When people ask me what I do, I tell them I’m a writer and a blogger. That usually elicits a, “Wow!” until I explain that I make no money from my blogging. Sure, it’s nice to see my name in print. That thrill never goes away, but in general, blogging is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Except that one day, some months ago, I finally got a chance at a perk. I was hanging out at cookbook author Norene Gilletz’s Norene’s Kitchen Facebook group and noted that the publicist for Susie Fishbein (another notable cookbook author) had offered advance copies of Fishbein’s new cookbook to bloggers and authors. “What the heck,” I thought, “I’m a blogger.”

So I wrote Fishbein’s publicist with my contact info and shortly received a response that I’d been added to the list and would receive my cookbook sometime in the fall.  I was psyched. I’d always wanted a Susie Fishbein cookbook and now I’d get one for free, before everyone else, simply for writing a review here in my blog on the Times of Israel. KEWL!

photo credit: John Uher, (Kosher by Design Cooking Coach, Susie Fishbein).

It’s hard to make a living as a writer, so I’ve done many a stint at menial jobs to earn my keep. I’ve cleaned houses, made wedding cakes, and cared for the elderly. It was at the home of a dear departed elderly woman that I first became acquainted with Fishbein’s magnum opus, The Kosher Palette. Once I managed to lull Nechama (RIP) to sleep for her afternoon nap, I’d eagerly go through Fishbein’s book, jotting down recipes on scraps of paper to stow away in my bag to try out when I got home. Those recipes were always a hit. Now I was to receive a Susie Fishbein book of my very own!

The cookbook arrived at an interesting time. It was during Operation Pillar of Defense—a tense time for Israel—that the book arrived by messenger to my doorstep. It was like God ordered that cookbook to come to me at that time. The glossy, brand new cookbook with its fresh-from-the-factory look and smell provided a much-needed escape for me and as it turns out, for my kids as well. They all begged to read it after me FIRST (Me. No ME. Choose ME. I was FIRST). My kids are foodies, too.

I loved the concept of Fishbein’s new book, Kosher by Design Cooking Coach. Susie offers her readers the basics and asks them to think of them as a jumping-off point to cook by intuition. There are well-illustrated instructions on such cooking tasks as using a steel, spatchcocking a chicken, and baking rice in the oven, instead of cooking it on the stove. The inclusion of such basics would make this book a great gift for a new cook looking to find some equilibrium in the kitchen. But the book was even helpful to someone like me, no longer a novice in the kitchen. As it turns out, my knife grip was wrong (by Fishbein’s lights, at any rate) and I was using the steel incorrectly.

photo credit: John Uher, (Kosher by Design Cooking Coach, Susie Fishbein).

I found that Susie had much to teach me and that I enjoyed learning things the Fishbein way.

Susie includes a section in her cookbook she calls the “Playbook.” This section tells the reader how to create tempting leftovers from recipes in the book. It’s like you get more bang for your buck: really two recipes for every one new recipe in the book.

So far, I have tried two recipes from this book. The first recipe I tried was for Chocolate Babka Meltaway. I’d always wanted a good babka recipe. They can be dry and heavy but this one was PRIMO, a serious keeper.

Cooking By Intuition

If I had any complaints about the recipe, it’s that I don’t like to use intuition in the kitchen, especially when it comes to baking and I would have liked the instructions to be a bit more detailed. I wondered if this might be Fishbein’s way of pushing me out of the nest as a cook and forcing me to hone the instincts that must surely be there after more than 3 decades of cooking. For example, Fishbein tells the reader how to prepare the babka crumb topping but doesn’t tell us to apply it to the cake before baking. I actually paused for a moment to wonder if the topping was meant to be applied AFTER baking. But I read through the recipe and there was nothing further on the topic, so I went with adding the topping prior to baking the babka.

The recipe also did not tell the reader to allow for a second rising in the pan, so I took a chance and let the prepared babka sit in the pan only for so long as the oven was preheating.

