Passover Pareve Apple Cake
When it was given to me, this recipe originally specified flour, not matzo cake meal. I didn’t think it was very good, but I made it a few times anyway, as my family and friends liked it. Obsessing over how to improve the recipe to make it more to my own liking, it dawned on me that someone had converted a perfectly good Passover cake into an everyday cake and that if I converted it back it would be much better. I love it now, and everyone I have served it to raves about it. One day I didn’t have quite enough ground cinnamon, however, and I blended together a substitute with the teaspoon of cinnamon I had, plus ground nutmeg, mace, and ginger to fill out the tablespoon measure. That was yet another improvement.
Makes one 8-inch-square cake
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon or a combination of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, and ginger
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup matzo cake meal
5 medium apples, peeled, cored, halved, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 5 cups), preferably Golden Delicious, Crispin (Mutzu), or other apples that keep their shape when cooked 1/3 cup raisins (optional)
Position an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Lightly oil an 8-inch-square glass baking dish.
To prepare the topping, mix together the walnuts, sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl; set aside.
To prepare the cake batter, in a bowl, with a hand-held electric mixer, beat the eggs on medium speed until well mixed. Beat in the sugar, about 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until the mixture is thick and foamy. Beat in the oil, adding it in a steady stream. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. With the spatula, stir in the matzo cake meal, blending well.
Pour half of the batter mixture into the prepared pan. Sprinkle about half the topping mixture evenly over the batter. Top with half the apples and all the raisins. Scrape the remaining half of the batter over the apples, spreading it out to cover the apples. Arrange the remaining apples on top of the batter. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining topping mixture.
Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the sides of the cake pull away very slightly from the baking dish and the topping has begun to caramelize. (A cake tester is not reliable. It will not come out clean due to the moist richness of this cake.) Let sit in the baking dish for several hours until completely cool before cutting into serving portions. This cake is yet another Yiddish food that improves with age. Keep the cake in its dish, covered tightly with plastic, and the next day the topping will have become a moist, candy-like coating.
All the old recipes for potato kugel come out sort of heavy and gluey, which is not at all how good kugels taste today. These days, the kugel sold in the take-out shops and delicatessens, not to mention those made at home by modern balabustas, are still full of good onion flavor but they are high and light. What may seem like an inordinate number of eggs is the secret. Some recipes call for baking powder, too, but I’ve found the baking powder does absolutely nothing. Lots of eggs are definitely the ticket to lightness. It also helps to use russet potatoes, which were not nearly as available in grandma’s day as they are today. Drier russets produce a fluffier kugel. Incidentally, this is a very low-fat recipe.
Besides serving potato kugel as a side dish for meat or poultry or fish, a larger portion of this egg-rich version makes a good lunch. If cut into small squares, it’s also a good finger food to go with wine or cocktails.
Serves at least 12
3 pounds russet (baking) potatoes
2 medium onions (about 12 ounces), peeled and cut into chunks
2/3 cup matzo meal
1 tablespoon salt
3/4 to 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons peanut, corn, or canola oil (for a pareve pudding) or melted Schmaltz (page 9)
Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
Peel the potatoes and cut into chunks to prepare them for the food processor. Reserve in a bowl of cold water until ready to process, but don’t leave them there longer than 2 hours.
In a very large bowl, beat together the eggs until well mixed. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse the onions until very finely chopped, but not liquefied. Scrape the onions into the bowl with the eggs and stir them in. Stir in the matzo meal.
Drain the potatoes, then set a strainer over a bowl. In the same processor bowl (no need to clean), process the potatoes in three batches, until very finely chopped. The pieces should be no bigger than a grain of rice and mostly smaller.
As each batch of potatoes is processed, immediately scrape it into the strainer. With a rubber spatula or the back of a spoon, press out the moisture so it drains into the catch bowl. Immediately stir the potatoes into the egg mixture. Discard the liquid and potato starch collected in the bowl. Season the batter with salt and pepper.
Pour 2 tablespoons of the oil into a 13- by 9-inch baking dish, preferably heatproof glass. Tip the pan so the oil coats the pan bottom and halfway up the sides. Warm the empty pan in the preheated oven for 5 minutes.
Protecting your hands, remove the hot pan from the oven and fill with the kugel mixture. The oil will rise up the sides of the pan, especially in the corners. It’s a good thing when the oil spills onto the surface of the batter, as it adds crispness to the finished dish. Press the batter down near the corners lightly to fill them with potato batter. Drizzle the surface with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil.
Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Let rest for at least 15 minutes before cutting and serving, preferably somewhat longer. Serve hot or warm, freshly baked or reheated.
The kugel reheats extremely well in a 350˚F oven, uncovered so the top can re-crisp. Reheating time depends on the size of the piece being reheated and the temperature of the kugel before it goes into the oven. It can be kept in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for at least 4 days, and for several months in the freezer. It is best to defrost in the refrigerator before reheating.
The word chremslach is applied to any number of very different, usually fried, matzo meal pancakes, including the plainest-possible recipe on page 173. There are also recipes called chremsle, vremzle, or chremslach that are croquettes with almonds and raisins. These cheese pancakes are wonderful for a midweek Passover dairy breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I like them topped with sour cream, but if you have a sweet tooth, try applesauce or orange marmalade or other preserves, or a sprinkling of sugar, or top them with sour cream and strawberries macerated with some sugar so they exude their juices and form a sauce.
Makes about 18
1 cup 4-percent cottage cheese
3/4 cup milk (whole or low-fat)
3/4 to 1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
1 cup matzo meal
Grapeseed or other acceptable Passover oil, oil (or oil and 2 tablespoons butter for flavor), for frying
In a bowl, with a fork, beat together the eggs, cottage cheese, milk, salt, and sugar. Stir in the matzo meal. Set aside for 10 minutes.
In a 10- to 12-inch skillet, over medium heat, heat enough oil to cover the bottom by a scant 1/8 inch. When the oil is hot, pour a scant 1/4 cup of the batter into the skillet. It should form a pancake about 4 inches in diameter. If it is too thick to spread this much, add a little more milk. The pancake should sizzle immediately. Fry until the first side is golden brown, 60 to 90 seconds, depending on how hot the oil is. Turn the pancake. The second side takes less time, about 30 seconds.
Drain the pancakes on paper towels or brown paper and serve while still very hot.
For a puffier pancake, separate the eggs, beat the yolks with the milk, then beat the whites until they form peaks and fold into the batter.
Reprinted with permission from "Arthur Schwartz's Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisited," by Arthur Schwartz, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press.