Challah French Toast Sunday Part IV


In the Fine Family, we all call challah chall-ee. We haven’t got a friggin’ clue why we say that. Here you can listen to Gertrude Cooper Klemens (our Great-Nana) talking baking and saying chall-ee. When we were young and still called challah chall-ee, Nana Fine used to get pan loaves of chall-ee sliced thin at the bakery and, if we were good, which we always were, she’d spread them thick with spicy brown mustard and fold the slice in half for a sandwich.  We’d peel off the shiny brown top crust because that was the bad part. (see: Fine Family Aquired Tastes)

When we got older, we had a boyfriend who made fun of us for saying chall-ee instead of challah. We felt stupid and since he went to M.I.T. and was in AEPi (just imagine), we figured he was right. So we changed our ways and years later, saying chall-ee instead of challah feels unnatural. And we’re a little sad about that. 

We guess all we’re trying to get at is that Holla! Challah French Toast Sunday Part IV is up again. Sunday, February 27th 9:00-15:00.frenchtoast


Baking: Babka

At Fine Bagels, we like to impress ourselves by making store-bought things. See: Hydrox Cookies and Rainbow Cookies. Since we suffer from something called “imposter syndrome,” we are pretty sure that we aren’t a real bakery despite evidence to the contrary. Still, everything has an upside, and because of this whole imposter syndrome, we delight in surprising ourselves with things that can pass themselves off as coming from real bakeries. And therefor tricking people. And therefor keeping up our bakery ruse for just a little bit longer. This is how we came to spend our Saturday night making babka.DSC_0827 (1)Babka is the best thing in the world. We can also now verify that it is effective for eating away pain, standing-in for human contact, and keeping you company better than a house cat but worse than a puppy.

Because our Georgia was pastry-neglected in childhood, she asked us what’s a babka. We told her it’s what happens when a rugelach (explitive)s a challah. Since she’s well-trained in that she can tell a rugelach from a challah, she knew this mule of the Jewish baking world was a good thing and showed appropriate enthusiasm.

We used the Smitten Kitchen via Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem recipe everyone is going on about. If no one else is afraid of this sticking to their hips for seven years, we’ll keep those feelings to ourselves. Here it is and here is it again. If you’re making this in Germany like us, use 405 Weizenmehl and cut down a bit on the instant yeast as ours behaved a bit more enthusiastically than the recipe indicated. Should we make this again, we’ll roll it a little thinner and twist it a little more to have even more chocolate ripples. The Smitten Kitchen suggestions to add cinnamon to the filling and to then chill the rolled logs in the freezer briefly before slicing were killer. Do it.

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Baking: Black and White Cookies

Funny thing. We always thought Black and White Cookies were the same thing as Half-Moons. We’re from Boston. Have we mentioned that? Yes. And in New England, there are Half-Moons, not Black and White cookies. Since there are about a million other cookies with which we’d rather jump into a disordered-eating relationship, distinguishing between the two never bothered us. In fact, the last time we had a Half-Moon was five years back at a dairy house on the edge of a cow pasture in a Massachusetts town far beyond the familiarity of Rt. 95 and therefor forgettable. While  the town was forgettable, the cookie was not. See, the sole purpose of getting the cookie was to buy our way into the rest room. We’re familiar with this purchasing strategy and estimate that up to 40% of our sales at Fine Bagels are based on toilet-guilt. Whatever works. So there we are, buying a cookie we don’t really want, only to find out that the bathroom is out of order. In the end, we’re stuck sitting on an overturned milk-crate chewing a stale Half-Moon cookie while we mull over how it would go to have our first outdoor pee in a decade in a waste-deep hay field peopled entirely by Lyme-disease ridden ticks. That cookie sucked. But we remember it.DSC_0881

But back to that funny thing. Turns out that Half-Moons aren’t the same as Black and White Cookies. They’re only mostly the same. From what the internet tells us, the New York City variety, the true Black and White Cookie, differs from the Half-Moon in the maturing process. While the New England Half-Moon becomes intolerably stale after 48 hours and has a typical shelf life of 2 weeks, the New York City Black and White Cookie becomes intolerably stale after 48 hours and has a typical shelf life of 3 weeks. We’ll let the New York Times take it from here:

The black-and-white cookie, that frumpy and oversize mainstay of New York City bakeries and delis, has not endured by dint of its taste. Unlike other edible icons, like New York cheesecake or bagels, there is no such thing as a delicious black-and-white cookie. They are either edible or inedible. Fresh-baked and home-baked are the best.

That’s from an article where they published the Zabar’s recipe for a black and white cookie. Here it is. And here’s what happens when you follow it:DSC_0702DSC_0713DSC_0729 (1)DSC_0768DSC_0782DSC_0834 (1)

Baking: Chocolate Cake

This is no one’s birthday cake. Still, it is birthday cake.

This is not our favorite birthday cake. Our favorite birthday cake is Angel Food. But this is a good kind of birthday cake too. Why? Because it tastes just like from a box. That’s a compliment, in case you were skeptical. Are you still skeptical? Critical, perhaps? Healthy and judgemental? Then maybe your family didn’t love you enough to make you a heart-shaped chocolate birthday cake from the generic version of a Betty Crocker box every year and you don’t know what a delicious thing that is. You just don’t know. Still, we at Fine Bagels are pretty hardcore about homemade and tentatively share the reservations that the heartless among you also have about boxed cakes. And so, we present you with Martha Stewart’s Devil’s Food Cake. Because sometimes the pinnacle of homemade is a replica indistinguishable from the store-bought, just without the stuff that makes your colon glow-in-the-dark.DSC_0294 (1)

Baking: Rainbow Cookies

This cookie doesn’t know from rainbows. Still, we made it. Why? Because we’re the kind of people whose favorite ice cream flavor is Neapolitan. Because brazen use of food coloring is pretty. Because we were putting off all the bagel making we had to do today. Because we have inherited trauma (that’s a thing) from Helen Fine (Nana) being an early adopter of Weight Watchers. Because they’re a little bit trendy lately. Because this Italian-American pseudo-cookie has long been a staple of Jewish-American bakeries and that’s our jam.

