Of Schalets and Cholent and Kugels and Charlottes
Judy Bart Kancigor
Schalet, cholent, kugel, charlotte – any connection?
My book tour brought me to Cincinnati, where my fifteen minutes of fame consisted of an interview – yes, fifteen minutes – on Cincinnati Public Radio with host Naomi Lewin. When she asked me to talk about the four basic “K” food groups – knaidlach, kreplach, kugel and knish – I knew I had found a soul mate.
Off the air she mentioned her German family’s signature dish, Apfelschalet (Apple Schalet), which sounded more to me like an apple pie than the Passover kugel my family calls a schalet. Do these disparate dishes have a common ancestor, I wondered.
The Lewin-Gaertner Family Apfelschalet is baked in a deep dish lined with a sweet cookie crust. Three layers of sliced apples, lemon juice, cinnamon and slivered almonds – Lewin eschews the raisins in one of the versions – are strewn with bits of crust between them, then crowned with another cookie crust atop. “It is our traditional High Holiday dessert,” Lewin told me. “We make two, one to serve for dinner before services on Erev Rosh Hashanah and another to break the fast for Yom Kippur.”
Lewin’s mother, Elsbeth, born in Mainz, was fifteen in 1938 when the family saw the proverbial handwriting on the wall and applied for exit visas. Then came Kristallnacht, and Elsbeth, one of 10,000 Jewish children saved from the Nazis by the British, was hastily dispatched on the Kindertransport. Her father, Willi Gaertner, managed to escape to Britain as well, but the war broke out before they could send for Elsbeth’s mother, Johanna. Elsbeth and her father eventually landed in New York, and Johanna wound up taking the Trans-Siberian Railroad across Russia and then sailing to Japan and San Francisco.
“There seem to be various different versions of the schalet floating around,” Lewin said. “One of my sisters unearthed one that has cognac in it. My grandmother's version, handwritten in German, says to line an iron pot with dough, and put in a layer of apples, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla sugar until the pot is half full. Then she says to cover that with a thin layer of dough, followed by another round of apples, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla sugar. Another layer of dough goes on top, and it gets baked for 1 to 1 1/2 hours – no oven temperature given, of course – until the apples are soft.”
(Vanilla sugar, a common ingredient in Europe but not as well known in the U.S., comes in little packets and is sugar that has been superinfused with a vanilla bean.)
A similar recipe appears in Dorie Greenspan's "Baking: From My Home to Yours," which she credits to a Russian grandmother, that also features two layers of apples and three of dough. Somehow through the years the Lewins began using three layers of apples rather than two, with bits of dough, rather than a solid layer of crust, between them.
“We make it in a 2-quart Pyrex bowl, which lets you know by the lovely brown color it turns all over when it's done,” Lewin noted. “It always tastes better the next day – it gets a little bit richer.”
But what does this uber pie have in common with the matzoh kugel my family calls a schalet?
Gil Marks in “The World of Jewish Desserts” notes that the word “schalet” derives from an Old French word (chald) meaning warm, and was used to describe a “cholent,” or slow-cooked Sabbath stew. (John Cooper in “Eat and Be Satisfied” says that the Germans and Dutch used the Western Yiddish word “schalet,” while the Poles used the Eastern Yiddish word “cholent.”)
The first puddings were savory rather than sweet and were more like sausages – animal casings stuffed with grain or bread mixtures and boiled (kishke anyone?). A bread pudding might be spread over the Sabbath stew, and both the pudding and the stew were called schalets. By 1100, Marks tells us, people began distinguishing between the two and started using the word “koogel,” meaning ball or sphere, for the pudding.
Cooper cites a German schalet-kugel of the 1870’s containing softened rolls, flour, fat, raisins, eggs, almonds, lemon peel, and syrup. Apfelkuchen (apple pies) were a popular German dish from the 1600’s, he says. “It is easy to see how the German Jews borrowed and adapted this dish from their neighbors, perhaps even developing it out of the medieval Sabbath dish of fried apple and egg. Possibly the apple schalet was the culinary ancestor of the apple chalotte. Further, in a town in Werttemburg a matzah apple schalet recipe was popular on Passover.”
The Lewin-Gaertner Family Apfelschalet (with sweet cookie crust), Marks’ Apfelschalet (with challah) and my family’s Passover Apple Matzoh Schalet can all trace their roots to the Sabbath stew we know as cholent. What’s in a name? A schalet by any other name would taste as sweet.
Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family” (Workman Publishing) and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com. Listen to her interview with Naomi Lewin.
LEWIN-GAERTNER FAMILY APFELSCHALET
For the crust:
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter or non-dairy margarine, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg, separated
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cognac (optional)
About 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
For the filling:
3 pounds apples, peeled and sliced
About 2 tablespoons lemon juice
About 6 tablespoons sugar
Cinnamon, to taste
About 1/2 cup raisins (optional)
About 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1. Preheat the oven to 350º.
2. Cream butter and sugar until blended and smooth. Add egg yolk, vanilla and salt and blend well. Mix in flour gradually, using just enough to form a soft dough that no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl.
3. Press half the dough onto the bottom and up the sides of a round 2-quart glass bowl.
4. Roll enough of the remaining half of the dough to form a circle about an inch larger than the top of the bowl. Set it aside. (The remainder of the dough will be used in the filling.)
5. Add about 1/3 of the sliced apples to the dough-lined bowl. Sprinkle with lemon juice, about 2 tablespoons sugar, cinnamon, raisins (if using), almonds and little bits of leftover dough. Repeat the layers twice.
