condiments and veggies to go with, and, finally, a nice piece of smoked sturgeon. Please don’t boo me on that, I know sturgeon is not a sustainable fish anymore (or ever?) unless it’s farmed, but it is my true weakness, so I guess I will continue this vicious experience as long as this fish is available and within the reach, at least once a year (or next week, may be?). To make the experience even more sinful, I bought a bottle of nice rose. When back home, I have turned some of the hot smoked salmon into a cream cheese spread to smear on a bagel before putting a slice of this unique, clean, earthy aristocratic treat with no equivalent to the taste or texture. A quick combo of an authentic bagel, homemade crazy delicious smoked salmon spread and a slice of smoked sturgeon, layered with red onion, tomato, lettuce and capers is a killer. And with everything smoked on an upsurge this year, let’s get some smoke in here, shall we? 
There are two places or origin of the classic Jewish (now all-American) bagel: Montreal and New York (NYC). There has never been a real ‘game of thrones’ between the two. Each is very good in its own way up to the fact that more and more Montreal-style bagel places are popping up in the U.S. and vice versa.  Both are authentic, hand-rolled, boiled in a vat and carefully baked by a bagel master craftsmen.  And both remind me of Once Upon a Time in America, considering New York and Montreal’s gastronomic past and historic connection. Curiously, most of the bagel shops in other North American cities manage to keep the authentic bagel barren intact failing to reproduce the exact taste of an authentic bagel unless they import New York or Montreal’s exact recipes (secretly passed from generation to generation) or bagel bakers. 
NYC bagels are bigger, thicker, saltier and easier to chew. Montreal’s bagels are thinner, slightly sweet, with (I find) better crust to crumb ratio and less or no salt. They store better staying soft and easy to cut even after a few days of travel. I am talking about Montreal’s Fairmount Bagelsbaked in the wood-fire oven, which I am a long-time admirer of. Sorry, can’t compare them with another famous St-Viateur Bagel since the shop is closed any time I’m trying to pass by, although both are selling like hotcakes and there is usually a line of 10-20 people to get in Fairmount Bagel (see below image). I do hope to get the secret Fairmount bagel recipe one day so we can make this French Canadian classic at home. If you happen to know it, please share it with me.

As a huge culinary adventurer, I like to go on the local food treasure hunt wherever I travel. When visiting NYC, you would most likely find me in one of those hole in the walls sampling local specialties or in one of the Jewish deli specialized in smoked fish and bagels. It feel like I have an unfinished business with New York unless I can have one or two sturgeon, lox or nova bagels each time I’m there. Like anything else about NYC, the selection of quality specialty food from all over the world would always be unmatched and would roar and scream appealing to your five senses. Check the ballyhoo video of Louis C.K. and Parker Posey’s chowhound session at Russ & Daughters, for example.

Images © Russ & Daughters, Travel & Leisure

Anthony Bourdain once mentioned about the place: Russ & Daughters occupies that rear and tiny place on the mountaintop reserved for those who are not just the oldest and the last – but also the best.  So true, but there are so many other places where you can get wasted on a great smoked fish bagels in NYC: Murray’s BagelsZuckers Bagels, Ess-a-Bagel, Bagel Oasis, Bagel Holejust to name a few.

Photo © Phburka via Wikimedi

Some great bagel shops go (like H&H Bagels on Broadway), other come, and a legendary bagel and smoked fish continue to be NYC landmarks. Naturally, a real smoked fish bagel sampling orgy comes at a price, so most of the time I just buy a few bagel sandwiches to-go and head some place nice where I can enjoy the breathtaking NYC skyline while eating my smoked fish bagel in silence and peace, thinking: ‘this is how we do it…’ and savoring every bit of it.

Photos © Natalie Schweiger
Here is the deal. If you are a populace like me, and you are not in NYC; or you are there but you are not one of those poorgeois people flooding the Manhattan or Brooklyn these days casually paying whooping $70.00 plus per kilo; and/OR you have already shortened your daily budget by paying $20.00 for one smoked sturgeon bagel at Russ & Daughters (tips included), I suggest you take it easy. When back home (Montreal in this case), check the nearest Metro (call first) or Russian/Jewish deli store for a smoked sturgeon. A famous Montreal’s sea food store La Mer (image below) would be another bet sometimes. I still manage to come across one for around $36.00/kg, which means for $6-8.00 you get half a pound. And that amount, my friends, is enough to make 2-3 giant top notch quality smoked sturgeon bagels you can feast on with your best friend (or by yourself) for a price of the McDonald’s meal. Not so bad during the time of massive economic woe, hah? Oddly enough (and further to sustainability issues) there is currently no deli in Montreal serving smoked sturgeon bagel as opposed to NYC. I do acknowledge that by disclosing the spots where I buy it I am risking to not ever find a smoked sturgeon again in Montreal, but perhaps it’s my inner voice whispering:It’s time to let go and switch to the grass and dandelions my dear… I am actually eating them right now while writing this post.

