Challah “Babka” Bread Pudding

Cookbook author Tina Wasserman has been teaching people a hands-on approach to Jewish food for more than 40 years. I first spoke with the Dallas-based cooking instructor about four years ago when she called asking to include my recipe for Vegetarian Couscous in her 2009 cookbook, “Entrée to Judaism: A Culinary Exploration of the Jewish Diaspora.”

Now she’s following it up with “Entrée to Judaism for Families: Jewish Cooking & Kitchen Conversations With Children,” to be published in December. And once again, she will include one of my recipes, this time Quick Spiced Turkey Sausage from my cookbook “Famous Chefs Cook Kosher.”

We had the chance to speak again recently, and during the conversation we discovered that, for both of us, our passion for cooking began at an early age. We knew then that we wanted to teach and inspire the art of cooking.

“Curiosity about food always compelled me to explore,” Wasserman wrote in her book. “My earliest foray into food experimentation took place when I was 3, and my mother found me on the kitchen floor with a 5-pound bag of flour, one dozen eggs, a rolling pin and a board. … I was making a pie, I said.”

She loves the creative process in cooking and learning about other cultures, having grown up in the 1950s, when food was becoming more than sustenance. They are qualities she hopes will provide essential tools for helping children learn to cook with confidence.

Wasserman’s book will be available in eBook form as well as hardcover. By using key words throughout the recipes in the eBook format, readers will be able to access photos of the kitchen equipment needed to prepare the dish and watch instructional videos of Wasserman showing important cooking techniques.

To kick off the publication of her new cookbook, Wasserman will be lecturing in December at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Biennial convention in San Diego, with a stop in Los Angeles beforehand, when we will meet to discuss Jewish food ideas.

I have included a few special recipes from Wasserman’s new cookbook that bring a unique approach and perspective to Jewish food customs from around the world. The recipes have interesting historical headnotes as well as “Tina’s Tidbits,” which make preparing the dish easier to follow when cooking with children.


Pareve Apricot Orange Noodle Kugel. Photos courtesy of Tina Wasserman

PAREVE APRICOT ORANGE NOODLE KUGEL

Since most kugels were originally meant to be served with a festive meat meal, and in olden times the only cooking fat available was goose or chicken fat, observant Jews did not use any dairy products in their recipes. Today we can use vegetable oil so that the dish is pareve (containing neither milk nor meat products).

This is a modern recipe using fruit preserves and fruit juice to sweeten the dish and easy to make since no knife work is required. Perfect for very young cooks!

∗ 3/4 cup orange juice
∗ 1 cup apricot preserves (about a 12-ounce jar)
∗ 2 (4-ounce) containers of unsweetened applesauce (or 1 cup)
∗ 1 teaspoon vanilla
∗ 1 teaspoon cinnamon
∗ 4 large eggs
∗ 1/4 cup sugar
∗ 1/2 cup golden raisins, optional
∗ 12 ounces extra-wide egg noodles
∗ Topping (recipe follows) 

Preheat oven to 350 F. 

Lightly oil an 8-by-12-inch (2-quart) casserole. Set aside.

Measure juice in a 2-cup glass measuring cup. Add preserves to cup until juice reaches the 1 3/4-cup line. Pour into 4-quart mixing bowl, and add the next six ingredients. Whisk the mixture together well.

Cook noodles according to package directions for 8 minutes or until soft. Drain in a colander but do not rinse. Using a rubber spatula, gently combine the noodles with the apricot mixture in the mixing bowl. Pour noodles into the greased casserole and cover with foil — dull side facing you. Bake for 35 minutes.

While kugel is baking, prepare the Topping, and set aside.

After 35 minutes, remove kugel from oven and discard the foil. Sprinkle Topping evenly over the top and return pan to the oven for an additional 15-20 minutes or until top and sides are golden. Remove from oven, let kugel rest for 10 minutes, then cut into pieces and serve.

Makes 8 servings.

TOPPING

∗ 1/4 cup sugar
∗ 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
∗ 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
∗ 1/2 cup slivered almonds, coarsely chopped
∗ 2 tablespoons coconut oil or margarine

Combine ingredients in a 1-quart bowl. Use your fingertips to blend all ingredients together. Set aside.

