Arthur Schwartz likes to say: “If a kosher Martian landed in New York City today and observed what Jews were actually eating, he would think pizza and sushi were the most Jewish foods on earth.” I like to think that a copy of Schwartz’s new cookbook, Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisited, would screw that misguided Martian’s head on straight.
Also called The Food Maven, Schwartz is known for being the man the New York Times Magazine dubbed “a walking Google of food knowledge.” His expertise extends far beyond Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine – still, Jewish Home Cooking is a true homecoming for this Brooklyn native.
Far beyond a collection of Yiddish recipes – Jewish Home Cooking offers a vivid snapshot of a particular era of Jewish life – the slender seltzer bottles delivered to your doorstep, butchers who knew your name and order, frothy egg creams with Fox’s U-Bet syrup, and slow-simmered tzimmes – that has all but vanished from today’s New York. With recipes that honor tradition (but aren’t stifled by it), and historical photographs and anecdotes of New York’s long-gone Jewish culinary hot spots, Schwartz breathes new life into Jewish cuisine with humor and love – but without the sloppy side dish of kitsch that usually (and annoyingly) comes along with Yiddish retrospectives.
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Below the jump, Schwartz’s Passover Apple Cake.
Passover Parve Apple Cake
*Adapted slightly from Arthur Schwartz’s Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisited.
With it’s cloud-like layer of apples resting under a crunchy topping of toasted pecans and caramelized sugar, it was good enough to make this Midwestern gal feel like an ekht yidishke. Although good from the first piece I tested straight out of the oven for “research purposes,” Schwartz’s claim that this cake gets better with age is true. Hello post-seder breakfast!
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 tablespoon ground ginger
1/4 tablespoon ground cardamom
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup matzo meal
5 medium apples (I used two very large ones), peeled, cored, halved, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 5 cups). I used Crispin, but Arthur says Golden Delicious also works well.
1/3 cup raisins (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil an 8-inch square glass baking dish. To prepare topping, mix together pecans, sugar, and spices; set aside.
To prepare cake batter, beat eggs until well mixed. Beat in the sugar, about 2 tablespoons at at time, beating until the mixture is thick and foamy. Beat in the oil, adding it in a steady stream. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. With the spatula , stir in the matzo meal cake, blending well.
Pour half the batter mixture into the pan. Sprinkle about half the topping mixture evenly over the batter and top with half the apples and all the raisins. (I arranged mine in a flat row of half moons.) Scrape the remaining half of the batter over the apples, spreading it out to cover the apples. Arrange the remaining apples on top (same pattern) and sprinkle evenly with remaining topping.
Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the sides of the cake pull away very slightly from the baking dish and the topping has begun to caramelize. Let cool for several hours before cutting. Arthur says that a cake tester – like a fork or toothpick – is not reliable here. It will simply not come out clean, due to the cake’ moist richness. He also says the cake improves with age – keep covered tightly with plastic. The next day, the topping will have become a moist, candy-like coating.
Read my interview with Arthur Schwartz in Zeek Magazine, here.