Shortbread Triangles

IMG_2192Shhhh,  here is what I baked and sent in lieu of Hamantaschen this year, and here is what I received in return.  Chag Purim Sameach.

Shortbread Triangles (a Martha Stewart Recipe)

1 stick unsalted butter room temperature

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy.  Add flour and mix just enough to combine. (You can chill dough for 10 minutes if it is too soft) Pat dough into a greased 8-inch round cake pan.  Using a small knife and a small ruler, score cookies so that you end up with 8 triangles. Crimp edges with a fork. Bake about 30 to 35 minutes or till just lightly golden. Cool completely, and then turn out of pan on to hard surface and immediately slice cookies along scored edges with a serrated  knife.  Set on parchment paper and dip one edge of each cookie into chocolate.

Chocolate glaze

3 oz. semi-sweet chocolate

1 tsp canola oil

Coarsely chop chocolate and melt in a double boiler, stirring with a wooden spoon.  Add safflower oil and stir.  Remove from heat, and let cool for just a few minutes.  Dip one edge of each cookie into chocolate glaze, and transfer to rack to cool.  Refrigerate for about 15 minutes. Cookies can the be stored, or shipped!

Friday, February 22, 2013

By Rav David

Our Temple Sholom Purim festivities kick off tomorrow night with our hamentaschen bake off and pizza party, followed by the Megillah reading. However, the beginning of Purim festivities technically begins two weeks in advance of the holiday, when the Hebrew month of Adar begins. For me, the spirit of Purim begins when I receive an email from my mother asking about particulars for this year’sMishloach Manot, special Purim care packages full of hamantaschen and other delicious (and not necessarily nutritious) foodstuffs.

This year’s email was particularly entertaining. I quote, in full: “Sinful goodies will soon be on their way but IF anybody doesn’t want a basket because of lifestyle “issues” then please tell me now, not after, and I can redistribute all the goodies. Love, me.” In my family, “lifestyle ‘issues'” are things like a carbohydrate- or sugar-free diet, a bout of veganism, or the like. We all write back saying that of course we’ll love whatever our beloved mother sends-which is true-and with the anticipation of homemadeMishloach Manot the spirit of Purim is upon me.

But Purim is about more than hamantaschen, carnivals, and costumes. It’s about defeating Haman through spreading joy and practicing compassion: “The Kobriner Rabbi (late 19th century) was accustomed to command his followers to give Purim gifts to each other, and to pay for the messengers by a special donation to the poor of the Land of Israel. ‘This is the best way to strike at Haman,’ said the Rabbi.” Indeed! Mordecai himself instituted the ritual of spreading the joy and compassion on Purim, in Esther 9:22: “[The] days on which the Jews enjoyed relief from their foes…had been transformed for them from one of grief and mourning to one of festive joy. They were to observe them as days of feasting and merrymaking, and as an occasion for sending gifts to one another and presents to the poor.” In the Jewish tradition, there is no more powerful way to strike at Haman, to defeat enemies, than to celebrate life, to feast, to spread joy and compassion in the world.

Leo Tolstoy said of Jews: “The Jew – is the symbol of eternity. … He is the one who for so long had guarded the prophetic message and transmitted it to all mankind. A people such as this can never disappear. The Jew is eternal. He is the embodiment of eternity.” The Jew is not eternal because Haman and his predecessors and followers all failed to destroy the Jewish people. The Jew is eternal because with the failure of each and every anti-Jewish ruler, the Jews gather together, celebrate, and defeat hatred with love. We are a people that have suffered, yes; but we have nevertheless, paradoxically, affirmed a basic optimistic outlook and joyful approach to life. Purim is the holiday that best captures that joy, and the special foods, theMishloach Manot, are an embodiment of the indefatigable Jewish spirit.

Every holiday that celebrates triumph over enemies–Purim, Chanukah, Passover, etc–gives us two options. We can either complain about the evil that caused so much suffering for our people, or we can increase the joy, increase the compassion, and increase the justice in the world. Purim is the opportunity to increase that joy.

One of my favorite teachings on this topic comes from Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the Chief Rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine. A European Jew born in the mid-19th century, Rav Kook lived in Europe during World War I, and saw any number of latter day “Hamans”. Nevertheless, he challenges us to increase the good in the world rather than complaining about the evil: “…the pure righteous do not complain of the dark, but increase the light; they do not complain of evil, but increase justice; they do not complain of heresy, but increase faith; they do not complain of ignorance, but increase wisdom.”

Chag Purim Sameach – Happy Purim!

