Purim

Wine-Poached Pears

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Purim is a loud, raucous, festive, hilarious holiday. Although its origins are somber - Haman’s attempt to annihilate the Jews of ancient Persia - it didn’t end so well for him. But it did for us and, in keeping with the victory we celebrate!

It’s been one of the traditions of Purim for adults to, let’s say, make merry by imbibing in more alcohol than usual. In fact, some say, we are told to become intoxicated with wine, based on a statement in the Talmud by Rava, a fourth century rabbi, who said:

”A person is obligated to become intoxicated with wine on Purim until he is so intoxicated that he does not know how to distinguish between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordecai.”

And so, on Purim, count on the fact that wine will be on the menu somewhere.

This year I decided that wine would appear on my dessert menu. I’ll poach some seasonal pears (I prefer comice or bartlett) in a hearty, aromatic wine-based sauce. I’ve made this dessert many times (tastes different each time of course because I use a different wine).

You can make it a day or so ahead; store everything in the fridge. Serve it with the sauce, strained and boiled down to a velvety finish, and maybe a garnish of whipped cream, ice cream or sorbet. Or just by itself.

Wine- Poached Pears

  • 2-1/2 cups red wine

  • 1-1/2 cups water

  • 1 cup sugar

  • peel from one orange

  • 2 2-inch strips of lemon peel

  • 1 cinnamon stick, about 4" long

  • 12 whole allspice

  • 4 cardamom pods, slightly crushed (or use 2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger)

  • 3-4 pears, preferably comice or bartletts

  •  whipped cream, optional

  • crushed pistachio nuts for garnish (or use toasted coconut or fresh chopped mint), optional

Combine the wine, water, sugar, orange peel, lemon peel, cinnamon stick, allspice and cardamom pods in a stainless steel, pyrex, enamel or other non-reactive saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer the ingredients for 5-6 minutes. While the sauce is cooking, peel the pears and cut them in half. Remove the core and seeds. When the sauce has simmered for 5 minutes, immerse the pear halves and cook them for about 4-5 minutes or until they are barely tender. Remove the pan from the heat; let the pears cool in the liquid. Remove the pears. Strain the poaching liquid and return the plain liquid to the saucepan. Boil the liquid over high heat for several minutes until it has reduced to a syrupy consistency.  Let the liquid cool. When ready to serve, spoon some of the syrup on dessert plates and top each with a pear half. Serve with whipped cream, if desired, and garnish with a sprinkle of crushed pistachio nuts.

Makes 6-8 servings

Frozen Dough Hamantashen

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I’ve made all sorts of hamantashen over the years. Cake dough. Cookie dough. Pie dough. With all sorts of fillings from old fashioned apricot, prune and poppy seed to nouveau halvah and chocolate mousse/chocolate chip.

I’ve experimented with savory goat-cheese and chili fillings and also barbecued brisket. I even created a recipe for lamb-in-phyllo hamantashen with lemon-tahini sauce. That recipe won an award in a contest sponsored by Soom Foods.

But, to be honest, I like traditional, sweet, mostly apricot or prune hamantashen the best. And this year I read about frozen-dough hamantashen in a post by Melissa Wilkenfeld whose blog, Little Kosher Lunch features kosher lunch-box meals for school kids (I also follow her on Instagram).

So I used her recipe to bake a pile of hamantashen, which were so good it hurt to give any away. But I actually always give food away to my usual “tasters” — all of whom gave high marks to these.

I don’t have enough left for Purim so I will have to make some more. Which I will, because these are awesome.

I asked Melissa for permission to post her recipe. She agreed, also telling me she got the recipe from a friend (Patti Golden).

So, ladies, thank you both for this recipe. A keeper. I’ve changed the language to conform to the way I write recipes, but otherwise, it is yours. Mazal tov.

Happy Purim.