OK, if finding smoked sturgeon sounds like an unnecessary or elusive quest to you, hot smoked salmon, mackerel, white fish, trout (all of them perfect to make a spread) and smoked carp (swap for the sturgeon) make great choices to assemble a similar bagel. Montreal’s La Bouchanerie, ADAR and in-store smoking shops are supplying a great variety of maple wood smoked fish to each and every big grocery daily, so there will be no scarce.

One of the secrets to assemble an all-star smoked fish sandwich is to enhance the cream cheese spread base with an actual smoked fish, an extra smokiness (via smoked paprika), greens and turn it fluffy.  Use it as a dip to go with bagel chips, crackers and veggies. An economic and tasty appetizer with which you can stretch a piece of smoked fish to feed the party of 20 people. Equally, and if on a strict budget, you can use a regular cooked or canned salmon and a spoon of liquid smoke mix to replace the smoked salmon in this dip.  

The spread is also excellent in Smoked Fish tortillas or in Flaked Smoked Fish Pasta with Greens, which I might post next.
What was the day about again? No Diet – which is all about self-awareness and acceptance? I won’t lie, I wholeheartedly embraced it steeping myself in a traditional local lore of bagels and smoked fish and skipping the gym. Despite feeling a few pounds heavier, I nailed that selfie to remind me that we live only once so there is no shame in indulging in what you like. I went to sleep happy imagining all the people ditching their diets, accepting themselves and becoming happy for a day, a week, a year… forever… making the world a better place. I’m afraid though if this wish would manifest my face would not fit in selfie anymore, so I guess I’m good for now. Cheers!



Basic Smoked Fish Spread or Dip
1/3 cup (4 oz) hot smoked salmon (or whitefish, or mackerel), deboned if necessary, flaked
1 cup (8 oz) Philadelphia cream cheese
½ cup sour cream, or plain Greek yogurt
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp chives, minced
1 tsp horseradish, white or red
1/3 tsp smoked paprika
1/3 tsp sea salt
¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
Mix all the ingredients with fork or in a food processor until smooth. Chill and spread on bagels, or serve with bagel chips or with crackers and crudités. The spread can also be used as in fried smoked salmon tortillas and in smoked salmon pasta.

Assembling All-Star Bagel
1 bagel, halved horizontally
1 tbsp smoked fish spread (see above recipe)
1 tsp capers
2-3 slices hot smoked sturgeon or cold smoked salmon
1 tomato slice
1 onion slice
1 lettuce leaf
Crudités on a side
Spread toasted bagel halves with cream cheese. Sprinkle one half with capers. Top with a few slices of smoked sturgeon or smoked salmon. Garnish tops with tomato, onion and lettuce. Close with another half and serve with crudités.

Vegetarian Borscht Primer

Now that 2014 Olympic Winter Games are over and 70,000 gallons of what was called classic Russian Borscht were reportedly flushed down with the help of vodka and adrenalin in Sochi, I think I can finally reveal my favorite borscht recipe. This is not to bring your attention back to the Soviet food like a dreary svekolnik, listless shchi or mayonnaise-drenched salads – all of which celebrity food critic Jay Rayner called ‘miserable in every way‘. Rather, I really wanted to share a wonderful recipe of the great vegetarian borscht with cabbage, Porcini, beans and of course BEEEETS, which I guarantee will make your heart beat happily. A Ukrainian friend from Toronto shared this recipe with me almost a decade ago. It was so good it became my vegetarian borscht primer. I made small additions to it over the years (swapping cultivated for wild mushrooms, adding a splash of apple cider vinegar and a pinch of spices to create a serious depth Porcini, a touch of organic cider (which I home-made last summer) and cumin can offer in soups. Voila, deep yet clean flavored borscht, which I like to punch with anchovy-garlic-parsley umami-drizzled croutons when serving.
Beets are relatively unpopular in the West, but their liver cleansing, heart strengthening and anti-inflammatory powers have been known in Eastern Europe for centuries, hence the countless varieties of beet dishes which became kitchen staples there. 
Borscht became so popular in Ukraine and Russia, for example, that people were eating it three times a day. A century ago, Russian kids were even served borscht for breakfast. 
One century after. Brooklyn, NYC…
Some of these Russian kids’ descendents are in Brooklyn now waiting to be called yet for another plate of borscht
Here, in North America, the most popular beet soup established under the name borscht (Yiddish) due to Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe. The name stuck to it and today even the Ukrainian variety from ‘’Baba’’ is called borschtand not borshch. The New York City, namely, Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach or East Villagewould probably be the spots to sample borschtof all kind of origins at once in Jewish, Russian, Polish and Ukrainian delis, dairies and coffee shops. And so would have any other big city’s Russian-Jewish quarter on a smaller scale.   

