This is the next installment of our new series “The Remix,” in which we gently tweak the more challenging dishes in the Jewish culinary canon. With a little bit of love, we’re convinced we can make even these dishes delicious, even the ones that seem bizarre to the modern palate.
If the sweet foods of Rosh HaShanah bring sweetness to the new year, then tzimmes surely guarantees 365 days of pure bliss … the hitch is, the happy times may only begin after finishing such a cloying dish.
The saccharine stew of Eastern European provenance is traditionally made with carrots, sweet potatoes and dried fruits such as raisins or prunes. There are other culinary expressions of our hopes for a sweet new year, of course, such as honey cake, fall fruits and of course apples and honey. But tzimmes has high Ashkenazi bona fides, though it is often called out for being mushy and overly syrupy.
Don’t blame our ancestors, though — we’re to blame, folks. According to Reform Judaism magazine, tzimmes originated in medieval Germany, where fruit, vegetable and meat stews were commonplace. Cooks incorporated the sweet potato centuries later, after it made its way to Eastern Europe from the Americas. The side dish we all know, and some of us love, started to take shape.
Back in the old country, tzimmes wasn’t as sweet as it is here. It had a touch of honey, sure, and in the southwestern part of Poland, which grew sugar beets, foods tended to be sweeter.
But over here, it got loaded up with sugar. I asked famed restaurateur and kosher chef Levana Kirschenbaum why she thought tzimmes is always so sweet: “American desserts err on the sweet side as well,” she said. “Having been brought up in the good European and Mediterranean cooking tradition, all my dessert recipes use at least a third less sugar than in traditional American recipes.”
So when remixing this classic, I decided to embrace the qualities of American tzimmes rather than fight them, and turn the stew into a cake. The carrots and sweet potatoes add incredible moisture, chunks of booze-soaked raisins and walnuts add texture, and lots of cinnamon and a hint of ginger add flavor. I covered them with a cream cheese glaze, to make your new year extra sweet. And best of all, you don’t even need to break out your electric mixer.
Tzimmes means “making a fuss” in Yiddish, but this twist on the dish is hardly a fuss to whip up. n
Amy Kritzer is a food writer and recipe developer in Austin, Texas. She blogs at What Jews Wanna Eat.
Carrot & Sweet Potato
Yield: 1 cake (serves 16)
Active time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Butter or oil to grease the pan
½ cup raisins
½ cup Amaretto or your favorite liquor
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. salt
½ cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup sour cream (can use dairy free)
¼ cup vegetable oil
½ cup orange juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup cooked sweet potato (from one small sweet potato)
2 eggs, room temperature, whisked
1 cup shredded carrots (about 2 carrots)
½ cup walnuts or pecans, chopped, plus more for garnish
½ block (4 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature (can use dairy free)
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. cinnamon
2-3 tbs. milk (can use dairy free)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 10 or 12-cup Bundt pan with butter or oil and set aside.
Combine raisins with Amaretto. Let marinate for 30 minutes, then drain and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and salt.
In a large bowl, whisk together brown sugar, granulated sugar, sour cream, oil, orange juice, and vanilla. Then mix in sweet potato. Then add in eggs one at a time. Mix until uniform and most of the lumps are out. Then stir in carrots, nuts and the amaretto-soaked raisins. Gradually add in flour mixture, stirring until just combined.
Pour batter into the Bundt pan and bake for about 60 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes in the pan, and then transfer to a cooling rack to finish cooling.
To make glaze, mix together cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla and cinnamon using a wooden spoon or electric mixer. Add in milk until you get a runny but thick glaze. Drizzle all over cooled cake and garnish with more nuts.