Frozen Dough Hamantashen

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 2 -1/4 cups flour, sifted

  • milk, water or egg white for sealing

  • Lekvar or jam 

Beat cream cheese, butter and salt in an electric mixer set at medium speed for 3-4 minutes or until smooth and thoroughly blended (or in the food processor with the plastic blade attachment). Gradually mix in the flour on low speed until the dough is a uniform color and pulls together into a ball. 

Form dough into 4 balls, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 3 or 4 hours, or overnight. 

Remove one ball of dough and roll out on a floured surface until thin, about 1/8 inch thick.

Cut out circles with a cookie cutter (or use the floured rim of a drinking glass or jam jar). 

Place about one teaspoon of lekvar or jam in the center of each round.

Moisten the edge of the circle with milk, water or egg white.

Fold up three edges of the circle to form a triangular base, pinching at the corners to secure.

Place the filled hamantashen on an ungreased cookie sheet. Reroll scraps of dough to make more hamantashen. Repeat with all balls of dough.

Refrigerate the hamentaschen until ready to bake, at least 30 minutes after shaping.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until delicately browned.

Cool on racks.

Makes about 4 dozen 

Cherry Muffins

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Today is George Washington's actual birthday (also my grandmother's) and when I was a kid, we used to celebrate on this day. It was always when we ate something with cherries because, well, as far as Washington was concerned, everyone knows the story about the cherry tree and all. And also my grandma loved cherry-vanilla ice cream.

I just happened to have a jar of cherries in the house so I figured I'd make something with it to wish happy birthday to my grandmother and also our first president.

These muffins.

Fortunately Purim is only a few days away, so I can give them away for mishloach manot. Otherwise I might eat all of them and that wouldn't be very good.

 

Cherry Muffins

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1- 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup plain yogurt or dairy sour cream or buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup fruit juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cherries

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease 12 muffin tins. Melt the butter and set it aside to cool. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon peel in a large bowl. In another bowl, mix the eggs, melted, cooled butter, yogurt, juice and vanilla extract. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ones and mix to combine ingredients. Fold in the cherries. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Makes 12

Banana Bread with Dates and Figs

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Every Purim I try new hamantaschen from different bakeries. I've also made my own hamantaschen using a variety of recipes.

But so far, after years and years of buying this one and that one, my favorites are the (parve) ones I get at The Bakery, in Plainview, NY. For me, they are the enduring treats of childhood, never failing to please, never changing, even in a world where innovation is honored.

And so -- I will buy my hamantaschen this year. Old fashioned flavors: prune and apricot. At The Bakery.

Which means that for Purim, instead of creating a completely new hamantaschen recipe or even trying a new pastry recipe with old fashioned filling, I am going to bake banana bread as mishloach manot gifts.

I have a zillion recipes for banana bread. Some with streusel. Some dairy-free. Some loaded with chocolate chips, some with coconut. Some all chocolate-y. Some spicy. And on and on.

This is my most recent banana bread recipe, one I came up with while revising my mother's date-nut bread recipe. 

 

Banana Bread with Figs, Dates and Nuts

  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 large very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup chopped dried figs
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried dates
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-cup bundt pan. Mix the flour, salt, cinnamon and baking soda together in a bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer set at medium speed, beat the shortening and sugar until well blended. Add the bananas and beat them in thoroughly. Add the eggs and beat them in thoroughly. Add the flour mixture and beat for a minute or so until the batter is well blended. Fold in the figs, dates and nuts. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about one hour or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove to a cake rack to cool completely.

Makes one bread, serving 16-18

 

Corn Syrup Free Butter Crunch

I once wrote that if doomsday was coming and there might not be a tomorrow, I would want some butter crunch before it all ended so I could at least die happy.

That's still my choice. I don't think there's a better candy, that gives that same salty-sweet combo better than butter crunch.

I love my original recipe, but recently someone asked me if I had a recipe that didn't include corn syrup. 

I didn't at the time, but do now.

Here it is: crunchy, salty-sweet and tender chocolate on top.

