Thursday, November 19, 2009

Basic Sweet Yeast Dough


I realized recently that the only place I've ever felt really at home was in Israel. Israel, with its amalgamation of cultures and flavors, with loud music and brash cabbies, with huddled market stalls and glowing Jerusalem stone, with complete strangers being all up in your business, with greenery where you least expect it and laughter that only underscores the strength of the spirit - it seems funny to think that a piece of me will always stay there, but it's the truth.

Z_Dump for Photos1-2

Being Jewish was kind of a dirty word where I grew up in Ukraine, and having been isolated by the Communist regime from any vestiges of religion, being Jewish was confusing here in the US. American Jews were free to be Jewish and to be proud of it, and to me, a novice, it seemed like they all spoke some different, secret language to the translation of which I was not privy. In Israel, however, I could be myself. Ironically, I felt the least religious in this Jewish state - I didn't attend services nor did we differentiate between Jews and Arabs in our weekly dinners at the Haifa Uni dorms - but it was here that I found a strong and lasting connection to my roots. Because there was no pressure to be anything or belong to any group and because the hills, the stones and the air itself are saturated with history, I discovered what it really means to have my heritage, to own who I am and make it part of myself. It's a testament to the beauty of that country and to the strength of its people that I could learn what I did and take it, carrying it with me for the rest of my life like a gift.


This recipe is a classic Jewish recipe. My grandmother makes something similar and her grandmother did too. The bread it produces is soft, moist and lightly sweet - the kind of dough you can use for almost anything, from pan dulce to challah to cinnamon buns to apple cakes like the one I baked. It made the house smell fantastic. When I bit into a piece, fresh out of the oven, I said "SHUT UP OMG" really loudly, even though I was completely alone in the house. It was that good.

Basic Yeast Sweet Dough
from sadly out of print, but wonderful The World of Jewish Desserts by Gil Marks

*1 (1/4-oz) package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast, or 1 (0.6 oz) cake fresh yeast
*1 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees for dry yeast; 80 to 85 degrees for fresh yeast), or 1/4 cup warm water and 3/4 cup warm milk, or 1 cup warm water mixed with 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
*1/3 cup sugar
*1/3 cup vegetable oil, peanut oil or softened butter
*2 large eggs
*1 teaspoon salt
*About 4 cups high-gluten flour or unbleached all-purpose flour

For apple topping
5-7 medium baking apples (I used Gala), peeled, cored and sliced
2 tablespoons of butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup warm water. Stir in 1 teaspoon sugar and let stand until foamy, 5-10 minutes (if your yeast isn't foaming, start all over with fresher yeast).

Add the remaining water (and/or milk), sugar, oil (or butter), eggs and salt and whisk to combine. With a wooden spoon, stir in 1 1/2 cups of flour and then continue stirring in flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough forms into a ball and comes away from the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough into a well floured surface and knead, adding more flour to prevent sticking (I think I added another 1/2 cup), until smooth and springy, about 5 minutes. The dough should be soft and satiny, but you don't want to knead too long as you don't want too much gluten to develop. You can use a machine to knead, but I really like to do it by hand.

Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and turn to coat. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until nearly double in bulk, 1 1/2 - 2 hrs (or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight). To test if the dough is sufficiently risen, press two fingers 1 inch deep into the center; if the indentations remain, the dough is ready.

Punch down the dough. Fold over in three like a letter, give it a half turn and fold over like a letter again - this redistributes the yeast and its food. Let stand for 10 minutes to relax the dough.

While the dough is relaxing, peel, core and slice the apples, melt the butter and combine the sugar and cinnamon. Butter or spray a 9"x13" pan or two 9" round pans.

Arrange the dough in the prepared pan(s), stretching gently so that it touches all the sides and is more or less uniform in height. Arrange the apples on top, brush with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Cover and let rise until nearly double in bulk, about 50 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375F (350F if using a glass pan). Bake on the middle rack for 30 minutes or until puffed and golden (this cake has quite an oven spring!). Cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then cool on the rack for 20 minutes (aha, good luck with that). I like this cake warm with a cup of coffee or tea.

