A (Kosher) Culinary Whiz


Why French pastry chef Paula Shoyer took on the parve dessert market.
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Paula Shoyer, author of The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-Free Recipes from Traditional to Trendy (HBI Series on Jewish Women, 2010), is an attorney turned famous baker. The transformation happened when she enrolled in a pastry course in Paris while located there for her job. Paula realized that she loved baking and she became more and more serious about it. Eventually, she operated a dessert catering business in Geneva for two years, where she was asked to teach a few classes in French for local Jewish organizations. When she returned to the United States, she began teaching classes in French pastry and Jewish baking to adults and kids. Her latest mission: to teach others to create mouthwatering kosher desserts with her new book of recipes.

Why did you think it was important to create a book of kosher, dairy-free recipes?

I did so because kosher people think all parve desserts are awful, but I had proven otherwise. I wanted to change people’s attitudes about parve desserts. Kosher bakeries and home bakers are basically serving the same parve desserts I have eaten since I was a child. Kosher people deserve something more flavorful and contemporary. There is no reason why kosher people shouldn’t enjoy eating the same desserts as everyone else.

You include recipes in your book for key lime pie, flan, and tiramisu. Do people ever challenge you on whether these recipes are “Jewish” enough?

The food Jewish people eat has always been enriched by every place Jews have called home. This applies to desserts as well. Kosher adaptations of local desserts were also a way for immigrants to fit into the local community and eat the same desserts their neighbors were eating. At the same time, we must continue to bake the desserts of our bubbes so that their great culinary traditions are treasured for future generations.

What do you think is the biggest mistake people make when it comes to baking Jewish desserts?

People are afraid of trying to bake new desserts. They bake the same two or three cakes every Shabbat/holiday. They need to take more risks. They should start with easy desserts and then challenge themselves with something more interesting.

You often do cooking demos for large groups. What’s the biggest mishap you ever had and how did you deal with it?

I have used burners that didn’t go on and used every adjective in my arsenal to describe what was supposed to happen when the dish was cooked. I also once was decorating six raspberry mousse cakes in California and the raspberries were disgusting. I found a few strawberries and sliced them paper thin and used those to decorate the tops and left two tarts naked and said they could serve those with any cut fruit. I think I once held up a brisket that slipped out of the tongs, but that I caught before it landed on the floor.

I like that you have recipes for keep-it-simple bakers and bold risk-takers. Tell us your easiest and most challenging recipe.

Easiest: The cover recipe—orange tea cake. I started with a simple vanilla cake and added some things/took out some things, and we loved it on the first try. It has a unique taste, but anyone can make it successfully.

Challenging: Vanilla flan. That dessert wins the award for the most “bake and dumps” of this book. The first try was good, but when retested, it failed miserably and was dumped. Imagine curdled, goopy flan. I tried another combination of eggs and cream, and then the result was too liquidy, basically a flan milkshake. I was ready to give up, but then ate kosher for Passover flan in Israel and said to myself, “if someone can do this for Passover, then I can certainly figure this out.” I finally got the science right.

What is your all-time favorite Jewish holiday dessert?

Chocolate babka. It is basically challah, but sweeter, that is rolled up with chocolate and baked. It makes everyone happy. No matter what recipes I create, every person who invites me over wants me to bring the babka. Too bad you didn’t do this interview in person.

Many of us deal with Passover deserts by pouring melted chocolate and nuts on top of matzah. Do you have anything a little more original for us to try?

How about chocolate chip hazelnut biscotti, lemon layer cake, and chocolate mousse meringue layer cake? I make these all year round, too. By the way, there is nothing wrong with chocolate poured on ANYTHING.

What’s the difference between teaching kids to cook and teaching adults to cook?

Kids think they know how to do everything so they have more confidence when approaching baking lessons. Adults are often afraid of desserts because they think that any mistake is catastrophic. It is, however, much easier to teach adults how to use pastry bags.

Can you share with us one recipe for Rosh Hashanah or break the fast that will knock everyone’s socks off?

Orange tea cake, the cover recipe. It is easy to make after everything else is prepared, or you can even bake it in advance and freeze it weeks before the holiday. It looks elegant and is great for breakfast the next day before shul on Rosh Hashanah, as well as a perfect snack in the afternoon. It is also not too heavy for break the fast.


Orange Tea Cake
serves 12 to 15

Once the glaze has dried, store covered in plastic at room temperature for up to five days or freeze for up to three months.

Spray oil containing flour or spray oil plus 2 tablespoons flour for greasing and flouring pan

1 Earl Grey tea bag
½ cup boiling water
2 cups plus 2 teaspoons sugar, divided
4 large eggs
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
2½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon orange zest (grated outer peel) (from 1 orange)
¼ cup fresh orange juice (from zested orange)

1 Earl Grey tea bag
½ cup boiling water
1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a large Bundt pan.

2. To make the cake: Steep the tea bag in the ½ cup of boiling water. Add 2 teaspoons of the sugar and stir until dissolved. Let steep while you prepare the batter.

3. In a large bowl, mix together the remaining 2 cups of sugar, the eggs, oil, flour, baking powder, salt, vanilla, orange zest, and orange juice with a whisk or electric mixer on medium speed. Lift the tea bag from the tea and squeeze excess tea into the tea to make it as strong as possible, and then discard the tea bag. Pour the tea into the batter and mix vigorously by hand or for 2 minutes with an electric mixer on medium speed until all the ingredients are combined and the batter is creamy.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Turn the cake onto a rack and let cool completely.

5. To make the glaze: Place the tea bag in the ½ cup of boiling water and let steep 2 minutes. Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the brewed tea and whisk until the sugar has dissolved and you have a white glaze you can pour. Let the glaze sit 5 minutes to thicken and then pour or drizzle over the cake.

About the Author

Paula Shoyer
Paula Shoyer is a pastry chef who owns and operates Paula’s Parisian Pastries Cooking School in the Washington, DC, area where she teaches classes in French pastry and Jewish cooking both locally and around the country. She is the editor of two kosher cookbooks: Kosher by Design Entertains: Fabulous Recipes for Parties and Every Day (Mesorah Publications, 2005) and Kosher by Design Kids in the Kitchen (Mesorah Publications, 2005). She received her pastry diploma from the Ritz Escoffier Ecole de Gastronomie Francaise in Paris, France, in 1996.

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