I discovered Paula Shoyer through her Chocolate Chip Mandelbread. Rosh Hashana was approaching and mandelbread seemed, to me, to be the only dessert option on the horizon. Nothing would be complete without it. I asked around and someone shared Paula’s recipe with me. I recall having a few questions and Gil Marks z”l was kind enough to coach me. (Tragically, Gil passed away recently, but this mandelbread experience was a typical example of his friendly and helpful personality.)
When I met Paula at the first Kosher Bloggers Conference, I introduced myself so I could rave about her recipe to the source. We schmoozed, talked shop and discussed how we might work together one day. Paula is visiting Israel soon and I am excited to be working with her on the publicity for the trip and a special event with the spouse of the US ambassador in Israel, Ms. Julie Shapiro. Paula is on a constant book and food demo tour and has a new book coming out in 2 months (The New Passover Menu, Sterling Epicure) so I appreciate that she took the time to be part of 8 for 8!
Paula, besides growing up in the US, you have also lived abroad. What stands out for you about celebrating Chanukah in the US and in other countries? Any special food memories?
Chanukah in the US is about latkes and in other places it is about donuts. Even in Geneva, Switzerland, we got sufganiyot from the local kosher bakery. I will never forget spending Chanukah in the hospital in the US in 1999 when I was on bed rest waiting for my twins to be born. I lit candles in my room every night and prayed that my babies would be healthy. One was 7 pounds at birth- pretty much our own Chanukah miracle. We have often had combined chanukah/birthday parties for the boys.
How has your Chanukah changed since you became a chef and author?
Before I was a chef, Chanukah was just about latkes, As a chef, the world of possibilities has opened up to me. I make different flavors of latkes and apple sauce, experiment with different flavors of dough and fillings for donuts and even developed desserts baked with olive oil.
How does your family celebrate Chanukah?
We love to sing so we make sure we all light candles together every night. We get together with friends and family, if possible. My mother buys great gifts for the kids that they wear right away, like snuggies and bathrobes.
What are you eating for Chanukah this year?
Every year we try something new. I am working on chocolate flavored funnel cake and cannoli donuts this year.
What are the top questions people ask you about baking for Chanukah? For other holidays?
People are afraid of yeast doughs and afraid of frying so I get a lot of questions. I get emails with questions up to an hour before every major Jewish holiday. They are usually about ingredients or equipment people do not have. But sometimes people change my recipes and write to ask me why the dessert does not taste good.
What is one dish you must eat during Chanukah no matter what? Potato latkes fresh out of the frying pan.
Finally: Latkes or sufganiot?
Latkes – I am surrounded by sugar all day every day and I just crave salty food.
What recipe are you sharing with us?
My Almond and Olive Oil Cake. It is perfect fit for Chanukah with the olive oil, yet not the usual dessert. Enjoy!
ALMOND AND OLIVE OIL CAKE
Serves 8 to 12
The use of olive oil in cakes dates back farther than the Chanukah story itself. Olive oil was used in baked offerings at the Temple. This is a super easy teatime cake that reminds me of simple cakes I have eaten in Italy. If you are feeling decadent, serve this with whipped cream.
¾ cup (90g) sliced almonds (with or without skins)
1 cup (200g) sugar
3 large eggs
½ cup (120ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour
½ cup (60g) ground almonds
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon orange zest (from one orange)
spray oil containing flour
PREHEAT OVEN to 350°F (180°C). Trace an 8-inch (20-cm) round pan on parchment paper and cut it out with scissors. Grease and flour the pan, press in the parchment circle; and grease and flour the top of the parchment and sides of the pan. Sprinkle and spread the sliced almonds on the bottom of the pan to cover it.
IN A MEDIUM BOWL, beat the sugar, eggs, and olive oil for about one minute at medium speed until creamy. Add the flour, ground almonds, baking powder, salt, almond extract, and orange zest and beat until combined. Pour the mixture over the sliced nuts. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
LET THE CAKE COOL in the pan for 10 minutes and then run a knife around the sides. Turn the cake onto a wire rack and let it cool. Serve the cake almond side up. Store it covered at room temperature for up to four days or freeze for up to three months.
Credit line: Reprinted with permission from Holiday Kosher Baker © 2013 by Paula Shoyer, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Photography byMichael Bennett Kress