This cake can be frozen for up to 2 weeks. Reheat unthawed on 350F for 20 minutes.


katherine said...

Your pictures of the finished product are absolutely beautiful and, with your descriptions, I felt like I could even smell and taste it. Great job!

Pam said...

Yummy, this recipe looks delicious, I love anything with apples, your kitchen must’ve smelt amazing :)


Debbie said...

This does look "shut up OMG" good (tee hee). I am going to try this very, very soon.
Also, your heart knows home is where you don't have to be this or be that, you just "are".

Irina@PastryPal said...

Didn't realize how similar our backgrounds were, but having immigrated to the US when I was 7 meant that I didn't have understanding about what being Jewish meant. Of course, here in the US, no one bats an eye. My family made a similar cake when I was young, and this stirs up a lot of memories. Thanks for this beautiful recipe.

Nutmeg Nanny said...

This looks very delicious. I love seeing all the apple slices lined up over the dough.

Irene said...

That's funny, we came here when I was 9! From "religion is evil! Kill the Jews!" to shabbat shalom. A good change. :)

Ash said...

So nice!! I love the photo's here!!

El said...

This recipe looks scrumptious. Yum!

Xiaolu @ 6 Bittersweets said...

Thanks for sharing your wonderful story, recipe, and photos. Speaking of the last, they make me want to lick the screen ;p.

Irene said...

Thank you *blushing* :)

Kasia W said...

The cake looks delicious and I really enjoyed your reflections on Jeruselem.
it's good to know that a yeast cake can also be done with apples. I considered doing so, but I had never seen one before, so I made one with cranberries instead.
In Poland the yeast cake is usually made with plums.
Next time I make a yeast cake, it will be with your recipe!

Jane said...


What a beautiful post. How very interesting your background is, and how generous-spirited of you to share it with your readers. It's also a beautiful recipe and looks simply delicious.


erik organic said...

The photos are so nice and I am almost drooling over it! Thanks for this! I can't wait to try this! GREAT JOB!

The Caked Crusader said...

That first photo is breathtaking! It should be prescribed by doctors as a mood booster!!!!

veron said...

Another apple dessert to add to my todo list. Looks incredible and I love that there are lots of apples in it. It's a relief to be just yourself and be comfortable where you are and who you are...and this apple dessert is a perfect testament to that.

Junglefrog said...

Gorgeous looking dessert and what an interesting view of your background! I've never been to Israel yet, but will for sure go there one day. Not that I am jewish but I would love to feel the history of the place myself.

Shovelmonkey said...

That looks beautifully delicious and i cannot wait to make it.

lostpastremembered said...

Oh my, I've been looking for this recipe for years! My German grandmother made it but died without sharing the recipe. I have such clear memories of the crunch of the cinnamon sugar on the top in her enormous victorian kitchen! I would lift off shards of it when she wasn't looking. I can't wait to try it and see if it works. It was a bread dough with apples... yours is close. apple kuchen!

Denise said...

I have been wanting to make this recipe from the moment you posted it, but, well, it's been a busy couple of months, and my first oppurtunity to do it was yesterday. I was nervous, yeast and I haven't always been the best of friends, but it turned out so beautifully, just like your pictures! And it wasn't that hard, and the yest behaved itself. And like you Irene, I immediately shouted OMG after my first bite, as did my nieces who came and graciously devoured the rest of it for me. Thanks for posting this, it's now a family favorite. I do think I have to find an old copy of Mr. Marks' book!

Irene said...

I'm so glad it worked out for you! I think this dough is so versatile, I can't wait to make cinnamon buns with it. Mmmm... just thinking about it is making me want more!

Anonymous said...

I just made this. It is absolutely lovely, just thought you should know!

Irene said...

Ahh thanks for letting me know! It makes my day when I get comments like this. :)

Large Wall Mirrors Gal said...

It's look so sweet and so fabulous. Thanks to share this delicious dish with us.

Dining Tables Gal said...

Ah thanks to let me know how to make this. I like this very much. very sweet dish for our tea time.

Dining Tables Gal said...

This is grate product which can make us so happy. Amazing dish for our sweet tea time or wonderful party.