I'd say I must be nesting (which I am), but I've been having an irresistible urge to bake and cook a lot more lately. We can't chalk it all up to the final stretch of this pregnancy though. Between working on a cookbook and watching too much Food Network, it's kind of a natural conclusion. But what is new is finally wanting to dive into my bubbie's "famous" recipes. Maybe it's that her first yahrtzeit (anniversary of death) is coming up just after I have a baby. Maybe it's that some holidays are hitting soon that we would bake for together, like Purim. Who knows. But I have a plan. I'm going to starting making her recipes.
Bubbie's cooking and baking prowess is actually somewhat of a mixed bag. By the time I was born, or at least as far as my memory serves, she had a somewhat limited repertoire. From her savory cooking, I mostly remember a lot of paprika. There was (dry chunky) mashed potatoes with paprika, chicken with paprika, stuffed cabbage and stuffed peppers (both with paprika). You get the idea. Oh, and there were some kugels. Those were good.
It was her baking that held more of the family tradition and fame. She made several of the same cakes and babka-esque pastries, all variations on one another. The best one was her kukosh (the most babka-like of them all). But there was also turosh (cheese), deeosh (nuts), and makosh (prune). I don't know if any of these are real words anywhere else (and I'm obviously winging the spellings), but they are real terms in my family.
Of course, these pastries came complete with a story she told about a weekend when her mother was away and it was her job to make the kukosh, but she didn't know how. So she prepared it the best she could from memory watching her mother do it all those years, took the finished product to the bakery (no one had ovens at home—you baked communally), and when it was ready, everyone declared her kukosh even better than her mother's. A legend was born.
Making kukosh together (and hamantaschen and the rest, but especially the kukosh) was an event for us grandkids. We loved when she rolled out this particular dough on a huge wood pastry board and let us go to town, sprinkling cocoa powder and squeezing chocolate syrup all over it. (It was messy. It was chocolatey. It was tasty. She knew how to let kids have fun.)
But none of us have ever really tried to make any of them alone. I've inched toward it by making the krantz cakes in Jerusalem: A Cookbook, the closest thing I've seen to kukosh to date. But no one has tackled her actual recipes. Maybe it just hasn't felt right yet to do it without her. But maybe it's the other big problem: the recipes were really just in her head, made only by memory and repetition, never from a source text—and probably a little different every time she did it. On a few occasions, one of us asked her to dictate the recipe for us. I wrote down a few, so did my mother. But if you were to read them (if you know anything about baking), you'd immediately recognize their incompleteness of directions. Also their contradictions. And possibly some ingredient ratio problems.
Looking over these scans now, what's also really clear is that Bubbie didn't necessarily understand the true nature of keeping kosher, at least as far as making something dairy or parve was concerned. The kukosh recipe is made with margarine and Coffee Rich (gross) in order to keep the dough parve—but she filled it with dairy chocolate. One of the hamantaschen recipes is also made with margarine—but has buttermilk. And I am 100% positive that she passed these pastries off as non-dairy at family meals. (I'm not alone. My cousin Mindy told a similar story in the eulogy she gave.)
So it's going to be a project to recreate them, test them, and get them into a reproducible format. I'm going to make them both dairy and parve. I'm going to figure out what the difference is between the 3 variations on a yeast dough recipe she dictated to us over the years. I'm even going to try the recipes and fillings I thought were gross as a kid (nuts and prunes, obviously). And I'll report back on the results.
Wish me luck.