As I’ve said before, I’ll celebrate any holiday if there’s food attached, and coming up next week, we have two of the biggest – Passover and Easter. So, I’m going to offer two of my favorite recipes: matzoh ball soup and hot cross buns. Nothing like being inclusive!
As a college freshman, I had the honor of being invited to my roommate’s Passover Seder. Now, this was not my first Seder, but it was certainly the most memorable. From the train ride to Brooklyn, to the largest table I’d ever seen, to the afikoman that my roommate’s father paid $100 in cash to redeem (and then gave the rest of us each a crisp $100 so we wouldn’t feel left out.)
But the best part was the matzo ball soup. Matzo balls can be so large and heavy, gummily sitting on the bottom of the bowl, so filling it with their mass that there’s little room for broth. But Mrs. Marcus’ were light and airy and actually floating in the fragrant chicken broth. I seem to recall asking for seconds and everyone was appalled because there was still so much food to come. The more I make this recipe, the better Mrs. Marcus’ become, but then isn’t that often the case with memories?
Note: The secret to these is in the seltzer, so I’m told. And don’t make them too big.
Mrs. Marcus’ Matzoh Ball Soup
(adapted from the back of the Streit’s Matzoh Meal box)
4 large eggs
1/4 cup chicken schmaltz (rendered fat), liquefied, preferably Empire brand
2 teaspoons minced parsley
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
1 cup plain matzoh meal, preferably Streit's
1/4 cup chilled seltzer (club soda is fine, too)
1. Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl. Add the schmaltz, parsley, salt and pepper; mix well, then add the matzoh meal and stir to incorporate. Add the seltzer and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.
2. Bring a large, wide pot of water to a boil over high heat -- the wider the pot, the larger the matzoh balls will become (because they won’t bump into each other as much).
3. Use water to moisten your fingers, then use all of the mixture to form balls of equal size, taking care to smooth them and make them perfectly round without compressing them. Drop them into the water and reduce the heat to medium; cover and cook for 30 minutes, checking once to make sure that water bubbles are just breaking the surface.
4. Transfer the cooked matzoh balls to heated chicken broth for serving right away, or to cooled broth to store in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 3 days.
Next up are Hot Cross Buns.
There’s something so evocative about the different smells associated with the different holidays. These buns, with their cinnamony-fruity tang, perfume the house with a hint of daffodils, hyacinth and forsythia.
Traditionally eaten on Good Friday, with the cross symbolizing the crucifixion, these buns seem to have debuted in England around the 1730s or so. But as with so many Christian traditions, a fairly solid case can be made for these buns pre-dating Christianity. Some say that the Babylonians made crossed buns to offer to Ishtar, Queen of Heaven for a holiday that was calculated in the exact same way as, and thus fell on, Good Friday. Others say that the Saxons made a crossed bun for “Eostre,” their holiday celebrating the goddess of spring. (Get it, from “Eostre” comes “Easter”?)
Regardless, they’re a tradition in my family. Some years I experiment with different fruit mixes – dried fruit, candied fruit, currants, golden raisins, plain raisins -- but I always use the basic recipe below. It tends to rain on Good Friday (because God is crying for his Son, so the nuns told me,) and I always enjoy getting up super early in the damp dark to have these fragrant, golden buns ready for Friday’s breakfast.
Hot Cross Buns
(Adapted from the King Arthur Flour website)
For the dough:
¼ cup apple or orange juice
½ cup mixed dried fruit (Optional. Can just double amount of raisins.)
½ cup raisins
1 ¼ cups milk
3 large eggs (1 separated)
6 tablespoons of butter
2 teaspoons instant (or Bread Machine) yeast
¼ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon all-spice
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 ¾ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 egg white
1 tablespoon milk
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract (or orange essence or fior di Sicilia if you want to be fancy)
2 teaspoons milk (or enough to make a thick icing)
1. Mix apple or orange juice with dried fruit and microwave for approximately 45 seconds, or until mixture is very warm. Set aside to cool.
2. Mix together all the dough ingredients, adding cooled fruit. Le the dough rise for 1 hour, covered. (NOTE: I cheat and throw it all into my breadmaker, letting it do all the work for me.)
3. Grease a 10” square pan. Using an ice cream scoop, place the dough in your pan. (You should get about 14 buns out of this.)
4. Cover the pan and let the buns rise for an hour or so. Once risen, mix together the egg white and milk, brushing it over the buns. Bake in an oven, preheated to 375* for about 20 minutes. Allow to cool completely on a rack before icing.
5. Mix together the icing ingredients, place in a Ziploc bag, cut off a tiny corner and pipe the icing over the buns in a cross shape. Delish!