Don't stint on the good stuff. This recipe is too good for cheap chocolate.

Valentine's Day, mishloach manot for Purim, doomsday, whatever. This is a good choice in (or for) any event.

 

Corn Syrup Free Butter Crunch

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped toasted almonds
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate, chopped

Lightly butter a small sheet cake pan (about 10”x7” or a portion of a larger pan). Place the butter, sugar and salt into a deep saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture starts to bubble. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is golden brown (about 7-8 minutes) (or until a candy thermometer reads 280 degrees). Quickly stir in the vanilla and nuts. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread it out evenly to make a layer about 1/8”-1/4” thick. Immediately sprinkle the chocolate on top. Let it melt briefly, then use a spatula or the back of a large spoon to spread the chocolate evenly over the candy. Keep spreading until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Sprinkle the nuts on top and press them in lightly. Let cool until the chocolate is firm and set, at least 3 hours. Break into pieces.

Makes about 1 pound, enough for one person, or two if you want to share

 

 

Rich Tangerine-Chili Chocolate Truffles

I love the tradition of mishloach manot -- giving away food to family, friends and even strangers during Purim. Besides the actual mitzvah of giving, it is an opportunity to do what I love: cook a lot and give the food away. It's like having the thrill of eating -- without the calories.

If you make edible gifts for Purim or as a host/hostess gift when you are invited to someone's house or for any other occasion, you might want to try truffles. They take some time but are actually quite easy to make and I guarantee they're rich and tasty and anyone would be thrilled to get them.

Check out the photo and you'll notice that I don't make my truffles perfectly rounded. Candy truffles get their name because they look like the the underground fungi, the ones that are highly fragrant and are dark, small and irregularly shaped. So the sloppy look is actually more authentic.

I made this recipe using tangerine juice and cayenne pepper. I had once tasted tangerine-chili chocolates and thought they were amazingly wonderful. The extra bit of heat pops the citrus and chocolate into one harmonious whole.

Yes, orange juice and peel are fine, though not as flavorful. And you can leave out the cayenne pepper, though I think the truffles are better with the heat.

Pack these in small cardboard or wooden boxes or small cellophane bags (you can get them at most craft stores) and you have a beautiful homemade gift for any occasion.

Or treat yourself and your family. They'll be happy.

Tangerine-Chili Chocolate Truffles

  • 12 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons tangerine juice
  • 6 tablespoons butter at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated fresh tangerine peel
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, approximately
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sprinkles, toasted coconut, ground nuts, etc. (approximately)

Chop the chocolate in a food processor. Heat the cream over medium heat until it is hot and bubbles form around the edges of the pan. With the processor on, pour in the cream through the feed tube and process until smooth and well blended with the chocolate (you may have to scrape the sides of the bowl once or twice). Refrigerate the mixture for 30 minutes (in the processor bowl). Add the juice, butter, tangerine peel and cayenne pepper and blend them in thoroughly. Spoon the mixture into a bowl and refrigerate for at least one hour or until the mixture has firmed enough to form a soft “dough.” Take small pieces of the dough and shape into small balls (they don’t have to be perfectly rounded) (I do this wearing disposable gloves). Place the balls on waxed paper or aluminum foil on cookie sheets. Refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes. Roll the balls in cocoa, sprinkles, etc.

 Makes about 3 dozen. 

 

Classic Dairy Hamantaschen

You can't get through Purim without eating at least one hamantaschen.

It's tradition, and for me, a treat I look forward to every year. Hamantaschen are among my very favorite desserts.

Over the years I've tried dozens of different kinds from a variety of bakeries: the classics, filled with poppy seeds or with prune, apricot or raspberry lekvar, and in recent years some with more contemporary fillings including white chocolate and halvah and fig and rhubarb and so on.

The traditional fillings are the ones I love best. 

