Want to learn how to make babka like (or better than) your bubbe? Culinary instructor Arianna Garella started teaching classes last year at The Pantry, a Seattle community kitchen, because she felt there was a lack of programmatic options focusing on Jewish cuisine. So far, she has taught participants the art of spiced beef brisket, honey cardamom cake, deli-style rye bread, pastrami, cumin knishes, pita, and falafel at four classes focusing on the Jewish New Year, deli, bakery, and falafel.
Jewish in Seattle: Why did you choose to teach Jewish cooking?
Arianna Garella: I want to honor this rich, personal tradition and bring some cultural knowledge of Jewish cooking to Seattle. There is no one Jewish food, so claiming that you can teach such a thing is daunting. How can I get someone a recipe for matzo ball soup when everyone has a different idea of matzo ball soup?
I took one of your classes and really enjoyed it. One interesting aspect was the mingling of Jews and non-Jews.
It’s been really cool to watch the intersectionality between Jews and non-Jews. This class has become a vehicle for storytelling and sharing information about culture as well as recipes. We learn about each other’s cultures by asking questions, and these classes create a safe space to talk about this.
What is it like to teach people who are not familiar with Jewish culture?
It’s fun to explore a recipe with someone who’s never had it and only heard about it on Seinfeld. Let’s talk about why babka is this cool European dish.
Conversely, what about people who are very well-versed in Jewish culture?
I’ve taught some rabbis, and they really enjoyed getting to trace the history of Judaism through food. Why challah has this many strands on this day and not on another day. Why it has oil but not butter.
Why does food play such a big role in Jewish culture?
When you have a culture that has had to move as much as the Jewish people have, what you bring with you is nostalgia and the taste of your culture. The identity and nostalgia from those tables is one of the things that truly captures Jewish culture. “These dumplings feel like home.” That’s important for any culture in the diaspora.
What is your favorite Jewish dish to cook?
The satisfaction of working with an amazing loaf of challah is hard to beat. I love the tactile part of working with dough.
And how about your favorite Jewish dish to teach?
Matzo ball soup and babka are two of the more commonly talked about dishes that people don’t feel comfortable doing at home. Many Jews grew up eating matzo ball soup from the box, and it’s fun to show them how to make it from scratch. And while making brioche is difficult, babka is just so damn pretty. You don’t have to go all the way to the East Coast; you can make your own right here.
Apricot and Pecan Rugelach
Yield: Roughly 48 3-inch rugelach
3/4 cup (6 ounces) warm whole milk
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups (9 1/2 ounces) all purpose flour
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) pastry flour
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar (preferably cane)
1 tablespoon lemon zest
5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon (2 7/8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons softened butter
1 cup apricot jam
1/4 cup toasted pecan pieces
2 tablespoon milk
1/4 cup turbinado sugar
Make the dough:
1. In a small bowl, mix together the yeast and milk. Allow the yeast to bloom and dissolve for 2-5 minutes. Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment add both flours, salt, sugar, and orange zest. When your yeast has bloomed, pour it into the flour mixture, along with the two eggs and vanilla extract.
2. Using the dough hook, continue to mix until a dough comes together. Be patient — this may take a couple minutes and you may need to scrape down the inside of your bowl to make sure everything is getting incorporated. If it doesn’t come together at all, add a little more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough forms a mass.
3. With the mixer on low add the room temperature butter, one spoonful at a time, until it’s fully incorporated into the dough. Turning the mixer up to a medium speed, continue to mix the dough for about 10 minutes, until smooth. Alternatively, move your dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead until very smooth. After about 10 minutes the dough will begin to pull away from the sides of the bowl. The dough should not be sticky — if it’s sticking to your hands or to the sides of the bowl add a teaspoon of flour at a time until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowls.
4. When the dough is smooth, divide it into two even pieces. Using the palm of your hand, gently roll each half until they are round. Lightly dust two medium bowls with flour and place the dough inside the bowls, cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Leave the dough in your fridge for at least half a day, preferably overnight. The dough will should about double its size.
Assemble the rugelach:
1. Preheat an oven to 350°F, and line two baking sheets with parchment.
2. When you’re ready to assemble your rugelach, remove one ball of dough from the fridge and move to a lightly floured work surface. Using a bench scraper, cut the ball of dough in half. Place one half back in the bowl and cover with plastic to prevent it from drying out.
3. Use your fingertips to gently flatten the remaining dough half into a circle. Once the dough is circular, roll your dough into a 10-12 inch circle, roughly an 1/8th of an inch think. Make sure there is enough flour under your dough so that it doesn’t stick to your counter as you roll it.
4. To neaten the edges of your rolled dough, you can invert a bowl on top of your dough (this will act like a large cookie cutter) or just use a knife to gently round out the edges. Leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edge of the dough, brush the dough with a thin layer of melted butter. The butter should stiffen when brushed over the cool dough.
5. Over the top of the butter, spread 1/4 cup of apricot jam evenly over the dough making sure to leave the outer edge free of fillings. Lastly, sprinkle 1 tablespoon of pecans over your dough. Slice your dough circle into 12 wedges, as you would a pizza. Roll each wedge into a coil starting with the widest edge. Keep in mind some of your fillings will inevitably squeeze out the sides, but don’t roll so tightly that they are all pushed out.
6. Arrange the rugelach on a baking sheet leaving an inch of space between each roll. Repeat with the remaining three pieces of dough and then the other three portions of filling. Before baking, brush each rugelach with egg wash and sprinkle liberally with turbinado sugar. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.