Recipe honors women who kept their food memories alive
Toby Colton’s Terezin Legacy Nut Braid is modeled on a recipe recorded at a concentration camp.
Starving, sick and resigned to an unthinkable fate, the female prisoners at Terezin concentration camp in Czechoslovakia turned their attention to better times. Pressing their memories into focus, they wrote down favorite recipes.
The secret collection was entrusted to a fellow prisoner with the admonition, "If you survive. . . . "
He did. But it was decades before it reached (in 1969) Anny Stern, the daughter of Mina Pachter, its primary author. And in 1996, the collection of anonymously contributed recipes was published as "In Memory's Kitchen" by Cara De Silva.
Glendale resident Toby Colton heard about the book and knew she had to have it. Paging through the sketchy recipes - English translations below the original German - she was moved.
She kept thinking how hard it must have been for them "to think about special times and recall recipes when they were starving. . . . Food is such a strong memory."
A tradition at her Reform synagogue, Congregation Sinai in Fox Point, also fed her interest. Each week the congregation recites together the Mourner's Kaddish, a prayer intended to honor loved ones who died but also those "for whom there's no one left to mourn," said Colton.
She kept returning to a recipe headed simply "Nut Braid," and she knew what she had to do. To honor all the unnamed women who set these kitchen memories to paper near the end of their lives, she set out to painstakingly re-create it.
Longer than most, it included more details, but still . . . "decagrams" of flour? "Leaf" the butter? What do those mean?
Colton scoured through her many Jewish cookbooks, looking for a recipe called "nut braid" or anything similar. Finally she hit upon Hungarian Kugelhopf in a cookbook by Joan Nathan.
That recipe, along with having been shown by a friend how to make croissants (with a similar buttery dough), and her own experience with yeast baking, enabled her to create (after many trials) the recipe printed here.
Fast-forward to 2011. King Arthur Flour sponsors a Baking Across America contest through its subscription newsletter, The Baking Sheet, to which Colton subscribes. She dug up her recipe and entered it. Moved by Colton's passion for the recipe, the staff made its choice.
On Tuesday, the flour company's traveling baking instructor and a crew were in her home to learn from her how to make the braid. Her story and recipe will be published in The Baking Sheet early next year.
Last week, Colton showed me, step by arduous step, how to make the sweet treat.
If a cook can labor through the process, it makes a good dessert for either Rosh Hashanah, the holiday just past, or Yom Kippur, which begins at sunset on Friday, she said. The braid will, in fact, be served as part of the communal Yom Kippur feast at Colton's synagogue on Saturday.
Knowing the fate of the original author of the collection makes serving the braid for this high holiday seem especially fitting.
Mina Pachter died in 1944 at Terezin of hunger sickness - on Yom Kippur.
Here is the recipe as it appeared in "In Memory's Kitchen." No names were attached to any of the recipes.
"Make an ordinary good yeast dough from 60-70 decagrams flour, 4 decagrams yeast, without butter. Now take approximately 40 decagrams butter and 5 decagrams flour and leaf it (fold the dough like puff pastry 4 times and let it rest). Now make a fine nut filling with a lot of raisins, a little hot butter, sugar, 1 spoon grated chocolate and anything desired. Take the risen dough and divide it into 3 equal parts. Roll out one part, spread it with exactly one third of the nut filling, and roll it together like a strudel. Repeat with remaining 2 parts and nut filling. Now take one part and roll it in the opposite direction. Repeat same with remaining 2 parts. Now roll parts into long thin strips and braid the strips together. Let the nut braid rise for 2 hours. Brush it with butter and egg and bake it in a hot oven. Make (spread) a sugar icing on top."