DSC_0122Rainbow cookies are a dense, almond-paste-based layered sponge. They’re pink and green and yellowish-white. They’re old-fashioned but not out-of-date. We didn’t have a recipe on hand because these fall into the category of “store-bought” things. In our house, the only reason to waste money on store-bought things was because it was impossible to make ourselves. (Store-bought: Bisquik, Whisky Sour Powder, and Pinesol. Homemade: Toothpaste, potatoes, and haircuts). Of course, that usually meant that the store-bought thing in question was a waste of money and therefor out of the question, especially when it came to cookies. As far as cookies were concerned, “store-bought” was code for “junk you eat at your father’s house.” Don’t be fooled by our post about Hydrox Cookies.

Looking back, rainbow cookies are definitely the kind of cookie the paying adult would always preface with, “Are you sure you’re going to like that? I don’t think you’re going to like it. It doesn’t have any chocolate chips. I’ll get it for you but you have to eat it.” They were always right and yet we never learned the important lesson that most of those Italian cookies have something nasty like almond or anise extract that we weren’t going to develop a taste for until we hit 30. Well, we’ve hit thirty. So here goes. Rainbow cookies.

Homemade almond paste is easy.

First thing you’re gonna need is almond paste. Almond paste isn’t marzipan. We’re pretty sure you can still mold it into miniature cats and pears and dolphins or stuff it into a Ritter Sport, but the internet swears that a great way to mess up your rainbow cookies is to barge ahead and substitute marzipan. So here’s how you make almond paste if you can’t find any in the store.


Ground almonds 1 1/2 cups

Powdered Sugar 1 1/2 cups

1 egg white

splash of almond extract

Toss that all in a food processor and let it rip for about a minute. Look. You made almond paste.

Now onto the cookies. The recipe we used is from Lidia Bastianich of Lidia’s Italian Kitchen, one of the television shows you could watch without cable on PBS in 1995 while fixating on all the store bought cookies the kids next door were probably eating at that very moment. We summarized it below:


225g almond paste

280g softened butter

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

4 large eggs, separated

1/2 tsp salt

food coloring

apricot jam

250g chopped dark chocolate

DSC_0016In a mixer, beat almond paste with 2/3cup plus 2 tbsp sugar until the mixture is “fine crumbles.” Beat in the softened butter and then egg yolks, one at a time. Now add the two cups of flour and salt and mix well. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites and 2tbsp sugar to stiff peaks and then gently fold into the batter.DSC_0030Separate the batter equally into three bowls. Leave one bowl plain as that will be your yellowish layer. In the other bowls, go to town with the food coloring. Quantity can vary depending on your attraction to artifice. Now spread out the batter thin in three lined pans. Put in a preheated 175c oven for 10 minutes.DSC_0066When the layers are baked and cooled, stack them on top of eachother with a thin layer of apricot jam as glue. Some recipes suggest pressing the top down with a weighted pan for up to 24 hours. This will give you an even denser cookie. When the layers are assembled, melt your chocolate and spread on top. Let this harden and begin slicing your cookies. Keep hot water nearby and a cloth and clean your knife between slices. Now you have rainbow cookies. See? Not cookies. Not rainbows. You just spent the last two hours making striped cake. DSC_0074DSC_0095Or you can just do this.

Post Rainbow Cookie Post feedback from Helen Fine (Nana):

I just saw your thing about rainbow cookies.  Nana Klemens made  rainbow jelly-rolls all the time.  It was her signature kind of thing.  Had a big jelly roll pan and would  split the batter in 3 sections and color  them  and pour it in strips and then slather  on jam and roll it  up so that each  piece had pink, yellow  and green in each slice.   I had forgotten all about it.  She also made what she called onion rolls and you describe as bialy.  They were small rolls with chopped onion in the center depression.

Anyway,  it just brought back a lot of memories…….




Baker Style: Tom’s Shirt

Tom is one of our bakers. When he bakes Fine Bagels, he wears a very special tshirt. We think it makes the bagels taste even better.


If you’re into the noise scene in Jerusalem (and no, we don’t mean feral cats in heat baying at the moon), then surely you know Lietterschpich? They sound terrible. That’s probably because we don’t understand anything about what they’re trying to accomplish with their music. Not to mention we started off on the wrong Google foot when our first find was this abomination of a cover of Monkey Gone To Heaven. We mean, what the hell? Before Berlin, we’re from Boston. There is only one version of that song, and the Lietterschpich version is not it.

So despite the music, there is something we love about Lietterschpich. And that’s Tom’s T-shirt. Because of this:DSC_1181

We asked Tom a few questions:

Fine Bagels: What did you say the band’s name means again?

Tom: One Liter of Cum.

Fine Bagels: Nasty.

Fine Bagels: Tom, how did you come to possess such an excellent shirt? Surely you’re not a fan of this crappy band.

Tom: I stole it from a guy I was dating.

Fine Bagels: Respect.

Tom: Finally I have a place to wear it.

Fine Bagels: Have the Jewish people suffered enough?

Tom: No. Never.

Fine Bagels: Thank you, Tom.