Dear Bakers and Friends,
Welcome to the March 2022 issue of Betterbaking.com!
I like March because it's one of those transitional months. It's a white and icy squall or it's crocuses and rain; it can be snowless, clear and cold and a day later, it's winter double-downs its grip. The holidays in March are also all over the map. When I was writing my cookbook, The Baker's Four Seasons, I didn't know if I should put March into the winter section or spring section since it teeters on both. There's holidays like Purim and St. Patrick's Day and then there's mid-term break although the latter has lost all its meaning in the past two years. Our appetites still need satisfying soups and stews but there's this stirring for lighter fare - some leeks or lamb, asparagus and the first strawberries - it's all in the March Madness mix. Read more about the March recipes below.
Up until the very moment I send out this newsletter I waffle about what I want to share editorially. Most of the time I have a goody bag of random subjects and can’t decide between them until a day before publication when finally my instincts or my mood dictate what direction I’ll go in. Other months, like this one, are difficult for other reasons either personal or as this time is, collectively challenging world-wide. But simply showing up to the page fortifies me and so here we are.
I’m always intrigued about what a person’s favourite food is or one they find a treat or their go-to comfort dish. The flavour of our favourites has much to do with the context. It could be a special dish from a restaurant long gone, or our dad’s Sunday pasta or a grandmother’s poppy seed cookie or egg drop soup made with commercial Ramen packets or even Lipton that was a teenage snack. The latter is one of mine although I dump so many vegetables into my Ramen packets and whip it up with egg, ginger, garlic, sesame oil and scallions it’s barely recognizable as packet fare. Typically comfort food is rooted in nostalgia which is how something becomes comforting.
Keep Calm and Make Toast
My own enduring go-to comfort food, now going on decades, is toast. I’ve talked about this before but growing up the food in my house was feast or famine: gourmet, wholesome or exotic but lots or little. My mother was an accomplished cook but a random one – either the mood or era (she was 1000% feminist or would have domestic whims on occasion) suited her or not. Consequently there were meals and/or a stocked pantry or barely a cracker and jar of olives to be found. Monday could be Cordon Bleu Chicken and Friday could be canned salmon if you were lucky. At thirteen years old, I took over the kitchen (and grocery getting) earlier because the inconstancy drove me wild. We were a large household of three generations; I felt then, as I do now, that a cared for kitchen implies a cared-for life. Happily the one thing we always had in the house was bread, both copious and diverse. European ryes and corn breads with kimmel seeds, or baguettes or velvety challah but there was always bread and butter. After school I’d have toast and coffee. After a date, as a teen and even now, I settle down with toast and tea. A slight cold with sore muscles is also soothed with a plate of toast – usually plain whole-wheat sliced but sturdy enough to carry out its mission. Name an occasion or make it sweet or savoury but toast always does the comfort honours. Just the fragrance of it in the toaster helps me ground myself let alone the slow and mindful way I prepare it. When it’s done, I can go forward again hoisting myself out and supporting those in my wake.
It’s rare but these days, there isn’t enough toast to comfort what ails me. So I butter the bread with prayer, smear it with faith and slice it with hope. I don’t know what else to do. It’s not enough but it’s the least I can do - that and showing up to this page to greet you with recipes. It’s not that a better cookie or cake has unique merit in the bigger scheme but doing the doing no matter what or who threatens my resilience reassures me that I’m here and that is tent peg enough.
Enjoy the recipes for this special month. Warm wishes from my kitchen to yours,
Master Baker & Author
If sunny climes have not yet come to you, this satisfyingly moist and citrus-packed slicing cake will take care of winter doldrums.
Pistachio Green Tea Biscotti
This beautiful ombre finished biscotti features light notes of pistachio, almond and matcha tea powder. It’s lightly crunchy and satisfying and sports a halo of white chocolate tinted with matcha tea. If you don’t have the matcha tea, omit it; this is still an exceptional biscotti perfect for Purim or St. Pat’s or anytime at all! I created this after watching The Gilded Age series - just seeing the extraordinary dresses in their exotic hues made me want to replicate it in baking!
Marble Vanilla Chocolate Hamantashen
I'm fascinated by anything marbleized in baking. I almost made a Red Velvet Marble Tea Loaf last month but didn't get a change. This chocolate and vanilla hamantashen hits the spot! What makes it spectacular is the dough. It comes out as a crisp and butter pastry. That it features chocolate and vanilla and is stuffed with cheesecake makes it extraordinary. A ton of other hamantashen are on the website and in my cookbook, A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking if you'd like more ideas and/or traditional hamantashen flavors.