I usually buy hamantaschen at a place called The Bakery, in Plainview, New York. It's right across the street from my contact lens doctor, so in the past, whenever I had an appointment with him I'd go to the bakery and stuff my trunk with a dozen hamantaschen (also mandelbread, babka and a few other treats I can't get (as delicious) in Connecticut).

However, this year I had cataract surgery and don't wear contact lenses anymore! A good thing too because my contact lens doctor retired.

So am I going to drive all the way to Plainview, Long Island for hamantaschen when there is no other reason to go?

Well, I might.

But in the meantime I decided to make my own. I never made dessert hamantaschen before (I did make lamb-phyllo hamantaschen for a recipe contest though and won a jar of tahini from Soom Foods!).

Here's my dairy version of classic sweet hamantaschen. The dough is tender and vaguely flaky and very rich. The ones in the photo all got gobbled in a flash.

I will make more for sure. With classic prune and apricot lekvar filling.

Dairy Hamantschen

  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, cut into chunks
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, cut into chunks
  • 1 medium or large egg, beaten
  • lekvar (about one cup)

Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix briefly. Add the butter and cream cheese and mix on low-medium speed for a minute or so until the mixture is crumbly. Raise the speed to medium and continue to mix until a smooth dough has formed. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least 8 hours. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using small chunks of dough at a time, roll the dough thin (about 1/8th-inch) and cut out circles with a 3-inch cookie cutter. Brush each circle lightly with the beaten egg. Place one slightly mounded teaspoon of lekvar in the middle of each circle. Bring up the sides to shape the circles into a triangle. Press the sides tightly to keep them from opening when they bake. Place the triangles on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Bake for about 30 minutes or until lightly browned.

Makes about 36

The Gift

One of the loveliest, most heartwarming traditions of Purim is mishloach manot, the act of giving gifts of edible food (and drink) to our friends, neighbors and those in need.

Every year I bake or cook something to give away. This year it was Banana Double Chocolate Swirl Cupcakes. But other times I've given Dried Apricot, Pear and Raisin Chutney, Banana Mango Bread with Chocolate Chunks, Candied Kumquats and lots more.

Yesterday, I got mishloach manot from an unexpected source: NoMoo Cookies!

There, on my front porch was this box of one dozen giant Choco-lift with Cherry Cookies! Just for me.

Now, you may have read my review of NoMoo cookies a while ago. If not, take a look. These are fabulous, dairy-free and kosher.

The Choco-lift with Cherry is a limited edition cookie. I have to say, the cherry part made me think of blooming spring cherry trees, which is quite a lovely image today as more snow is falling on the already 2 or 3 feet of it in my backyard. The chocolate part was rich and not too sweet (over-sweet is one of my pet peeves with most packaged cookies).

I've already finished one. My husband finished one. The rest went right into the freezer because even though these cookies are terrific, fresh from the package, we also like them hard and cold.

That's a good cookie.

Thank you NoMoo. Chag Purim Sameach.