Terezin Legacy Nut Braid Makes 2 very large braids
2 packages active dry or rapid-rise yeast (or 4 ¾ teaspoons dry yeast)
¼ cup warm water
5 to 7 cups flour plus 1/3 cup flour (divided)
½ cup granulated sugar
1 ¾ cups cold milk (2% or whole)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) cold butter
1 ½ cups finely chopped walnuts, pecans and/or almonds
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
2 cups raisins
¾ cup finely chopped or snipped dried apricots (sour or Turkish, about 15 to 20)
2 to 2 ½ tablespoons ground cinnamon
¼ cup grated bittersweet chocolate, or to taste (see note)
½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted
2 tablespoons melted butter, cooled
1 beaten large egg
Coarse sugar (optional)
Icing (optional; see recipe)
In a large mixing bowl, combine 4 to 5 cups of the flour, the sugar, milk, eggs, salt and yeast mixture. Beat with dough hook of electric mixer 2 minutes. Remove dough from bowl and gradually work in enough additional flour from the 5 to 7 cups with your hands to make a soft (slightly sticky) dough. Knead until smooth and elastic, 5 to 8 minutes. Wrap dough loosely in plastic wrap and chill at least 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, make butter pat. Using a heavy-duty mixer, food processor or pastry blender, combine the 1/3 cup flour with cold butter until well incorporated. (Do not cream it completely; some lumps are desirable.) Flatten butter mixture into a 12-by-9-inch rectangle between two sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap, using a rolling pin. Chill until firm.
Roll out dough: Remove dough from refrigerator. Roll into a large rectangle, about 7 inches wide and as long as necessary to make it about ½ inch thick (about 20 to 22 inches). Cut butter pat crosswise and place one half on the center one third of the dough. Fold one long end down over the butter. Place remaining butter pat on top of folded dough. Fold remaining dough flap up over the butter (this is the same procedure used to make croissants.) Gently pinch edges to seal in butter. Turn dough one-quarter turn so that one sealed edge is facing you.
Gently roll dough into a rectangle. Fold dough in thirds to form a square. (It will be about 8 by 8 inches.) If dough or butter is too warm, chill dough for a few minutes so butter doesn't leak out. (If butter shows through spots, pat a little flour over butter and continue procedure.) Wrap in plastic and chill at least 20 minutes.
Repeat this rolling out and folding procedure twice more for a total of three times. (Each time, begin with a folded edge facing you.) It is important to keep dough chilled, so roll it as soon as you remove it from refrigerator and then return it to fridge as soon as you are done.
At this point, dough can be wrapped in plastic and chilled overnight. (Chill at least 30 to 40 minutes.) The longer dough chills, the easier it will be to roll it out to fill it.
To assemble: Remove dough from refrigerator and cut in half. Wrap and refrigerate one half. Cut the other half of the dough into 3 equal parts. Roll out one part into a 10-inch square. Sprinkle with one-sixth of the filling (about 1 cup), keeping filling about 1 inch away from the edges. Roll up jellyroll- or strudel-style. Repeat with the other two parts.
Now turn one of the pieces so that one of the open ends is toward you and the other is facing away from you. Roll out the piece into a long thin strip. It will be long and flat; if desired, roll it up by hand so it is tubular instead of flat. Place on a large greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet. It cannot be longer than the diagonal length of your cookie sheet.
Repeat with the other two pieces, keeping them the same length as the first one. Place the other two pieces on the cookie sheet parallel to the first and do a simple braid, tucking both ends under. Dust lightly with flour and cover gently with plastic wrap and let rise 1 to 3 hours at room temperature or until puffed (time depends on the type of yeast used and the temperature of the room.)
Repeat all of these steps with the second half of the dough.
To bake: Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Brush braids gently with mixture of melted butter and beaten egg and, if desired, sprinkle with optional coarse sugar. Bake loaves in preheated oven 20 to 30 minutes, or until a very deep golden brown and baked through. (The loves may split down the braid lines exposing the filling.) Let cool on cookie sheets.
If desired, you may spread or drizzle optional Icing over cooled nut braids.
Note: If desired, you can substitute ½ cup frozen semisweet chocolate chips, processed in a food processor (mini-processor works well) or blender with the granulated sugar.
This bread freezes well.
2 tablespoons butter, softened at room temperature or melted
¼ cup milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar (about)
In bowl, combine all ingredients and mix until smooth.
E-mail food editor Nancy J. Stohs at email@example.com.