With bountiful holiday gatherings taking place in the coming weeks, St. Louisans already are planning holiday menus and gifts for family and friends that reflect the traditions of their childhood—with some from lands far away.
Aura Kavadlo of Chesterfield
As an 8-year-old girl living in New York City with her parents, Aura Kavadlo realized at a very young age that she loved to cook; and today, she enjoys sharing her passion with her three children. “When I was a young girl, I would come home from school and start dinner, and by age 12, I was frying schnitzel and preparing vats of spaghetti,” she remembers. “I loved it! My mother was American, but my father was from Romania and he had lived in Israel, so that’s where I learned to make more exotic things.”
A cooking instructor who teaches at Congregation Shaare Emeth and the St. Louis Jewish Community Center, Kavadlo explains that cooking helps her to better understand the world. “Everything makes sense to me through cooking, whether it's math and science or how we are connected with other people,” she says.
Each year, Kavadlo prepares from scratch the two traditional menu items for her family’s Hanukkah celebrations: Latkes and Sufganiyot. “Latkes are my specialty,” she notes. “But Sufganiyot is a tradition from Israel that is catching on here like crazy!” She points out that they’re fried dough made from yeast and filled with a favorite jam. “So basically, it’s a jelly doughnut. This year, I'm going to try a healthier version—a baked version—because people are always asking me how to make Hanukkah healthier,” she says, noting that latkes are pan fried, as well. “It's nice to have treats on holidays, but Hanukkah is eight days long, so that's eight days filled with fried treats!”
Aura’s Traditional Potato Latkes
2 russet potatoes, peeled and quartered lengthwise
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
1 1/2 t kosher salt
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
1 c canola or peanut oil
Using the grating disc of your food processor, grate the potatoes and the onion. Remove the shredded potatoes and onions and put them into a mesh colander sitting over a large bowl. Change the blade of the food processor to the chopping blade. Put most of the shredded potatoes and onions into the work bowl of the food processor and pulse until you have a smooth texture. Put the mixture back into the colander over the bowl and press down to help the potatoes release their liquid. Remove the colander from the bowl and you will see the liquid from the potatoes with the starch settled at the bottom. Pour off the water, being careful to save the potato starch. Put the potato-onion mixture into the bowl with the potato starch; add the egg, salt and pepper, and mix well.
Pour the oil into a large frying pan and heat to medium high. Place a wooden chopstick into the oil and when bubbles form around it, you know the oil is the right temperature for frying. Carefully drop spoonfuls of batter into the hot oil. Let the latkes cook for about three minutes until golden and then flip and cook on the other side. Remove them from the pan and place on paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining batter.
Serve with applesauce or sour cream. Makes 18 latkes.
Dr. Napoleon Maminta of Creve Coeur
In 1966, Dr. Napoleon Maminta moved to St. Louis with his wife, Aurora, and six children from the Philippines. He is now 80 years old, retired and realizing a pleasing new pastime: cooking. “One of the first things that I learned to do was how to roast a pig, Filipino-style,” he says. “I use a spit and roast a 60-pound or so pig on charcoal. One of my favorite herbs to use with it is lemongrass, which I grow in my backyard.”
Along with cooking, Maminta learned how to bake from his wife. “Everyone especially loves my Mocha Chiffon Cake,” he notes, adding that the Filipinos learned how to make chiffon cake from the Americans during the U.S.’s presence in the Philippines in the first half of the 20th century. “In fact, we were recently at a big party, and I brought a Mocha Chiffon Cake. There was another cake there that was from La Bonne Bouchée, and my cake disappeared first!”
A baking tip from Dr. Maminta: “Rather than using eggs that are brought to room temperature, I like them fresh from the refrigerator. I find that when separating the yolk from the egg white, the yolk seldom breaks when it’s cold, because the yoke has fat in it. The fat is harder when it’s cold and doesn't break as easily as it does at room temperature.”
