A Light Touch

Cooking class highlights with Bonnie Stern, as promised:

Challah making and shaping
We’re using Jenny Stolz’s recipe, Bonnie’s grandmother, who had 11 children. She was famous for repeatedly winning top honours for her challah at the county fair. The prize? Enough flour to feed the family another year.

Should I make a three-, four-, five- or six-strand braid for challah? Bonnie gave us drawings and clear instructions, but it was Bonnie’s hands themselves that sorted out each of our challahs.

Shakshuka [eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce]
Her descriptive phrase above describes this dish perfectly. Shakshuka is one of Israel’s most popular dishes. Although it’s simple, Bonnie’s rendition shows a fine sensibility and requires restraint and a light touch. The sauce is a gentle cook-up of mashed tomatoes, not a homogeneous puree. The heat comes from harissa and the ancient flavour accent from cumin. Bonnie says she’s eaten versions of the dish from Jerusalem to Australia. Some break the eggs [Shakshuka means “all mixed up], but the dish is much more elegant following Bonnie’s technique, leaving the eggs undisturbed.

Soufflé rolls with smoked salmon
The foundation of this dish is classic soufflé: béchamel, separated eggs, beaten whites folded in to aerate. The mixture is cooked on a shallow tray and becomes a sheet of soufflé Once cooled, spread with mascarpone/sour scream/yogurt in the combination you prefer [we had mascarpone] and lay down some smoked salmon. The roll is then sliced to showcase the spiral filling.

Bonnie’s suggestions for substitute fillings: cold shrimp, crab salad, a hot seafood mix or even creamed broccoli.

French toast casserole
Bonnie calls this a cross between French toast and bread pudding. Nuff said. Except maybe a teasing mention of brown sugar and maple syrup.

On patriot maple syrup
A third of the students were expat Canadians, which made it interesting to hear one of them pipe up about how silly we are in our nationalistic zeal to make it sound like Canadian maple syrup is the best.

“Vermont produces great maple syrup,” he rightly points out. In terms of terroir, there can’t be that much difference between Vermont and Quebec maples.

But why self-deprecate? It was an odd little moment away from home. It’s impossible not to compare your destination to it, but really, we don’t need to pit an apple with an orange. Vive notre difference.