Tina’s Tidbits:

Because this recipe is good for younger children, it is best to remember that they can put the noodles into the water but must not be too close when the boiling water is drained from the noodles.

Always have the child stand on a sturdy stool or step stool. Never have them kneeling on a chair. If you only have a chair to stand on, it must have four legs so it won’t rock or tip.

It is best to buy the almonds pre-chopped, but with supervision even a very young child can chop the nuts using a chef’s knife and the rocking motion to break the nuts into small pieces.


 

CHALLAH “BABKA” BREAD PUDDING

The name Babka, or Grandmother’s Cake, refers to the Babcia (in Slavic) or Bubbe (in Yiddish) because in the early 1800s this cake was made in a high, fluted pan that looked like a grandmother’s skirt.

Babka is a traditional Polish/Ukrainian yeast cake that was originally made from rich challah dough rolled around a sweet cinnamon or fruit filling. Baked with the challah, it was a Friday afternoon treat for children waiting for Shabbat to arrive.

This recipe is a twist on classic Babka. Instead of being made with challah dough it is made from the baked challah! Chocolate and cinnamon flavor the pudding, and the classic streusel topping finishes off this wonderful treat.

MARGARINE FOR GREASING DISH

∗ 1 (1-pound) challah (raisin or plain, preferably a few days old)
∗ 8 ounces Israeli chocolate spread (Crème Chocolate or Nutella)
∗ 1 stick unsalted margarine
∗ 1/4 cup light brown sugar
∗ 4 eggs
∗ 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
∗ 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
∗ 2 cups milk
∗ Topping (recipe follows)

 

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Grease a 2-quart oval or rectangular baking dish. Set aside.

Slice the challah into 3/4-inch slices. Spread the chocolate over each slice of bread using a small bent spatula or utility knife.

Arrange in the casserole to evenly fit. 

Microwave the margarine in a 2-quart glass bowl until melted. Add the brown sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the eggs and the remaining ingredients to the bowl, and whisk to combine well.

Carefully pour the egg/milk mixture over the bread slices. Using a wide metal spatula, gently press down on the bread slices to submerge them under the custard. Place a plate or bowl on top of the casserole to weight the challah down. Set aside for 30 minutes while you make the Topping.

Sprinkle Topping evenly over the bread/custard in baking dish. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 8 to 12 servings.

TOPPING

∗ 3 tablespoons unsalted margarine at room temperature or softened slightly in the microwave
∗ 1/2 cup flour
∗ 1/2 cup sugar
∗ 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Place the butter, flour, sugar and vanilla in a 1-quart mixing bowl, and squeeze the mixture together using your hands at first and then fingertips, to evenly combine all ingredients and make a crumble.

 

Tina’s Tidbits:

This recipe is perfect for making with children of any age. With the exception of slicing the bread (which requires direct involvement of an adult), all cooking activities are easy for even the youngest child.

The best knife for slicing bread is a serrated knife. However, if a person is cut with a serrated knife, the wound usually forms scar tissue. Therefore, with the exception of older children (7 and up), I would recommend pre-slicing the challah before you begin to make the recipe.

 

Create a virtual recipe box on your computer. Type up the recipe, take a picture of the finished dish each time you make it, and attach it to the recipe file for you to see for many years. You might be surprised to see, when you are older, how you have changed it.


POLENTA LATKES

∗ 1 cup olive oil
∗ 2 cups chopped onions
∗ 4 1/2 cups vegetable stock or water
∗ 1 1/2 cups polenta or yellow cornmeal
∗ Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add onions and sauté until tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the vegetable stock, and bring to a boil. Add the polenta slowly, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the polenta comes away from the sides of the pan, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

While still hot, spread polenta about 1 inch thick onto an oiled baking pan. Cool, cover, and refrigerate several hours or overnight, until cold and firm. Using a 2-inch-round, scalloped cookie cutter, cut polenta into rounds and transfer to a large platter. 

In a nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and brown polenta rounds, turning occasionally, until brown and crispy on both sides. Drain on paper towels and repeat with remaining polenta rounds, adding additional olive oil as needed. Serve immediately or reheat just before serving.


Judy Zeidler is a food consultant and author of “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her Web site is JudyZeidler.com.