Hamantaschen 2020

Instagram Post 3/10/2020

The story of Purim memorializes the time in ancient Jewish history when Haman, royal vizier to King Ahasuerus of Persia, had been plotting to exterminate all the Jews in the empire. His plan was thwarted by Mordecai and Queen Esther, his adopted daughter, and the deliverance is one of joyful celebration, steeped in traditional ceremonies and festivities. Among the many icons of the holiday, one of the most renowned is the hamantasch, literally “Haman’s pocket”.

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Hamantaschen are delicious triangular baked pastries conventionally filled with thick prune jam (lekvar) or ground poppy seeds (muhn), but these days creative cookery presents some serious competition. Happily, the always mind-blowing Breads Bakery, 18 E 16th St in Manhattan, covers the entire spectrum. On this plate, there’s sweet Poppy Seed, Halva, Chocolate, and Apple along with a pair of savory challengers, Purple Haze and Pizza. The former, covered in sesame and nigella seeds, holds sauerkraut – a little sweetish and worth a bite even if you don’t care for sauerkraut. The latter is filled with a blend of tomato paste, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, basil, garlic, and olive oil and tastes exactly like what you’d expect with that set of ingredients; try warming this one up. Fusion food for sure.


Sometimes a change of focus helps to make a point – or six.
 
 

Gujiya

Instagram Post 3/9/2020

The Equal Opportunity Celebrant strikes again, eating my way through Holi today, the Hindu festival of spring and colors celebrated predominantly in India and Nepal. The holiday recounts the heartwarming legend of Krishna coloring his face for Radha, his love, and heralds the arrival of spring.

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This is gujiya (you might see gujia), a classic Holi sweet, half-moon shaped and similar to a deep-fried samosa. Crunchy outside and soft within, it’s filled with sweetened khoa (milk solids), ground nuts, grated coconut, whole fruits and nuts (raisins and cashews in this one), cumin seeds, and a bit of suji (semolina) for texture. These Holi day treats came from Maharaja Sweets, 73-10 37th Ave, Jackson Heights, Queens.


The inner workings.

Oversized jalebi are popular for Holi as well, and just like on Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, all kinds of mithai (Indian sweets) are the order of the day. Read about them and check out the photos here.
 
 

Ginjan Cafe

Instagram Post 3/7/2020

A perfect pick-me-up from Ginjan Café, 85 East 125th St in East Harlem.

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On the left, tart Bissap (aka sorrel and jamaica), a West African (notably Senegalese) blend of hibiscus, mint, lemon, and cloves, served hot; at the top, Ginjan, an “organic elixir” of ginger, lemon, pineapple, vanilla, and anise – steamed, although classic and latte options are available; and a blueberry scone because…

…you couldn’t have resisted either.
 
 

Lower East Side Ice Cream Factory

Instagram Post 2/26/2020

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Easily identified as an outpost of the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory by the insatiable dragon logo, the Lower East Side Ice Cream Factory also produces delicious high quality ice cream in Asian inspired flavors like durian, ube, and lychee as well as “exotic” ones like vanilla and chocolate 😉. I particularly like the fact that the LES offspring features exclusive flavors that give a nod to the neighborhood’s roots like Rainbow Cookie and Horchata.

One of the two flavors in this cup was rainbow cookie. I don’t know if it’s always available or if it was an experiment; pretty good, but I wish it were more intense and had more pieces of rainbow cookie in it.

That horchata tho! For the uninitiated, horchata is a luscious beverage that can be made from tiger nuts or jícaro or rice (as in Mexico) depending upon the provenance. This rendition actually had actual grains of actual rice in it and it was outstanding! Find it on the street level of Essex Market, 88 Essex St, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
 
 

Kuih Cafe

Instagram Post 2/25/2020

Kuih are what you eat when you’re craving a sweet or savory snack if you’re in Malaysia.

Kuih Café is where you go when you’re craving kuih if you’re in Manhattan’s Chinatown – 46 Eldridge St to be specific.

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They’ve only been there for a couple of weeks and I’ve only tasted their Butterfly Pea Flower Lemon Unbaked Cheesecake, but it was excellent; light and sweet, it’s unlike the heavy New York style cheesecake you might be accustomed to.


The slice we devoured. (BTW, butterfly pea flower is everywhere these days and primarily exists to prevent people from insisting that there’s no such thing as a natural blue food.)

They offer other Malaysian delicacies like nasi lemak bungkus, the banana leaf wrapped savory rice snack, as well. Definitely worth a visit!
 
 

Nablus Pastry & Sweets – Paterson

Instagram Post 2/17/2020

I’ve written about Nablus Pastry & Sweets in Bay Ridge here and here, but having hit the trail to New Jersey this past weekend, a nod to their Paterson outpost is due. A mecca for Middle Eastern delights and more expansive than their Brooklyn location, we stopped in for only two of their numerous varieties of kanafeh and some ma’amoul cookies.