Chocolate Babka

IMG_2178I wish I knew something about the Purim celebrations that my parents experienced during their childhood.  They were both from observant families so it is hard to imagine that the holiday was not marked in some way.  On top of which my mother’s aunt owned the bakery in Mogielnica.  Did she prepare Hamantaschen or some other local pastry for the holiday?  What was the filling?  Poppy I assume,  but I will never know.  What I do know is that with only one week to go, I am without a plan as I have decided not to make Hamantaschen this year.

Last week I found myself in a situation where I had to come up with a dessert at the last minute.  Without having planned it in advance, I took part of my challah dough and made a chocolate Babka.  It turned out great and since it was my first attempt, I was pleasantly surprised.  One can only hope that inspiration will come to the rescue, but in the meantime chocolate Babka anyone?  Chag Sameach.

 

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Chocolate Babka

Your favorite challah recipe or mine.   I used half the dough to prepare two Challot and half to prepare two Babkas.

Filling for one Babka
1 stick sweet butter or pareve margarine, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 pound semi-sweet chocolate
Pinch of salt
1 Tb cinnamon

Egg wash (optional)
1 egg
2 teaspoons milk, water or soy milk
1 Tb sugar mixed with 1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Coarsely chop bar of chocolate, then finish chopping in food processor till fine.  Add salt, sugar and cinnamon and mix for a few seconds.  Add butter or margarine and mix in by pulsing.

Grease a round pan well.  After dough doubled in size, punch down and roll into a large rectangle.  This takes some time and patience.  Make sure your surface is well floured so dough doesn’t stick.  Make it as thin and long as you can.

Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough.  Starting from the long side, roll dough as tightly as possible.   Place in pan and let rise for about 30 minutes.   Mix egg with milk or water and brush on top.  Sprinkle with a Tablespoon of sugar mixed with a Tsp of cinnamon.  Bake for about 30 minutes and cool on rack.

Enjoy,

Irene

 

 

 

Brownie Meringues

We are now three weeks away from Passover.  This is the first time in about twenty years that we will be conducting the Seder in the dining room primarily because twelve of us can fit there.  No need to empty out the living room, order extra tables, rent cloths and napkins.  Yet instead of being happy about shedding all of the planning and angst that can accompany preparing for a large Seder, why are my thoughts drawn to Seders past with longing and nostalgia and to future Seders with something akin to dread.  It has been a difficult year.  My 92-year-old father passed away in September and for the first time, he will not be present at our Seder. Growing up in NYC, Seders were pretty traditional affairs; my father and the other men would stand and chant the Haggadah in unison, with no one else participating.  The wives read along silently and the children wiggled and giggled and waited for dinner.  It was not egalitarian or engaging or educational and yet I have warm and happy memories.  The table was beautifully set, the fine china was brought out, wonderful aromas came from the kitchen, new clothing was purchased, cousins got together and my father and the other men argued about politics all through the meal. Pesach was special. Continue reading

Brownies and Good Neighbors

When we moved into our home in Beverlywood about 21 years ago our next door neighbor immediately greeted us with a cake.  Having grown up in an apartment building in The Bronx, I always thought that particular tradition was something that only happened in the movies.  Sara S. and her husband Ben had built their home in Beverlywood in 1947 and had lived there ever since.  Sara was a petite, elegant and vibrant woman in her seventies.  Ben was a towering, handsome businessman who was still going to work every morning ( and still does.)  Having moved into Beverlywood just after the birth of our third child, there was something so comforting about having Sara and Ben next door.  Sara and I soon discovered that we both loved to cook and garden.  Sara was famous for her fudge, a recipe I never was able to coax out of her, but through the years we were the happy recipients of numerous tins of fudge and enjoyed every piece.  Sugar, butter and eggs passed back and forth between our kitchens.  Sara heated her pool during the summer and my children had swimming lessons there.  If my kids weren’t in the pool on the weekend, Sara would call me on the phone and remind me that heating a pool was an expensive proposition and my kids better get over there and use it.  Last week Sara passed away.  It was not only the loss of a friend and neighbor but the end of an era.  Good neighbors are hard to find.  Fortunately we still see Ben as he leaves for the office in the morning.  So, in memory of Sara and to promote “neighborliness” here is a recipe you can make.  It isn’t fudge but it is pretty close.  A dense, dark, fudge brownie.  Why not make a batch and bring it over to your neighbor.

Chewy Fudge Brownies
4 Oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 stick butter
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup flour
1 cup walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 8″ square pan. Melt chocolate and butter in heavy pan set over low heat or in double boiler. Stir till melted and smooth. Let cool for a few minutes. Add vanilla, eggs, sugar and salt to chocolate mixture and stir. Add flour and mix well and then add nuts. Bake 45 minutes till toothpick in center is barely clean. Remove and cool on rack.

Enjoy,
Irene