The Kosher Baker Paula Shows Us How to Entertain like the Pros
Mini Carrot Souffles with Cinnamon Creme Anglaise
he looks like a model for a Dove soap commercial. Wholesome, beautiful and trim, she appears younger than her 48 years. Her unassuming effervescence lures you into an easy exchange, as if she were a next-door neighbor stopping by to chat. Then you realize the conversation has subtly changed to pastries – kosher pastries. Paula Shoyer simply can’t stifle her enthusiasm. She’s determined to change how we love to hate the passé taste of kosher desserts. Fast becoming the Martha Stewart of sublime kosher baking, Paula has authored a veritable bible on delectable kosher pastry recipes. And she’s made it easy to follow, for those of us who can’t bake worth a dime. The Kosher Baker offers more than 160 dairy-free, mouthwatering recipes mostly of her own careful creation. While she includes timehonored holiday classics, she adds elegant and trendy recipes not
typically found on kosher tables: rich and creamy tiramisu; key lime pie; flan; and mousses. And they’re all certified pareve (Yiddish for food prepared without meat or dairy products, or their derivatives). Paula’s baking passion was cultivated at the Ritz Escoffier École de Gastronomie Française in Paris, where she earned a diploma in 1996. She opened Paula’s Parisian Pastries Cooking School just outside Washington, D.C., and became the editor of Susie Fishbein’s popular Kosher By Design cookbook series. Writing her own would come much later. Paula’s path to pastry paradise hardly began with sugar and spice, and she’s eager to share the details of her journey with anyone who’ll listen. “I’m on my third career, and I’ve raised four children. To get from there to here is hopefully inspirational. People say to me all the
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time, ‘I’ve always wanted to do this’ or ‘I’ve always wanted to do that.’ I look them in the eye and tell them that once upon a time I had a dream that I wanted to publish a cookbook.” She was born and raised on New York’s Long Island, in a modern Orthodox family. She attended Jewish schools and to this day keeps kosher. “My mother never baked at all. She was a master at finding kosher desserts in the bakery. But my grandmother…Now she was a super master baker. I loved being in her kitchen. Her baked goods were to die for. The Kosher Baker is dedicated to her memory and includes some of her truly delicious recipes.” After high school Paula observed her parents’ well-intentioned expectations and enrolled in a pre-med program at Brandeis University in Boston. “No one ever asked me what I wanted to do,” she said, though she always loved science and math. A few close calls in the chemistry lab prompted her to switch to a less accident-prone major, one that again satisfied her parents’ expectation. She eventually graduated from American University Law School in Washington, D.C., and began an environmental law career. She and her future husband, who practiced international law, met and eventually married and moved to Geneva, Switzerland, for his work. “I took a job in Geneva as legal adviser for a Jewish organization called UN Watch, which is part of the American Jewish Committee. I attended hearings where Yasser Arafat spoke on human rights. I worked on resolutions getting anti-Semitism classified as discrimination. I wrote speeches for the U.S. Ambassador to the UN Morris Abrams. It was all very exciting.” She and her husband cultivated cadres of friends, and an international social life. They skied and traveled all over Europe, entertained and had their first child. “I stopped working at that point but yearned to do something. Here I was in Geneva, so close to Paris, the pastry capital of the world! I always wanted to learn to bake. So I enrolled in the top pastry school there, finished the course and got my degree. Then I got pregnant with our second child.” Back in Geneva, her new-found baking skills were in high demand at community social events. “There I was baking gourmet goodies to go in a kitchen the size of a thumbnail; pregnant, and with my now 18-month-old daughter in a high chair. It was crazy.” She also was approached to teach a kosher baking class for the holidays. “That’s when I thought, ‘Why not take these sumptuous French pastry recipes and substitute the dairy for pareve ingredients?’ I began to experiment with all kinds of ways to maintain the creamy and buttery flavor and texture, but without the milk.” This demand continued when she and her now-growing family returned to D.C. She redesigned her kitchen to accommodate baking orders, plus her classes, and then found out she was pregnant again — with twins. “I had also wanted to write a book with the many recipes I had by then created; but most plans had to now be put on hold. It was just too much!” It took her years to finish the book, and almost as long to find a publisher. “I got so many rejection letters! I was told over and over that there was no market for this subject. In my heart I was sure that the Jewish community needed this book. Yet, I was beginning to get so discouraged. “A dear friend of mine, who has since passed away, told me, ‘If you do something you love, something good will come of it. So just keep at it.’ I did and she was right. “ Eventually, Brandeis University Press jumped at the opportunity to design and publish her book. The rest is history. She’s
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done book tours, TV and radio interviews, lectures, cooking demonstrations, even a televised master baking contest. Plus, she has her cooking school. “I believe the book’s success begins with its approach. When I set out to write it, I didn’t think about what I wanted the reader to know. I thought instead about what the reader might need and want to know from their perspective. ‘What can I give them to make their life easier?’” “My first thought was ‘It doesn’t have to be so difficult.’ I asked, ‘How much time does a person have? Is it Friday afternoon at 3, or is it Wednesday afternoon? Shabbat guests are coming on Friday evening, and you have the luxury of thinking ahead.’” So she organized the book into three major sections to address the issues of time and experience. The first section is for the nonbaker and features 45 recipes ready for the oven in 15 minutes or less, including her Apple Upside Down Cake. “If you’re baking for 30 people and you need three desserts, that’s where you go. If it’s 3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, that’s where you go. If you have kids who love to bake, that’s where you go,” she says confidently. These recipes are still as delicious, she adds, and look elegant, too. The next section features the two-step desserts: a cake with a filling, or a cake with a glaze; or something that needs to chill for 30 minutes before using it – such as her Challah Beer Bread Pudding with a Light Caramel Sauce.
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The third section, according to Paula, has the fancier recipes for those with more time: French tarts; Chocolate Mousse Meringue Layer Cake; Cinnamon Apricot Pull-Apart Babka; even crème brulee. When writing her book, Paula remembered seeing the same desserts again and again at the Jewish events she attended – ones that never tasted very good. “With the industrialization of the ‘50s, bakeries starting buying the same dough and fillings from the same suppliers. So a bakery in New York and a bakery in Chicago use the same materials, and their baked goods all have the same boring taste. That’s why I do what I do. I learned from the pastry shops in Paris. Everything there is still made from scratch; so even though it’s pareve it’s absolutely delicious.” Paula expects her new book, The Holiday Kosher Bake, in bookstores in 2013. Organized by holiday, it will include recipes for people on special diets and for those who have diabetes. She’s excited about her two fabulous kosher for Pesach tarts and pie recipes. “No one ever makes tarts and pies for Passover. These are mouthwatering and look simply exquisite.” Paula Shoyer has long since realized her dream to publish a cookbook. Along the way she got a few educations, had some whirlwind adventures, raised four children and started a kosher baking revolution, proving a pastry at a time that Kosher food can be beautiful, elegant and simply delectable.
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