Holiday baking time is here and there is a world of flavors to explore! We asked some of our go-to local food folk to share favorite holiday recipes with us — a perfect companion to our food-focused holiday gift guide on page 99 of this month’s Ohio Magazine. In fact, the ethnic treats featured here would make great gifts in their own right. Get ready to crank up the oven and break out the baking sheets to make Lebanese baklava, Italian cantucci and a French twist on bread pudding made with brioche and croissants. Plus, we’ve got a bonus — an original cake recipe by Robin Davis, food editor at the Columbus Dispatch.
December 2010 Issue
Try favorite traditional recipes by top Ohio bakers.
To begin, Rita Nader Heikenfeld, a Cincinnati food personality and author of the syndicated weekly column and blog Cooking with Rita, shares her family recipe for Lebanese-style baklava — a honeyed, crisp, phyllo-dough treat loaded with walnuts. This delightful dessert dates back to the Byzantine Empire and is popular in many Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines.
“We make this every Christmas, just as my Mom and her ancestors did,” Heikenfeld says. “Between my sisters, brother, aunt, nieces, nephews and friends — the batches of baklava that are made in my kitchen are legendary. Last year we had 20 people in the kitchen and dining room, with the littlest children grinding the nuts in my Mom’s ancient hand nut grinder.”
Recipe courtesy of Rita Nader Heikenfeld
For the Syrup:
1-1/4 cups sugar
1-1/4 cups honey
3/4 cup water
Juice of one large lemon, about 1/4 cup
3 tablespoons butter
3 cinnamon sticks
Up to 1 tablespoon orange flower water (optional)
Place all ingredients in a large saucepan (important because the mixture will foam up), bring to a gentle boil and then lower to a simmer. Let the mixture cook until the water evaporates and the liquid thickens, about 20 minutes or so. This can be done several days ahead and reheated.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
For the Pastry:
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
1 pound phyllo dough sheets, thawed in refrigerator
For the Filling:
5 to 6 cups walnuts, ground
1/4 cup sugar (or to taste)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Butter the bottom and sides of a cookie sheet large enough to fit the phyllo dough sheets. Lay two sheets of phyllo on the cookie sheet and brush lightly with melted butter. Repeat, buttering every two sheets until you reach 16 sheets.
Mix the nuts, sugar and cinnamon together and pour the filling onto the phyllo, patting it down with your hands to make it even.
Repeat layering the phyllo dough, buttering every two sheets. Do not butter the last sheet. Place sheets on top of the filling.
Before baking, cut the pastry into squares and sprinkle VERY lightly with water — this will keep it from flaking up too much.
Bake about 45 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool a bit and then take your knife and recut the pastry, making sure you go all the way through. Pour the syrup over the baklava, starting at sides. Let the pastry sit several hours or overnight before eating. Store baklava lightly covered at room temperature.
The Loretta Paganini School of Cooking
in Chesterland offers recreational, hands-on classes in everything from basic knife skills to hand-dipped chocolates, cooking with wine and — one of Loretta Paganini
’s specialties — Italian pastries and sweets. It makes sense, considering Paganini was born in Bologna, Italy, where her family ran a “pasticceria.” Here, she shares a traditional recipe for cantucci — the twice-baked cookie also known as biscotti.
Apricot Almond Cantucci
Recipe courtesy of Loretta Paganini
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/4 cup sweet liqueur
1/2 cup almonds
4 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla sugar*
2 cups sugar
Zest of one lemon
Zest of one orange
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper (you’ll use both later).
Chop apricots and soak in the liqueur, then toast and chop the almonds. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder and set aside.
In a stand mixer, or using a hand mixer, work the eggs with the vanilla sugar and regular sugar until creamy. Add the orange and lemon zest. Add the drained apricots and chopped almonds.
Stir in the flour mixture and mix just until dough forms. Cut the dough into three equal pieces and roll each one into a sausage shape. Place the rolls on the prepared cookie sheet. Lower the oven to 375 degrees and bake for 20 minutes or until golden. Cool, and then slice diagonally with a serrated knife.
Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees. Place the biscotti slices on the cookie sheets and bake for an additional 5–10 minutes.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve. Makes 48 cookies.
* You can make your own vanilla sugar for baking by splitting a vanilla bean and scraping its contents into two cups of granulated sugar. Let sit in an airtight container for a week and it’s ready to use.
For something a little different (and a great way to use up leftover croissants from a holiday brunch), try this subtly flavored treat that is absolutely delicious served with ice cream, vanilla whipped cream, caramel sauce . . . you name it! The recipe comes from Zoss the Swiss Bake
r (12397 Cedar Rd., Cleveland Hts. 44106. 216/368-4055), a great place to pick up fancy-looking and fresh-baked Danishes, breads and more.
Recipe courtesy of Kurt & Barbara Zoss of Zoss the Swiss Baker
4.5 ounces seedless raisins, soaked in hot water and drained
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups half & half
1-1/2 cups whole milk
1-1/2 lbs. day-old brioche and croissants, cut into cubes
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, melted
flour for dusting pans
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Soak the raisins in hot water (to plump them) and melt the butter (either on the stovetop or in a microwave-safe dish).
Combine the sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, half & half, and milk. Drain the raisins, stir them into the liquid mixture then pour the mixture over the diced brioche and croissants.
Let stand for 30 minutes, allowing the bread to absorb the liquid. Butter and flour eight large muffin or cupcake tins and evenly fill with the pudding (an ice cream scoop works well for this).
Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the puddings comes out clean. Let the puddings cool in the pan for 10 minutes before unmolding.
According to Robin Davis
, food editor at the Columbus Dispatch
and the host of Dispatch Kitchen on Columbus’ WBNS-TV, this was not only the most-requested recipe from last December’s food section, but also the cake her own family insisted she make this year.
Recipe courtesy of Robin Davis
3 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt or 1/2 teaspoon table salt
4 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsulfured molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 can (15 ounces) pure pumpkin (not pie filling)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10-inch tube or bundt pan. Dust pan with flour, tapping out excess.
In a bowl, stir the flour, baking powder, soda, salt and spices.
With an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium-high for 3 minutes. Gradually add the granulated sugar, beating until well blended. Add the brown sugar. Beat 1 minute longer. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in the molasses and the vanilla.
With the mixer on low, beat in the pumpkin. Add the flour mixture in three additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Spoon batter into prepared pan.
Bake until toothpick inserted near the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 1 hour. Transfer pan to rack. Cool 10 minutes. Turn cake out onto rack. Cool completely.
Makes 12 to 14 servings. This can be made a day or two ahead. Wrap tightly in foil and let stand at room temperature.