The origin of borschtis a bit complicated and is closely connected with the cultivation of beetroot in the territory of modern Ukraine. I tend to agree with the narrative from the ‘’Russian Cooking’’ volume from Foods of the World published by Time Inc. in 1969: ‘’Ukrainians insist that they were the originators of borshch, and since there was Kiev when Moscow was a ‘’wheel track in the forest’’ they may be right. Actually, the question of who may justly claim the first – or, for that matter, the best – borshch may never be answered, for there are now more versions than can be counted or tasted. In general, Ukrainian borshch is distinguished from Russian by the presence of tomatoes, pork as well as beef, and a greater variety of vegetables, including garlic.’’  
But who am I to take a stand on the borscht’s heritage? The dish has been a subject of geopolitical irony between Russia and Ukraine forever and it looks like Ukraine has been doing some serious steps to defend what is Ukrainian lately, so there’s probably no need for my rumblings. Besides, to tell you the truth, I am frightened of one of my local Russian acquaintances and don’t want to give too much food for her inevitable anger (just kidding, darling).  Each to their own, and so I cease any further discussion of the origin of borsch and proceed to the recipe.
Now, who wants to know a great Lenten recipe of vegetarian borscht? First of all, allow yourself at least 1 hour to make a good quality borscht. Secondly, it’s important to have the right proportion of vegetables in this recipe. Since it’s hard to measure the size of veggie to a cup volume sometimes, I’d tell you my usual quantity is 3 medium-sized beets, 2 small potatoes, 1 carrot, 1 onion, ½ green cabbage head, 1 can of white beans, ½ cup of tomato coulis for the quantity of liquid mentioned below. When reconstituting dried mushrooms, I save the liquid and add it to the stock for enhanced flavor. I also believe that adding a small shot of apple cider vinegar is balancing the flavor of the borscht perfectly. In many recipes a teaspoon to a tablespoon of sugar is suggested to add extra sweetness, but I think if you have enough beets, there is no need for that.
It’s very important to add and cook the ingredients in proper order, as some vegetables take longer to cook than others. Finally, timing is crucial not to overcook the borscht turning it from red, crunchy and flavorful to yellow and tasteless. Because of that I could never understand the recipes of borscht that take hours to cook.
Final tips: Borscht tastes better if allowed to sit for a few hours or overnight before serving.
Is delicious hot or cold, with or without sour cream or croutons. It also freezes well.  Enjoy your Slavic cooking experience!
Yields: 6 to 10 portions
10 cups (2.5 l) vegetable stock or water
1 generous handful dried Porcini, reconstituted and minced OR 2 cups of sliced cultivated mushrooms
4 tbsp (60 ml) olive oil OR sunflower oil
1 onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 small potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 cup (750 ml) beets, peeled and julienned
1 carrot, julienned
3 cup (750 ml) green cabbage, thinly shredded
1 can (19 oz) or 2 cups cooked navy OR white kidney beans
½ cup (125 ml) tomato coulis OR 1 cup (250 ml) of chopped canned tomatoes
2 tbsp (30 ml) organic apple cider vinegar OR lemon juice
1 pinch of ground cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt to taste
For garnish:
1 bunch of parsley OR 10 dill springs, chopped
1 cup of sour cream or plain yogurt
Garlic-Anchovy Croutons for an extra garnish:
Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 4-5 chopped anchovies and cook for a minute or until they melt into oil. Stir in 3 minced garlic cloves and cook until fragrant for 1 minute. Add 2 cups of cubed stale bread (gluten free if you like) and ¼ teaspoon of freshly ground pepper. Toast tossing frequently for 3-5 minutes until croutons are golden and crisp.
Note: It’s important to add and cook the ingredients in proper order, as some vegetables take longer to cook than others.
Add the stock or water to a large soup pot and bring to boil. In the meantime, add 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet, bring to the medium-high heat and sauté onion with mushrooms for 2 minutes or until onion is translucent. Add sautéed mushrooms, onion to the boiling stock and let simmer for 10 minutes.
Add potatoes, bring to boil and simmer for another 10 minutes.
In the meantime, add 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet, bring to the medium-high heat and sauté  beets and carrots for 2 minutes. Add beets and carrots to the pot, bring to boil and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Add shredded cabbage, beans, tomato juice, vinegar, cumin, pepper and salt to the pot, bring to boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes or until the cabbage is tender, but still a bit crunchy. Check the seasoning and skim any foam. Remove from the heat. Discard the bay leaves.  Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with generous dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt and parsley or dill. Serve immediately.