Thursday, March 18, 2010

Guest Post: The Baking Sisters' Dad

For those of you who regularly read this blog, you might notice that we never reference our mom's homemade baked goods.  That's because she doesn't bake.  However, our dad does.  He is a great baker and cook and we get most of our skills from him.  If you don't believe us, here is the proof.

Let me start by thanking the Baking Sisters for inviting their dad to guest blog.  I must admit that, with three such wonderful bakers in the family, I’ve gotten out of the baking habit.  When I had occasion to make cakes two weeks in a row, it seemed right to blog about them. 

In my baking heyday, Maida Heatter was the high priestess of baking.  Her recipes were not only wonderful, but also so detailed and clear that they were foolproof as long as you mastered the techniques.  For this reason, I thought of her as the Julia Child of baking.  Flash forward to the 21st century, and I’m very pleased to add Dorie Greenspan to the cookbook shelf.  She is, of course, one of the Baking Sisters’ major inspirations.

But these cakes come from other sources.  Both cakes were prepared for Shabbat dinners, and since they were meat meals, I needed recipes that contained no dairy products.  The first cake was for the birthday of the Baking Sisters’ mom, so it had to be chocolate.  The second cake was to take along to dinner at the home of our friends Richard and Rae Janvey, so Torta Del Re seemed appropriate.  (It’s also almost Passover, and this makes a wonderful dessert for the seder.)  When we served the cake, the conversation turned to baking, and then to the Baking Sisters, and then to Sarah’s seven hour round trip from Providence to New York to attend Dorie Greenspan’s three hour master class for Dalton School alumni.  Low and behold, who did we discover is the Janveys’ next-door neighbor?  None other than Dorie Greenspan!

The chocolate cake comes from Kosher by Design, by Susie Fishbein (the first of several books in the Kosher by Design series).  It’s actually Chocolate Banana Cake, which automatically rules it out for Rebecca (who hates bananas), although I thought the banana gave the cake moisture with little or no banana taste.  To make it parve, I used parve margarine, Tofutti “sour cream” and non-dairy “whipping cream.”  If dairy is OK, you can use the real things.  Here’s the recipe, with my comments in brackets.

Kosher by Design, by Susie Fishbein
Serves 12

1 cup pure vegetable shortening
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 ripe (not brown) bananas, mashed [I pulsed them briefly in a mini-food processor]
1/3 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/3 cup cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup boiling water

6 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine
6 tablespoons heavy whipping cream or non-dairy whipped topping
3 ounces milk semi-sweet chocolate [I used bittersweet instead]
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1-1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat over to 350 degrees.  Grease a 10-inch tube pan or bundt pan; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the shortening and sugar until fluffy [I used a stand mixer].  Add the eggs, one at a time.  Add the bananas, sour cream, and vanilla, and mix until all are incorporated.

In a separate large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cocoa, and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the banana mixture in three parts, alternating with the boiling water.  Mix.  The batter will be runny [it actually wasn’t too runny].  Pour into prepared pan.  Bake for one hour.  [Allow the cake to cool for 15 or 20 minutes before removing it from the pan.  Place it on a cake plate and place strips of waxed paper under all sides of the cake to catch the excess glaze.]

For the glaze, combine butter or margarine, cream, chocolate, morsels, sugar, and vanilla in a heavy saucepan over low heat.  Cook, whisking constantly, until smooth.  Cool slightly.  Pour over the cake, letting it run down the sides and trying not to manipulate the glaze too much.  Let the glaze set.  Cake can be refrigerated, but bring to room temperature before serving.  [It keeps well and stays moist even without being refrigerated.]

I found Torta Del Re (King’s Cake) in volume one of The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews by Edda Servi Machlin.  The author grew up in Pitigliano, a medieval village in the hill country between Rome and Florence that had had a flourishing Jewish community for centuries.  Her story of life – and food – in Pitigliano and how it all came to an end in the aftermath of the Nazi occupation of Italy must be the most beautiful, poignant tale to be found in any cookbook.  The 20 pages that describe life in Pitigliano are worth the price of the book, although it has many terrific recipes, too. 

The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews, by Edda Servi Machlin
Serves 12 

2 tablespoons sweet butter or [to make it parve] non-dairy margarine
2 tablespoons fine breadcrumbs or matza meal
5 eggs, separated
1 small pinch of salt
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
2-1/2 cups (10 ounces) blanched almonds, chopped very fine [in a food processor]
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
Grated rind of 1 lemon
Confectioners sugar
Sliced almonds, toasted [spread on a baking sheet and put under the broiler, far from the heat, for a few minutes; stir a couple of times and watch carefully to make sure they don’t burn]

Grease a 10-inch spring form pan and sprinkle with breadcrumbs or matza meal; set aside.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Beat the egg whites with salt until stiff and dry.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks until foamy, then gradually add the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is lemon-colored.  Gradually add the chopped almonds, then the two extracts and the lemon rind.  You should have a very hard paste.  [For this reason, I strongly suggest using a stand mixer.]  Mix 1/3 of the beaten egg whites with the almond mixture to make it softer.  Delicately fold in the remaining egg whites and pour into the prepared pan.

Place in the center of the middle rack in the preheated oven and bake for one hour without opening the oven door.  After the hour is over, leave the oven door ajar for 10 to 15 minutes; then remove the pan from the oven and place it upside down on a cooling rack [I’m not sure why it has to be upside down; and no, the cake doesn’t fall out.]  When the cake is thoroughly cool, remove it from the pan and place it upside down over a cake dish.  [Since the bottom will be the top of the cake, you will want the cake to come out cleanly.  Try running a sharp, thin knife between the cake and the bottom of the pan to make sure nothing sticks.]  Top with confectioners sugar, using a sifter, and sprinkle with toasted sliced almonds.


  1. It is so nice to hear from the man who helped teach the famous Baking Sisters everything they know. I think it is dangerous to have told the Sisters the address of Dorie...

  2. That torta del re looks amazing! Is it good for a passover dessert? I don't see any flour but I want to make sure! If it is, I'm making it for my boyfriend's family this year!

  3. Hi Teanna. Torta del Re is fine for Passover as long as you use matzah meal and not bread crumbs. Also, if they are ksoher (don't eat milk and meat together) you probably want to use margarine instead of butter. Let me know how it turns out!

  4. I love the idea of making a banana cake for Pesach. I am trying to figure out what I can use instead of sour cream so I can serve it, at one of the seudahs. Any suggestions?

  5. Thanks for visiting! I sometimes use Tofutti brand sour cream when I need a parve substitute, but I don't know if it is kosher for Passover. Just in case anyone is confused, it is the Torta del Re that is Kosher for Passover, not the chocolate/banana cake here (although I am sure there are many kosher for Passover banana cakes out there, but not for me, since I don't like bananas).


Related Posts with Thumbnails