Diaspora Diversity in ‘The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen’

Paging through Amelia Saltsman’s new “The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen” (Sterling Epicure, $30), wondering what Jewish cooks would be making for the start of Hanukkah Sunday, I knew at first sight which recipe from the book I’d be making first. My cooking mind became instantly intent on cozonac, a lightly sweet yeast-raised cake—a recipe from Saltsman’s Romanian grandmother. I do like to fraternize with the family of Eastern European yeast-raised not-quite-bread cakes, and this one called for lemon zest, when I conveniently had before me on the counter some preternaturally plump Meyer lemons from my mother-in-law’s tree.

The cozonac is superb—the recipe follows. But there’s lots else in “The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen,” notably vegetable preparations reflecting multiple traditions—her Romanian mother met her Iraqi father in the Israeli army before they immigrated to California. Saltsman’s first book was “The Santa Monica Farmers Market Cookbook,” and she’s a familiar voice on KCRW’s Saturday “Good Food” talking produce. “The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen” is organized by season in a way that’s truly useful for us Southern Californians—it’s continually surprising to me how many cookbooks don’t acknowledge the state where most of the country’s fruits and vegetables actually originate. No matter—Saltsman’s got us covered.

But back to cozonac: This is one of the simplest recipes using yeast you might ever encounter. And even easier with instant yeast: Skip the proofing step and mix instant yeast into the flour at the beginning, adding the water and sugar indicated for proofing non-instant yeast with the rest of the ingredients.

Cozonac: A Simple Sweet Yeast Cake from Amelia Saltsman

Lemon scented and versatile, my grandmother’s Romanian yeast-and-butter cake is delicious toasted for breakfast.–Amelia Saltzman

2 packages active dry yeast

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

½ cup warm water (100 to 110 degrees)

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon packed lemon zest (from 2 lemons)

5 tablespoons butter, at room temperature, plus more for pan

2 egg yolks

½ cup whole milk or heavy cream

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt

1 egg, beaten

In small bowl, stir together yeast, 1 tablespoon sugar, and warm water. Let stand in warm place until mixture bubbles, about 10 minutes.

In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, stir together flour, remaining ½ cup sugar, and lemon zest. On medium speed, beat in butter, egg yolks, milk, and yeast mixture, followed by vanilla and salt, beating until thoroughly blended, about 4 minutes. Dough will be soft and sticky. Sprinkle with a little flour, cover bowl with towel, and place in warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 ½ hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a tube pan. Scrape dough into pan, easing into ring shape. Work from middle of dough rather than pulling ends. Brush top of dough with beaten egg.

Bake cake until golden brown, lightly puffed, and toothpick inserted near center comes out clean: 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes, remove from pan and set upright to cool completely on rack.

Serve at room temperature. Cake will keep well in plastic wrap at room temperature up to 4 days, or in freezer up to 1 month.

Recipe from THE SEASONAL JEWISH KITCHEN By Amelia Saltzman Sterling Epicure/August 2015

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