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Ma’amoul are melt-in-your-mouth cookies filled with dried fruit or nuts; dates, figs, walnuts and pistachios factor in frequently. Kanafeh, also spelled knafeh, kunafa, (there are many more), but always reliably كُنافة, is hypersweet and made with sugar syrup-drenched crisp shredded dough that conceals rich delights like clotted cream or cheese and is sometimes topped with chopped nuts – as if the lily needed gilding.

Highly recommended. Nablus Pastry & Sweets is located at 1050 Main St in Paterson NJ.
 
 

The Making of Martabak

Instagram Post 1/20/2020

I’ve posted before about martabak (or martabak manis – manis means sweet), one of my favorite Southeast Asian desserts; it’s usually available at one of the three monthly Indonesian food bazaars, but this past weekend, the Indonesian Gastronomy Association (IGA) outdid itself by presenting a live demonstration revealing the way it’s made.

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Without giving away any recipe secrets, batter is added to a special lidded frying pan that cooks and steams the pancake; a leavening agent causes it to rise into its characteristic honeycomb sponge-like consistency. The green color comes from pandan (screwpine) paste; it’s my favorite variety and highly recommended.


It’s slathered with margarine (which is considerably more malleable and easier to work with on the sunny streets of Indonesia than in the chilly atmosphere of a capacious Elmhurst assembly hall).


The sweet stuff which can appear as any or all of chocolate sprinkles, cheese, nuts, and sweetened condensed milk is added over half; the plain side is folded over the top (and I do mean over-the-top) of the enhanced side…


…and cut into serving pieces.

More photos of the event to come.

Follow IGA on Facebook or Instagram @iga_newyork to stay apprised of their schedule; find them at the Elmhurst Memorial Hall, 8824 43rd Ave, Queens, monthly.
 
 

Homemade Pumpkin Pie – 2019

Instagram Post 1/16/2020

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One more from my holiday home cookin’ collection. Believe it or not, it took years to get this Pumpkin Pie recipe right – years, because I only make it biannually so the upgrade opportunities are few and far between. First trick is to use only fresh pumpkin, and the small sugar pumpkins at that – none of that canned stuff. (Yes, I’ve read the propaganda from some who claim that it’s all the same – IMO they know not whereof they speak.) My recipe includes three milks (inspired by tres leches cake): sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream along with brown sugar, eggs, spices, and such. Here, it’s topped with homemade Pecan Brittle and whipped cream.


The view before slicing and adorning. (Yes, I add the pecan brittle at serving time so it doesn’t get icky.) The crust has been another labor of love, intended to evoke the taste of a cinnamon sugar cookie. (Perfect with pumpkin, right?) The flavor is spot-on, but the texture needs a bit more finessing. Ah well, back to the groaning board. 😉
 
 

Cupid Cheese Fruit Cake

Instagram Post 1/13/2020

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Cupid Cheese Fruit Cake, a relatively new kid on the block, is my new durian gateway drug dealer. Find them in Flushing (of course) in the New York Food Court at 133-35 Roosevelt Ave, Stall 18. The menu touts Regular Durian Pie and a Super Durian Pie that’s even more abundantly filled than the former (you’re lookin’ at it). I was more than pleased. A return visit is in order to sample some of the other flavors – mango, banana, raisin, hawthorn, dragon fruit, and seven fairies – the last two topping my list. Ice Rice is on the agenda as well, but not before I run the table of fruit pies.

I can only imagine what this would be like with a scoop of Flushing Ice Cream Factory’s durian melting on top!
🤤


The #obligatorycheesepull
 
 

Georgian Deli and Bakery

Instagram Post 1/12/2020

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Three delectable beauties from Georgian Deli and Bakery, 2270 86th St in Brooklyn; sometimes the only road to comfort is via homespun baked goods.


Pakhlava (you might see an infinite number of alternate spellings, but Instagram restricts me to 2200 characters) – loaded with chopped walnuts and golden and black raisins, punctuated by white beze (meringue). Pakhlava and baklava share the same Turkic root word but aside from the walnuts the resemblance between them ends there: three layers of rich, sour cream based dough in contrast to multifold sheets of gossamer phyllo leaves with sweetness coming from dried fruit instead of a beehive of honey.


Crescent Cigarette Cake – walnuts and raisins again, cinnamon too, a fairly standard complement for the region. Sufficiently distinct to include here.


Qada (you might see kada) – my absolute favorite of the three. Tight roll, tight crumb; butter, flour, sugar, butter and perhaps an egg yolk (did I mention butter?) – how can something so simple be so delicious? (Oh yeah. Butter. 😉)