Good Shabbos, Shabbat Shalom! I’ve been feeling in somewhat of a nostalgic mood so I decided to go through my library of 3,000 + cookbooks in search of some culinary inspiration. I poured through three of the late Lillian Kaplun’s cookbooks, including an autographed copy of For the Love of Cooking and Baking (1987) which had been given to me as a gift by Lillian’s daughter, Jill Kaplun, with the inscription: “Dear Norene, it is an honour to give you this copy of my dear Mother’s work. Enjoy!”
Lillian Kaplun (z’l) was born in 1909 in South Porcupine, a small mining town about 500 miles north of Toronto. Her family was one of 150 Jewish families living in the area, and their home was a popular gathering place. Since kosher products were not readily available, cooking and baking skills were central to the lives of new immigrants.
Lillian’s mother welcomed her into the kitchen and encouraged her to cook. Lillian pored over the recipes in ladies’ magazines and then would try to improve on them. She wrote, “Perhaps it was a good thing that I didn’t have enough experience to use my mother’s method of ‘a pinch here, a pinch there,’ because, as I learned to bake, I developed an exacting technique that relies on accurate measurements.”
One Sunday morning, when Lillian was nine years old, she learned that her parents were planning an all-day trip. “I baked my first cake that day—what a failure!” Throwing the cake out was simply unheard of in those days, so she invited her friend Barney over, who praised the cake with every bite. She then gave the leftovers to their collie. Barney suffered no ill effects, but the dog lay sick for three days!
She continued, “I had many failures in the kitchen, but my mother’s gentle prodding encouraged an adventurous spirit in me. That spirit stopped at making bread, however. I never felt the compulsion to bake bread because my mother would get up before dawn on Friday mornings to bake for the Sabbath. A few hours of extra sleep on dark, cold winter mornings was enough incentive for me to develop a faster refrigerator dough which, after much experimentation, measures up to my mother’s wonderful bread.”
When Lillian was first married and living in Vancouver, she baked for friends’ parties, doing everything from cookies to large, fancy cakes. As demand increased beyond her circle of friends, the coffee shops became customers for her rolls. Before she knew what was happening, she was kneading dough in the kitchen, had pans of it rising in the bedrooms, and racks of buns cooling in the living room.”
She and her husband bought a bun factory and hired a staff of bakers, turning out over 500 Chelsea buns a day. However, the demand for lower prices meant compromising quality, so when they moved to Toronto, they sold it, with no regrets.
Once again, Lillian Kaplun turned to baking. In their Bathurst Street apartment building, many of the neighbours were newlyweds and the young women all wanted to learn to bake. Lillian obliged and, thus, began her teaching career.
At first, she would go to their apartments and, soon, to their friends’ homes. She found that they lacked the proper utensils, so she set up shop in their living room. For four nights a week, starting at 8:00 pm—and, often, with the last person leaving close to midnight—their home became an “institute of higher learning.”
Lillian’s daughter Jill wrote, “From teaching baking, my mother moved into catering. She made “tortes,” an exquisite concoction of chiffon cake, mousse filling, and flavoured whipped cream. She developed this recipe herself, and as a tribute to her absolute willingness to share her knowledge with anyone who was interested, she included the torte as the finale in her twelve-session baking course.”
Jill continued, “My mother never refused to give anyone a recipe and she was always outraged when she heard stories of people who would share recipes but leave out, or change, ingredients. She wanted bakers to succeed and would often go to peoples’ homes to help them perfect something they were struggling with. She knew if your oven was not calibrated perfectly and she could tell you how to adjust for that. She knew if your ingredients were not right and she would not hesitate to tell you.
Her first book, For the Love of Baking (1960), was born out of those years of teaching baking. Over her career, she met many others who were just as dedicated to the art of food preparation, and many became good and life-long friends, as well as colleagues. These people helped her compile and publish For the Love of Cooking. When she opened a cooking school above a store on Eglinton Avenue West in Toronto, many of these dedicated friends became teachers on her staff.”
Lillian’s recipe for Sour Cream Coffee Cake still continues to win fans, many years after it was introduced in her first cookbook, For the Love of Baking:
Lillian Kaplun was a creative, independent woman, well ahead of her time, and a culinary legend in Toronto’s Jewish community. Her beloved recipes represent the work of a food professional who refused to compromise, providing her readers with a reliable, trusted guide to the best possible results in their own cooking and baking.
Here are three delicious cookie recipes adapted from For the Love of Cooking and Baking that would be perfect to serve on Shabbat…or anytime at all. Enjoy the delicious taste of memory!
1 cup butter (scant) or margarine
5 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp water
1 cup finely chopped nuts
Icing sugar (for rolling baked cookies)
Cream butter, add sugar gradually and cream thoroughly. Add vanilla. Add flour gradually, beating well after each addition. Add water. Fold in nuts. Shape into fingers.
Bake on greased cookie sheet 2 inches apart at 350ºF for 15 to 20 minutes or until done.
When cool, roll cookies in icing sugar.
Variations: For coffee flavour, add 2 tsp instant coffee after blending the butter and sugar.
CHOCOLATE CHIPITS SHORTBREAD
This shortbread is very good and easy to make—in a matter of less than an hour you can have 5 to 6 dozen cookies. If you’re not partial to the coffee flavour, take out the 2 Tbsp instant coffee.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp instant coffee
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 pkg (6 oz) chocolate chipits (1 cup)
Heat over to 350ºF. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Cream butter, add brown sugar gradually and cream thoroughly. Add coffee and vanilla. Add dry ingredients, then fold in nuts and chipits. Pat down into an ungreased jelly roll pan.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and cut immediately into bars. Store when cool.
QUICK MANDEL BREAD
It seems that Mandel Bread has developed its own particular taste following. Some like it dry, some like it with oil, some like the flavor of butter, and others the crispy taste of corn flakes. Select the one your family will enjoy.
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup oil (scant)
1 tsp almond extract
1 cup slivered almonds
Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
Beat eggs until light and lemon coloured. Add sugar gradually and beat until thick. Add oil and beat well. Fold in sifted dry ingredients; add almond extract. Fold in nuts.
Spoon out on a greased cookie sheet with sides and bake at 350ºF for 20 to 25 minutes or until done.
Cut into slices and put back into oven to dry at 300ºF for 15 to 20 minutes.