As I said, the babka was fabulous. It was moist, chocolaty and rich and my husband deemed the crumb topping so delicious, he pigged out on the crumbs left over on the cake plate after the babka was but a memory. Still, I will want to flesh out the recipe a bit more next time. I will gently pat the crumbs into the dough to help them adhere. I think I will also allow the babka a bit more time to rise in the pan before baking as it did not quite fill the pan.

Greener Cooking Technique

I tried Fishbein’s instructions for baked rice as this seemed a greener way to cook when I’m already using the oven at that temperature to roast chicken. The long grain rice I used came out nice and fluffy, with each grain separate, though the rice at the edges of the pan were a bit crusty. I would use this technique during the week, when it’s “just us folks” for dinner, but not for company. It’s a money, energy, and time saver.

As for money, energy, and time saving, put that aside when you make this babka recipe. Use 60% chocolate, like I did, and throw caution and your waistline to the wind! It’s to die for. Note that I have no stand mixer or bread machine. I used a hand mixer and kneaded the dough by hand. The dough “felt right” and was a pleasure to work with.

Chocolate Babka Meltaway (from Kosher by Design Cooking Coach, Susie Fishbein) Dairy or Parve

photo credit: John Uher, (Kosher by Design Cooking Coach, Susie Fishbein).

One for this week, and one to freeze for up to a month. You can make this recipe as one big batch in a 9×13-inch baking pan, you just won’t get to see the pretty sides as you do when you release the spring on the springform pan.

DOUGH:

2/3 cup milk or unsweetened soymilk

2 large eggs

1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted but not too hot

¼ cup water

¼ cup sugar

1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt

2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast or bread machine yeast

4 cups bread flour

Nonstick cooking spray

CHOCOLATE FILLING:

12 ounces good-quality semisweet chocolate

1 cup sugar

2 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ stick butter or margarine, melted

CRUMB TOPPING:

1 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 stick butter or margarine, melted

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment in the bowl of a Magic Mill or Bosch mixer, beat the milk or soymilk, eggs, butter or margarine, water, sugar, salt, and yeast, until combined. If using a stand mixer, switch to the dough hook. On low speed, incorporate the flour and mix until a smooth, shiny dough is formed, about 6-7 minutes. If using a bread machine, add the ingredients to the pan according to manufacturer’s directions and set to dough cycle. You can also knead all the ingredients by hand until a smooth satiny dough is formed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
  2. Meanwhile prepare the chocolate filling: On a cutting board, with a sharp knife, preferably serrated, very finely chop and shave the chocolate. Transfer it along with any of the shavings from the cutting board to a large bowl. If you don’t have good knife skills, you can transfer moderately-sized chunks to the food processor to pulse until finely chopped. Return the chocolate to the large bowl. Mix in the sugar and cinnamon. Pour the warm melted butter or margarine over the mixture and stir until chocolate is coated and it looks like wet sand.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray 2 (9-inch) springform pans with nonstick cooking spray.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a large 17- x 21-inch rectangle. Sprinkle on the chocolate filling in an even layer to cover all the dough. Starting on with the long side of the rectangle, roll up the dough, jellyroll fashion. You can use a bench scraper or thin metal spatula to help ease it off the counter and to help roll. Using a sawing motion, cut into 1 –inch-thick slices.
  5. Place the rolls flat into the prepared springform pans, It’s okay if the rolls don’t completely fill the pan; they will expand as they bake.
  6. Prepare the crumb topping: Place the confectioner’s sugar and all-purpose flour into a medium bowl. Add the melted butter or margarine and pinch to form large crumbs. Make sure they look moist, but don’t over-pinch: leave most of the crumbs nice and big – about 1 inch.
  7. Bake, uncovered, for 25-30 minutes, until the crumbs look dry, the chocolate looks melty, and the dough is baked and starting to brown in some spots. Do not overbake or the cake will be dry, especially if making in advance and reheating.
  8. When ready to serve, release the spring on the pan and remove outside ring. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Kosher by Design, Susie Fishbein. Distributed by Mesorah Publications, ltd., 4401 Second Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, 11232.

718/921-9000, www.artscroll.com www.kosherbydesign.com