December 26, in memory of my late husband, who loved poetry and was the first to introduce me, an ordinary Soviet school girl to the names of Severyanin, Mandelshtam, Balmont, Galich, and many others, I hosted a poetry evening at my house. We were fortunate to have a reading evening with Yehoshua November, who represents quite an unusual blend of poetry, Chasidism and raw emotions veiled under the traditional dress. His poetry is soft, yet painful, full of human feelings and everyday stories, many biographical, that move you to want to learn more about this, a bit mysterious, man.
Thinking about the upcoming evening after a walk to the House of Life, frozen, I decided to make a babka – something warm and soft to remind myself of the soft edges of life that turn to show you different angles as different stars – some light, some super dark. Lately, I started enjoying baking with yeast dough, which I was afraid to even start as a young wife so many years ago. Of course, I found the recipe somewhere on the net, and of course, I changed it just a bit:
3 cups frozen or fresh cranberries.
3/4 cup sugar (I never use white sugar, but that’s just me)
1/2 orange juice
pinch of salt (always us kosher or sea salt)
zest of one big orange
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup warm water
1 cup flour (I used a combination of organic white, coconut and whole wheat)
2 packets dry instant yeast
2 tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 vanilla bean pod, seeds scraped
3 eggs and 2 egg yolks
about 3 cups flour
1/3 cup powdered sugar mixed with 1-2 tbsp orange juice (glaze is totally optional)
First, make the sponge:
Stir together warm water, 1 cup flour, yeast, a bit of sugar and salt and mix together. Let it stand for no less than half an hour and up to two hours.
If you have a standing mixture, you are in luck, you can just add all the rest of the ingredients and make the dough. I don’t. So, I just add everything with the flour being the last part bit by bit and mix together by hand to make the smooth dough. Cover the dough and let it rest for 1-2 hours.
Meanwhile, for the filling mix all but the last two of the ingredients in a pot and simmer until it resembles jelly-like consistency. Stir quite often. This might take you a whole hour or so, so find yourself something else to do in the kitchen 🙂
Once done, stir the zest and dried cranberries. Cool.
Once your dough is done, put it out to a floured surface and divide in four parts. Roll out each part into a rectangle. Spread the cooled filling on each and roll like a jelly-roll.
Then take two of the rolls and intertwine together. Put it into the greased baking pan or on a baking sheet covered with parchment. You can slash the dough a little if you want the filling to ooze out. I did this just a tiny bit. Make another babka the same way.
Brush your babkas with egg-wash and bake in preheated to 360F oven for about 45 minutes or until golden. Drizzle with the glaze if you want.
These came out so soft and delicious, I decided to make them more often. I never liked the chocolate babka, but this one is really my style.
Since we are getting close to Shabbat, here’s another piece of D’var Torah from Dr. Ackerman. Just because we should never eat without the words of Torah accompanying the meal:
Parashat Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26)
“Then Israel saw Joseph’s sons and he said, “Who are these?” (Genesis 48:8)
Parashat Vayechi is the last parasha (portion) in the book of Genesis. It concludes the story-cycle of Joseph and his brothers and includes Jacob’s deathbed blessings to his children. Before he does so, though, he formally adopts Menashe and Ephraim, Joseph’s two children and blesses them. In doing so, Vayechi narrates, “…sikeil et yadav…”he crossed his hands and placed his right hand on Ephraim, even though he was younger….” (Gen. 48:14) and names him first in the blessing. This becomes the formula recited Friday nights when parents bless their sons, “…May you be like Ephraim and Menashe…” (Gen. 48:20).
Rabbi Sheldon Marder (Rabbi and Department Head of Jewish Life at the Jewish Home of San Francisco) notices the phrase sikeil et yadav links this scene to one at the beginning of Genesis. When Eve looks at the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden, she realizes, “…nechmad ha-eitz l’haskil, the tree is desirable as a means to wisdom…” (Gen. 3:6) Sikeil and l’haskil share the root SKL, which means wisdom.
The two scenes act as bookends to Genesis. Eve’s and Adam’s eyes are young and wide-opened (Gen. 3:7); Jacob’s are old and closing (Gen. 48:10). While Eve and Adam are new to knowledge, Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) explains Jacob’s crossed hands are not accidental, but rather, are informed by Jacob’s lifetime of accumulated wisdom. But since Jacob is referred to in this episode as Israel, he also embodies the wisdom of the ages, representing the fulfillment of the first couple’s thirst for knowledge and understanding.