Happy Birthday Ethel Goralnick (and Why You Should Know Her Name)

Celebrating an under-the-radar culinary force who taught legions of chefs and home cooks.

Ethel Goralnick
Photo: © Roberta Hershon

The cooks who help shape the careers of successful chefs–from igniting the spark to imparting the skills–seldom get the credit they deserve. One of those unsung mentors is Ethel Goralnick, who recently celebrated her 92nd birthday in Massachusetts. Goralnick spent more than 50 years inspiring and teaching young cooks. For most of that time she worked with Madeleine Kamman, toiling behind the scenes while Kamman cooked on television and providing a nurturing counterpoint to the chef’s legendary toughness at The Modern Gourmet cooking school in Newton, Massachusetts. Besides teaching at Modern Gourmet, Ethel also ran the restaurant's pastry production and had her own catering business.

Gary Danko, the award-winning chef behind the eponymous San Francisco restaurant, is a longtime friend and acolyte of Goralnick's. “The day we met on Madeleine’s PBS show in the mid-80s started a great friendship. She and Madeleine became my cooking mothers–Madeleine my French and Ethel my Jewish mother,” he says. Danko went to culinary school in the '70s when there weren’t a lot of women working in restaurants and was struck early on by the women’s tenacity. "Back in the '70s, food was just beginning to get media attention and women were not prominent in the American restaurant industry yet. Madeleine and Ethel were feminists who dared to go from being housewives and mothers to embarking on a commercial venture. Madeleine started the school and restaurant and Ethel joined her later, eventually becoming an assistant, confidant and best friend. Ethel was a very solid anchor in Madeleine’s life as Madeleine fought to be recognized in what was a man's world of restaurant and professional cooking. Ethel was her balance, both personally and professionally."

While I have never met Ethel, I feel as though I have. I had a paper route when I was 11-years-old, delivering The Eagle-Tribune. It was the paper in which Ethel had a twice-weekly food column. Her recipes inspired a generation (more likely two generations) of home cooks, myself included. Her recipe for croissants is her most popular, though she is the first to admit that most people wouldn’t spend the time to make their own. So we’re sharing her second-most-popular recipe: a French apple tart. As Gary Danko says, “she is the queen of laminated doughs–puff pastry even flakier than Madeleine’s.” We hope it inspires you too.

French Apple Tart

This versatile pastry can be used for pies, tarts, quiches or tartlet shells. This recipe makes two one-crust 9" pies, tarts or quiche or one two-crust pie or twenty-four paper-thin tartlet shells.

1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
9 tablespoons frozen unsalted butter, cut in cubes
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 to 4 1/2 tablespoons ice water

Place the flour, frozen butter cubes and salt in food processor fitted with metal blade. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Do not over process. Small pebbles of butter should be visible. With the machine running, add 4 tablespoons of ice water in a steady stream. Let machine run until dough just comes together. If it’s too wet, add a little more flour. If too dry, add the remaining water. Remove the dough from the processor to a lightly floured marble slab or countertop. Gather the dough together and press it into two equal flat disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough in the vegetable crisper for at least 30 minutes and for 24 hours, if possible.

7 to 8 Granny Smith, Delicious, Grimes or Cortland apples
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Cognac or rum (optional)
1 cup apricot preserves, strained
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted, plus more for buttering the dish

Peel and slice the apples in 1/8” slices. Place in a medium sized bowl. Add the lemon juice and liquor of your choice, if using. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Butter a 9 “quiche dish or pie plate well. Position two racks to divide the oven in thirds. Preheat oven to 375°

With a rolling pin, roll out one disk of dough on a lightly floured surface to a 10” round and fit in the prepared dish. The dough should be flush with the top of the pan. (Save the other disk of dough for another use; it can be wrapped tightly and frozen for up to 2 weeks.)

Drain the apples and discard the juice. Starting with the outer edge, arrange the apple slices in a concentric circle in one layer over the pastry.

Heat the apricot preserves with the melted butter and brush some of it on top of the apples.

Place the tart on the bottom rack of the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the tart from oven. Brush again with more apricot preserves.

Place the tart on the top rack of the oven and bake for another 20 minutes, or until the apples are light brown. Transfer to a wire rack and cool.

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