When I first started blogging last year, I came across a blog called IEatDC on Blogspot. The blog’s author, Andrea, writes about food—the restaurants she visits and the meals she cooks. Andrea and I began communicating via blog comments not long after I launched my website, and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. Andrea’s background is Jewish, and she’s very familiar with traditional kosher cuisine, so we’ve had fun talking about the different ways that our families approach traditional dishes like challah and kugel. Now, over a year since we “met,” Andrea’s blog is still going strong. She renamed it Capitol to Capital – DC2ALB – after moving from Washington DC to upstate New York, and she continues to blog about one of her favorite subjects… food.
Andrea’s grandmother Renée was born to a Syrian Jewish father and a French Jewish mother. Renée’s mother was unable to care for her (the reason is unclear), and her father could not raise her alone. That is how Renée ended up in a Jewish orphanage connected to a Sephardic synagogue in London. She often told her family the memory she had of leaving for the orphanage—as she boarded the train, her father tied a string from her suitcase to her wrist so she wouldn’t lose it.
At the orphanage, Renée was raised with culturally Jewish values—she learned to keep kosher and Shabbat while living there. I researched the orphanage a bit, and found out that it was called the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish Orphanage in Lauderdale Road, Maida Vale. Believe it or not, famed hair stylist Vidal Sassoon was living in the London orphanage at the same time as Renée!
Renée later came to the US as a war bride with Andrea’s grandfather. She was a talented knitter (like my grandma!); according to Andrea, Renée could make you a sweater if you pointed it out in a clothing catalogue. She was also a wonderful baker. A few weeks ago, Andrea shared with me her favorite recipe passed down from Renée —Sour Cream Twists.
“My grandmother’s sour cream twists were my favorite of her cookies,” Andrea wrote. “She also made a cake-like mandelbrot and delicious pies with lattice tops. I’m not sure of the origin of the cookies (I’m sure you’ll dig around), but I know that I was thrilled when I’d open a package at camp and see a tin of them.”
I did, in fact, do some “digging around” on these delicious cookies. While Renée was raised in a Sephardic Jewish orphanage, these twists are most likely Ashkenazi in origin. I found a couple of similar recipes that suggest a German connection. Sour cream was an important part of nineteenth-century Eastern European Jewish cuisine, and was particularly prevalent in German Jewish cooking and baking. It was used to enhance a generally bland diet heavy in starches, particularly potatoes. In Ashkenazi baking, sour cream was used to add moisture and richness to cake and pastry dough.
Here is Andrea’s family recipe, exactly as Renée wrote it down:
Sour Cream Twists
Oven 375 degrees
½ cup sour cream
3 ½ cups of flour
2 stks. margarine, cut in then add two beaten eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 pkg. yeast dissolved in 1/2 cup of warm water 1/2 tsp sugar
Add each ingredient then wait till yeast rises before being mixed into flour mixture.
Pack into large bowl greased with oil. Then turn dough over and cover with damp cloth. Refrigerate for 2 hours before rolling in vanilla sugar.
Vanilla sugar mixture 1 ½ cups sugar with 2 tsp. of vanilla
After cutting process BAKE for 25 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet immediately.
In her written recipe, Renée doesn’t explain about how to cut or twist the cookies, so I used Andrea’s method (which is explained below). The first time I tried these I found the dough a bit sticky and tough to roll out. Flouring the rolling surface made the dough too smooth, which meant the sugar didn’t stick to the cookie like it should. After researching the twists, I found out that they are traditionally rolled out on a surface that has been sprinkled with sugar, so I made them a second time that way and they turned out just dandy. Just be aware that sugaring the rolling surface and the rolling pin will be a bit of a sticky mess (butter + sugar = messy), so if you have a large silpat or some other easily cleanable rolling surface, it will make cleanup easier.
Best to use full-fat sour cream in these cookies. They’ll taste okay with lowfat sour cream, but they won’t be as rich, and the dough’s texture won’t be quite the same. Oh, also– I used real butter instead of margarine. I figured that since the cookies contain sour cream, it’s already a dairy recipe– so why not?
These cookies are delicious, with a very unique texture—tender on the inside, a tiny bit crisp on the outside, with a touch of crunch where the sugar caramelizes. They’re totally addicting. I had three last night, and had to stop myself from eating more. They’re perfect for dunking in tea or coffee, and would make a great addition to a dairy Shavuot or Hanukkah menu. Many thanks to Andrea and her grandma Renée for this unique and wonderful recipe!
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- 3 1/2 cups flour
- 2 sticks (1 cup) butter or margarine
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 3 tsp vanilla, divided (use a liquid vanilla extract, not a thick syrup)
- 1 package yeast
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- Canola or nonstick spray oil to grease bowl
- Pour flour into a large mixing bowl. Cut butter into the flour using a pastry cutter or two knives until the flour resembles coarse crumbs.
- Alternatively, you can pulse the flour and butter in a food processor until a crumbly texture forms. Do not over-process.
- Pour packet of yeast into a small bowl and cover with 1/2 cup lukewarm water (about 110 degrees). Stir in 1/2 tsp of sugar till yeast and sugar are dissolved. Set aside for 10 minutes to activate.
- While yeast is activating, stir vanilla into the 2 beaten eggs till combined. Add the eggs, vanilla, and sour cream to the crumbly flour mixture.
- Right about now the yeast should be activated, meaning it will look expanded and foamy. If it doesn’t, your yeast may have expired—go buy some fresh yeast!
- Add the foamy yeast water to the mixing bowl.
- Stir all ingredients in the mixing bowl until just combined, switching to kneading when the mixture becomes to thick to stir. Do not overwork the dough; knead just a few times until a rough dough ball forms.
- Grease a larger mixing bowl with oil. Punch dough down into the greased bowl, then flip the dough so both sides are lightly oiled.
- Cover bowl with a damp cloth and refrigerate for 2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a wide, shallow bowl, mix 2 tsp of liquid vanilla extract with 1 1/2 cups of sugar till the sugar is evenly scented with vanilla.
- Dust your rolling surface with 1/2 cup of the vanilla sugar. Take dough out of the refrigerator and place it on the sugared rolling surface.
- Roll out the dough into a rough 12x16 inch rectangle. If the dough sticks to your rolling pin, rub the pin with sugar periodically.
- Cut the rectangle lengthwise so there are 3 long, thin rectangles of dough. Cut each rectangle of dough into strips about 1 inch thick (each strip will be about 4 inches long).
- Dip each strip into the vanilla sugar so that both sides of the strips are evenly coated in sugar.
- Twist the sugar coated strips two or three times each and pinch at the ends to taper. Place on ungreased cookie sheet.
- Bake in preheated oven for 20-30 minutes until golden brown and cooked through. Turn the tray halfway through baking to ensure even browning. The darker you let them brown, the crisper the cookies will be.
- Remove cookies from baking sheet immediately, otherwise the cookies will stick to the sheet. Place on a wire rack or plate to cool.
- These Sour Cream Twists go great with tea, coffee, or a glass of ice cold milk. Store in a sealed tin or Tupperware.