Loft's Butter Crunch

Which was better, Loft’s Butter Crunch or Loft’s Parleys?  For you young ones, those are the two iconic candies once sold by Loft’s, a candy company that went out of business in 1990. I’ve been in mourning ever since.  Their Butter Crunch was always my favorite. My brother insisted that the better choice was the Parley, a giant milk chocolate cigar looking thing with soft nougaty stuff inside.  Parleys were okay but Loft’s Butter Crunch was incomparable. The toffee was thick and brittle. It snapped when you broke it. The chocolate layer wasn’t overly thick so it didn’t detract from the candy part. And the nuts on the outside were tiny and soft, a sensational contrast to the velvety-tender chocolate and the crunchy center.  As well balanced as a dinner straight out of the government’s food pyramid.  I have tried for years to find a Butter Crunch as good as Loft’s, to no avail. There are fancier ones, made with single-estate chocolate or 70% cocoa chocolate. Some really expensive stuff and others from mass producers. Nothing comes close. I will grant you that Loft’s probably didn’t use great chocolate. It wasn’t your most upscale store. It sold modestly priced candies.  It’s just that their Butter Crunch was the best I ever ate.  When I was pregnant with my older daughter I refrained from sweets, to keep my weight at a decent level. But right after she was born I polished off the 2 boxes of Loft’s Butter Crunch that someone brought to me as a gift.  I’ve been experimenting making my own version lately. I made the ones in the photo yesterday to bring as a dinner gift this evening. These are good, so I’m posting the recipe. If you make them with milk chocolate and in a smaller cake pan (8”x8”) they’ll taste like Loft’s. Otherwise use dark chocolate of your choosing and use the larger pan — most people like the crunch part thinner than I do.      Butter Crunch   1 cup butter  3/4 cup sugar  1/4 teaspoon salt  2 tablespoons light corn syrup  2 tablespoons water  9 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (1-1/2 cups chocolate chips)  3/4 cup chopped lightly toasted almonds  Lightly butter a 9”x13” sheet cake pan. Place the butter, sugar, salt, corn syrup and water into a deep saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture starts to bubble. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is golden brown (about 7-8 minutes) or until a candy thermometer reads 280 degrees. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread it out evenly. Immediately sprinkle the chocolate on top. Let it melt briefly, then use a spatula or the back of a large spoon to spread the chocolate evenly over the candy. Keep spreading until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Sprinkle the nuts on top and press them in lightly. Let cool until the chocolate is firm and set, about 2 hours. Break into pieces. Makes about 1-1/4 pounds

Which was better, Loft’s Butter Crunch or Loft’s Parleys?

For you young ones, those are the two iconic candies once sold by Loft’s, a candy company that went out of business in 1990. I’ve been in mourning ever since.

Their Butter Crunch was always my favorite. My brother insisted that the better choice was the Parley, a giant milk chocolate cigar looking thing with soft nougaty stuff inside.

Parleys were okay but Loft’s Butter Crunch was incomparable. The toffee was thick and brittle. It snapped when you broke it. The chocolate layer wasn’t overly thick so it didn’t detract from the candy part. And the nuts on the outside were tiny and soft, a sensational contrast to the velvety-tender chocolate and the crunchy center.

As well balanced as a dinner straight out of the government’s food pyramid.

I have tried for years to find a Butter Crunch as good as Loft’s, to no avail. There are fancier ones, made with single-estate chocolate or 70% cocoa chocolate. Some really expensive stuff and others from mass producers. Nothing comes close. I will grant you that Loft’s probably didn’t use great chocolate. It wasn’t your most upscale store. It sold modestly priced candies.

It’s just that their Butter Crunch was the best I ever ate.

When I was pregnant with my older daughter I refrained from sweets, to keep my weight at a decent level. But right after she was born I polished off the 2 boxes of Loft’s Butter Crunch that someone brought to me as a gift.

I’ve been experimenting making my own version lately. I made the ones in the photo yesterday to bring as a dinner gift this evening. These are good, so I’m posting the recipe. If you make them with milk chocolate and in a smaller cake pan (8”x8”) they’ll taste like Loft’s. Otherwise use dark chocolate of your choosing and use the larger pan — most people like the crunch part thinner than I do.

 

Butter Crunch

1 cup butter

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

2 tablespoons water

9 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (1-1/2 cups chocolate chips)

3/4 cup chopped lightly toasted almonds

Lightly butter a 9”x13” sheet cake pan. Place the butter, sugar, salt, corn syrup and water into a deep saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture starts to bubble. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is golden brown (about 7-8 minutes) or until a candy thermometer reads 280 degrees. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread it out evenly. Immediately sprinkle the chocolate on top. Let it melt briefly, then use a spatula or the back of a large spoon to spread the chocolate evenly over the candy. Keep spreading until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Sprinkle the nuts on top and press them in lightly. Let cool until the chocolate is firm and set, about 2 hours. Break into pieces. Makes about 1-1/4 pounds