Mocha Chiffon Cake Recipe
In large mixing bowl:
1 1/2 c egg whites (10 to 12 whole eggs, depending on size)
1 c granulated sugar
In separate bowl:
1/2 c granulated sugar
1 T coffee crystals (instant coffee)
1 t salt
2 c multi-purpose flour
6-8 egg yolks (depending on size)
1 1/2 c warm to hot water
1 t real vanilla extract
1/2 c vegetable or canola oil
1 T baking powder
1 lb. sweetened and salted butter
2 c granulated sugar
1 can evaporated milk
1 t salt
Liquid food coloring (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
For the egg-white mixture, break 10 to 12 eggs straight from the refrigerator and put the entire contents of each egg into a 2-cup capacity measuring cup. As soon as the liquid level reaches just below the rim, you will have 1 1/2 cups of egg white after the egg yolks are removed. To separate the egg yolks from the egg white, just scoop the egg yolk with a measuring tablespoon and let the egg white fall into the cup slowly, always being careful not to break the egg yolk. If a tiny bit of egg yolk is in the egg white, scoop it out immediately as this will prevent the egg white from hardening correctly. Transfer the egg white into the large mixing bowl.
Beat the egg whites at maximum speed until they start to harden and rise. A well will form at the center and will gradually get shallower. Before it flattens out, stop the beating and add 1 cup granulated sugar. Start beating slowly to prevent sugar from flying out, and then increase to maximum speed. The well in the middle will disappear by rising to the top, forming a peak. When the peak is formed, the egg white is stiff and considered done. Caution: Under-beaten or over-beaten egg whites will result in double-layering.
For egg-yolk mixture, beat all the ingredients at moderate speed, using the hand blender or portable mixer until everything is well-blended. As much as possible, put in the dry ingredients first, then the liquid and mix in the baking powder last.
Put the egg-yolk mixture into the egg-white mixture and mix slowly, using the spatula of the mixer or by hand until smooth. Then pour into a dry 9-inch x 12-inch rectangular aluminum or stainless steel pan. Bang the pan a few times on the counter to remove excess bubbles.
Place the pan in the middle rack of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes. To check for doneness, shake the pan to see if the top of the cake jiggles. If jiggling is gone, the cake is done.
Invert the cake on a cake rack and use an electric fan to cool it for 25 to 30 minutes. If cake is cooked properly, it should be easy to separate from the pan. Then place the cake on a cake plate and let it cool off completely in preparation for the icing.
While waiting for the cake to cool, start making the icing. If the butter is cold and hard, warm it a little until it shows some melting. Then cream the butter using the mixer's spatula, and when done, add 2 cups of granulated sugar. Continue mixing until all the sugar is blended in. Slowly add the evaporated milk until well-blended. Make sure it is soft enough to spread easily.
Bola Taiwo of Town & Country
Bola Taiwo grew up in Nigeria and has fond memories of baking with her mother and four siblings. “I developed my love of baking from those experiences—it really brings back a lot of childhood memories,” she says. “My mom has since passed away, so every time that I am in the kitchen now with my three girls, it takes me back to Nigeria.”
Taiwo also remembers that wedding cakes in Nigeria were much like fruitcakes with brandy and rum. When she and her husband, Benjamin Akande, moved to St. Louis in 2000, she began exploring the method of baking with alcohol and discovered a passion for the process. “I wanted to incorporate something extraordinary to my cakes that would give them a distinctive taste, so I started using rums, coffee liqueurs, vodkas and whiskeys,” she explains. “It has become my specialty. I really enjoy making Rum Cake and Black Russian Cake—the alcohol provides such a burst of flavor!” During the holidays, Taiwo bakes about 50 of her Black Russian Cakes for family, friends and the faculty of Webster University’s George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology, where her husband serves as dean. “I bake for three days straight—and I love it!”
Bola's Black Russian Cake
1 package of yellow cake mix (18.25 oz.)
1 package of instant chocolate pudding mix (3.9 oz.)
1 c vegetable oil
3/4 c water
1/4 c bourbon, whiskey or vodka
1/4 c coffee liqueur
3 large eggs
For Butter Liqueur Sauce:
1 c granulated sugar
1 stick of butter
1/4 c hot water
3 T coffee liqueur
3 T bourbon or vodka
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all of the cake ingredients together. Pour batter into a greased Bundt pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean.
Start the Butter Liqueur Sauce about 10 minutes before the cake is done. Melt the butter and stir in the water and sugar. Bring to a boil and cook for one minute. Add the coffee liqueur and other alcohol of choice and cook for an additional two minutes.
As soon as you take the cake out of the oven, carefully remove the cake from the pan. Pour half of the sauce into the hot Bundt pan and re-insert the cake. Poke holes with a large straw in the cake and pour the rest of sauce over the bottom of the cake. Let the cake sit for 30 minutes and then invert it onto a platter. Drizzle with your favorite chocolate frosting.