6. Cover the schalet with the rolled-out circle of dough and seal well. Cut a few slits in the top, and brush with egg white.
7. Bake until golden, 1 to 1-1/2 hours. (Start watching after 40 minutes, and when the top is golden, cover it loosely with aluminum foil to prevent burning.) The schalet is done when the sides and bottom are golden brown and the apples are soft. (Test by inserting a cake tester into the slits.) Serve at room temperature.
APFELSCHALET — (ALSATIAN APPLE CHARLOTTE)
From “The World of Jewish Desserts” by Gil Marks
Puddings have come a long way from grain sausages, developing into a vast array of baked and steamed treats. The New Larousse Gastronomique (New York, Crown Publishers, 1977) records one of these developments, Schaleth à la Juive, an apple pastry similar to a fluden. The charlotte is a related dish in which a crisp bread casing contrasts with the soft fruit filling. For Passover, substitute moistened matzas for the bread. 8 TO 10 SERVINGS
3 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine
2 pounds tart cooking apples, such as Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Gravenstein, Greening, Jonathan, Macoun, Pippin, Starr, Winesap, or any combination, peeled, cored, and sliced (about 7 cups)
1/4 to 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest or vanilla extract (optional)
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar
1 pound stale challah or other egg bread, crusts removed, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 24 slices)
1/2 cup clarified butter or melted margarine
About 3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar for dusting
1. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the apples, cinnamon, and zest if using and sauté until well coated. Cover and cook until the apples are tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes. Stir in the sugar. Let cool.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
3. Cut some of the bread slices into strips to fit the sides of a 2-quart charlotte mold (a metal pan with slightly slopping sides) or deep 2-quart casserole. Cut the rest into triangles. Coat the triangles with the butter (by dipping or brushing) and arrange, slightly overlapping, on the bottom of the mold. Coat the bread strips with the butter and arrange, slightly overlapping, along the sides of the pan. Fill with the apple mixture. Coat the remaining slices with butter and arrange, slightly overlapping, over the top.
4. Bake until golden brown, about 40 minutes. Let cool for at least 15 minutes, then invert onto a serving platter. Dust with the confectioners' sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature.
APPLE MATZOH SCHALET
From “Cooking Jewish: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family” by Judy Bart Kancigor
I’ve been making this Passover schalet for as long as I can remember. I always baked it in a 13 x 9-inch pan, as I describe here. But several years ago Natalie Haughton, food editor of the Los Angeles Daily News, came to my home with a photographer to interview me for a Passover feature story. She suggested that I bake my schalet in a springform pan, and the result is amazing: pineapple rings with strawberry centers encircle this fruity kugel, studded with blueberries and mandarin oranges for a rainbow of color too pretty to cut. Serves about 16
Nondairy margarine or butter, for greasing the baking pan
1 cup (packed) dried apricots or golden raisins, or a combination
2 cans (20 ounces each) pineapple rings, drained, juice reserved
6 medium-size apples, peeled and thinly sliced
Juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
9 boards matzoh
9 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, plus extra for sprinkling
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) nondairy margarine or butter, melted and cooled
2 cups fresh or frozen strawberries
About 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1 can (11 ounces) mandarin oranges
3 tablespoons nondairy margarine or butter, slivered
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously grease a 13 x 9-inch baking pan.
2. Snip the apricots to the size of raisins. (Kitchen shears work much better than a knife for this purpose.) Combine the snipped apricots and the reserved pineapple juice in a small bowl, and set it aside.
3. Toss the apple slices with the lemon juice in a bowl (to prevent browning), and set it aside.
4. Crumble the matzoh into a very large bowl, add cold water to cover, and soak a few seconds just to soften the matzoh. Drain the soaked matzoh thoroughly, wipe the bowl dry, and return the matzoh to the bowl.
5. Beat the egg yolks and 3/4 cup of the sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until thick and lemon-colored, about 3 minutes, scraping the bowl as necessary. Beat in the lemon zest, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt. Stir in the melted margarine.
6. Stir the egg yolk mixture into the soaked matzoh. Drain the apricots, and add them and the apples to the matzoh mixture. Combine well.
7. Using a clean, dry bowl and beaters, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Add the remaining ¾ cup sugar a tablespoon at a time, beating for 10 seconds after each addition, until stiff peaks form, about 6 minutes total. Stir one fourth of the egg whites into the matzoh mixture to lighten it. Then add the remaining whites in three additions, folding them in until incorporated.
8. Pour the matzoh mixture into the prepared baking pan. Decorate the top with the pineapple rings, strawberries, blueberries, and mandarin oranges in a pretty design. Dot with the slivers of margarine, and sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake, uncovered, until firm, about 1 hour.
9. Cut into squares and serve hot.
For a Knock-Their-Socks-Off Presentation
Instead of using the 13 x 9-inch baking pan, generously grease the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan with shortening. (If you have only a 9-inch springform pan, you will have some batter left over, which you can bake separately in a small dish.) Dry the pineapple, berries, and mandarin oranges well with paper towels so they will stick. Press pineapple rings carefully onto the greased sides of the pan. Press strawberries into the center of each pineapple ring, facing the tips outward. Press mandarin oranges and blueberries artfully into the spaces between the pineapple rings. If any of the fruit refuses to stick, use a bit more shortening as “glue.”
Slowly pour the matzoh mixture into the pan, being careful not to disturb the fruit sticking to the sides. Decorate the top with more fruit. Dot it with the slivers of margarine and sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake, uncovered, until the center is firm, 1¼ hours. Allow the schalet to rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Then carefully release the spring mechanism and slowly lift the sides away. Take bows!