Welcome to Israel, and Mazal Tov on your aliyah!! If your community is anything like ours, it will be a while before you have to cook – between the food deliveries and the overwhelming hospitality, you will hardly have to turn on the oven. But sooner or later, you will want to cook again. That’s when the reality of what you have just done will come crashing down on you. Recipes just won’t work the same. Ingredients, oven, climate – it’s all different. Nowhere is this realization as stark as in the baking arena. Even veteran bakers have been reduced to quivering, teary blobs of jello (or jelly, as they call it here!) after disastrous initial attempts to make familiar recipes. So with your sanity in mind, I am here to offer a few tips to make your transition a little easier.
- If you consider margarine a necessary evil in some recipes (as I do), you’ll be tempted to figure out the conversion between American sticks of margarine and their Israeli counterparts, the 200 gram bar. Don’t! Your handy Nefesh B’Nefesh metric conversion magnet tells you that one ounce is equal to 28.3 grams. It’s true, but when it comes to margarine, FORGET THE MATH! Just consider the bar of margarine, 200 grams, the equivalent of one cup or two sticks. I don’t know why, but it works.
- The eggs that are considered “extra-large” by American standards are the same size as Israeli size “large,” so stick with large here.
- Baking soda is called soda l’shtiyah here (literally, soda for drinking?!), and it is sold both with the spices in plastic bottles, and with the baking supplies in little envelopes.
- Baking powder – this is a tricky one. Avkat afiyah is sold in little envelopes, which is annoying, but the real problem is that it doesn’t work the same as American baking powder. There is a scientific explanation (double acting versus single), but bottom line, you have to use less or your cakes will collapse after baking. It is generally fine for cookies, though. If you don’t want to refigure all your recipes, make this one of the few things you import.
- Powdered sugar also comes in silly little envelopes of 100 grams (roughly 2/9 of a pound or just shy enough of a cup to be a problem – seriously!), unless you find a specialty store with larger bags. Otherwise, consider all the opening of envelopes exercise you wouldn’t get otherwise – see, the Israeli lifestyle is super-healthy!
- Pure vanilla is not readily available in supermarkets, though imitation vanilla is. You can make your own, or you can buy it in specialty stores for rather high prices, so this might also be an item you import.
- Oatmeal is formally called shibolet shual, but you will also find it labeled Kvaker. Like Quaker, with an accent. Seriously. First time my mother-in-law asked me to get some from the makolet, I thought I was being Punk’d.
- Flour in a one kilo is actually perfect for the smaller storage space we tend to have here. You may want to opt for an electric sifter, but for those of us interested in speed, a hand sifter with a matching bowl makes short work of a bag of flour. You can buy pre-sifted, pre-checked flour; it only costs about 3 ½ times as much.
- If you ever need to replace your liquid measuring cup, be aware that it will not list cup measures, just ounces, milliliters, and 20 ounce (as opposed to the US standard 16 ounce) pints. You’ll have to do a little basic math to calculate cups and fractions of cups.
- It just takes time – eventually it will all come together and you will not even be able to remember how you did things in the “Old Country”!
So in the interest of making your Rosh Hashana preparation a little easier, here are a couple of recipes that work beautifully here. The first is a sweet challah recipe featuring the fantastic Israeli granulated fresh yeast, Shimrit, and the second is an apple cookie recipe that will be perfect for your yom tov table.
Wishing you and your family a klita kala (easy absorption)and a happy and healthy New Year in your new home!
For the rest of you, let us know in the comments any questions you have on cooking in Israel, I hope to offer a few more articles with tips and tricks and would love to know how I can help.