2008 may have been a bit of a mixed bag, but at least so far, 2009 has been FANTASTIC. We rang in the new year yesterday in grand style - with some good friends and a boxfull of goodies shipped from Barney Greengrass in NYC. Pretty much the anthesis of all of our locavore aspirations - but what can I say? Sometimes the heart just wants what it wants.
Inspired by a Twitter exchange the other day, (hi Paul and Caron!) I placed the order last week and sent out the email cry for participants. We rounded up a few willing volunteers and set out a spread just like the ones I remembered from my youth.
I didn't grow up in a Jewish family - but I grew up next door to one. The Brozinskys moved from New York into the house next door to my parents when I was twelve. I was used to spending time at their house because we'd been friends with the previous family who lived there with their two small children. Shortly after the Brozinskys moved in, they had a new baby. I figured, what the heck, why wouldn't these people also want a nosy 12 year old banging on their door in the middle of the afternoon? So I marched on over there, knocked on the door and asked (maybe even demanded) to "see the baby." Though I cringe now, they were very tolerant, and our families became very close over the following twenty-odd years.
Roseann loved to cook, and loved to feed people. You couldn't visit without being offered something delicious - usually a new recipe or dish - and they had parties, holiday celebrations and dinners nearly every weekend. I learned everything I know about Jewish cooking, food and traditions from them and their briskets, latkes, Passover seders, noodle kugels, and possibly my favorite - the bagel brunches.
When I was in high school there were only a few bagel shops, and by far the best among them was a small local chain called the Baltimore Bagel Company. Their bagels were smaller and chewier than the ones you see now (more like the real thing) and the shops were no frills - just bagels and cream cheese, juice and coffee. Roseann took me on errands there occasionally and I loved the citified feel of the place - with the stainless steel baskets filled with bagels and the smells of onion, garlic and poppyseeds in the air, it seemed somehow exotic to me.
When Roseann did bagel brunches she put out baskets of bagels, heaps of cream cheese and sliced tomatoes, red onions and cucumbers. I'm sure there was lox as well - but my palate sadly wasn't sophisticated enough at that point to appreciate it. She also always made a glazed poppyseed cake and a sour cream coffee cake with streusel and chocolate chips - both of which were (and still are) to die for.
When I decided to do my own brunch, I contacted Roseann's daughter Amanda and told her about my plan. I knew her mother had given her a binder of her recipes when she got married a couple of years ago (what I wouldn't do for a copy) and she graciously offered to send me the recipe for the poppyseed cake. At 8 PM on New Year's Eve when she had dinner reservations at 10. This being Amanda, she was already dressed and ready to go out, and the recipe arrived not five minutes later. I wish I could take some credit for the way that girl has turned out - she really is a gem.
The cake was just as I remembered - moist and dense but not too heavy, flecked with poppyseeds and drizzled with a sticky citrus glaze. The table also groaned under Caron's homemade rugalach, and a coffee cake I made from Trader Joe's Vanilla cake mix with a tablespoon of creme fraiche stirred in and a layer of streusel. (Say what you will, but I've never had a bad cake made from one of their mixes.)
From Barney Greengrass, I ordered two dozen assorted bagels (poppyseed, sesame, everything, plain and onion - no blueberry or other weird flavors) - a pound of scallion cream cheese, a pound of lox cream cheese, a pound of smoked nova salmon, a pound of smoked whitefish salad and a chocolate babka. The bagels and the salmon were worth it - and probably the cream cheeses too - but I wouldn't pay again to have the babka or the whitefish salad shipped cross country. The babka was a little dry and crumbly, and the whitefish salad wasn't much if any better than what you can get locally at Point Loma Seafoods or Whole Foods. (Apparently Point Loma Seafoods also does smoked fish in house - so maybe we'll try that sometime too.) I don't know of a good local bakery for babka, but I hear Russ and Daughters' is superior to Barney Greengrass, and if I'm feeling incredibly ambitious I might even try Deb's recipe. Gotta flex those bread baking muscles every once in a while to keep them in shape!
Roseann's Poppy Seed Cake
by Roseann Brozinsky with only minimal meddling from me as noted
3 cups All Purpose flour
2 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/8 cups vegetable oil
2-3 tbsp poppy seeds
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 tsp nut/butter flavoring extract (I didn't have any, but I added a teaspoon of lemon zest grated on a microplane)
1/4 cup orange juice
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract (I used the last I had in the cake, so I didn't have any, but didn't really miss it.)
1/2 tsp nut/butter flavoring extract (again I didn't have any so I subbed some lemon juice - I used about one lemon altogether since I wanted it a little tart.)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and grease and flour a 9 inch bundt or tube pan.
Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, and mix the wet ingredients in an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment for 1+ minutes, until frothy. Incorporate the dry ingredients and beat until thoroughly combined.
Pour into lightly greased bundt pan and bake at bake at 325 degrees for 60-75 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.
Make the glaze while the cake is in the oven. Combine all of the glaze ingredients in a small bowl and stir until the sugar is dissolved - you can also pop it in the microwave for twenty seconds or so to speed the process.
As soon as it comes out of the oven, while still in the pan - poke holes in the cake with a skewer, and drizzle with the glaze. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes, and turn the cake out onto a plate (you might want to put some parchment on the plate, my cake stuck a little bit since it was so fresh) poke holes in the bottom of the cake and drizzle with the glaze, and brush some on the sides. Allow it to sit for a minute or two, then turn it right side up on its serving platter. Brush the cake liberally all over with the glaze and allow to sit overnight, well covered. (This cake is actually at its best after about 24 hours.)