“Eat, drink and be merry.” Hardly a directive one would expect from the pulpit. But this is Purim, and revelry and festivity are the order of the day.
Comic elements abound in the Megillah (the scroll containing the Book of Esther): a king’s wife spurned, a beauty contest to choose a new wife, an evil prime minister, the near annihilation of our people, a palace plot thwarted and our enemies defeated through the machinations of said new wife. Surely God had a hand in the outcome; yet there is no mention of God in the Megillah, a source of debate for centuries.
Some answer that the story of Purim is even more miraculous in its subtlety than all those other extravaganzas that get all the glory. There’s no parting of seas here, no manna in the desert, no giant felled with a slingshot and no cruse of oil burning for eight days. Purim is a holiday of masks, and the miracle of our redemption unfolds through a series of natural events and “coincidences,” but were they really?
“Just like the filling in the hamantaschen, the role of G-d in the Purim story is hidden,” writes Paula Shoyer, a graduate of the Ritz Escoffier pastry program in Paris, and author of The Holiday Kosher Baker (Sterling, $35). “And just as with the hamantaschen, the true significance of the holiday unfolds. We should always look for the hidden and deeper meaning of our experiences in life as a way to acknowledge the unseen forces in the word.”
In her new cookbook Shoyer presents traditional desserts with a distinctively modern twist with clear, detailed directions and lavish color photos. Along with new versions of sponge cakes, blintzes, babkas, challahs and rugelach, you’ll find a chic Raspberry and Rose Macaron Cake, a Salted Caramel Banana Tart Tatin, and an unusual take on upside-down apple cake as well as recipes for low-sugar, gluten free, vegan and nut-free treats.
“Interestingly, the Megillah is the first place in the Bible where the word ‘Jew’ appears,” notes Shoyer. And leave it to the Jews to commemorate this near tragedy with humor. “Purim is the most whimsical holiday of the Jewish calendar,” she says. “We put on Purim spiels, comedic plays that enact the Purim story, and dress in costumes.”
And, of course, we eat hamantaschen, those three-cornered cookies filled with jam, poppy seeds, prunes or even chocolate, that are supposed to resemble Haman’s hat. Whether Haman ever wore a hat, three-cornered or not, is in question by some, as is the whole story altogether. “The filling is mostly hidden,” Shoyer writes, “and only when we break open the cookie do we experience the flavor inside.” The book includes recipes for eight varieties, including (see photo, from top) Raspberry, Vanilla Bean, Chocolate Chip, Low-Sugar, Green Tea and Gluten-Free. (Pistachio and Red Velvet are not shown.)
We celebrate Purim with the mitzvah of “mishloach manot” (literally “sending portions” in Hebrew), giving sweets to family and friends. “The giving of gifts celebrates our survival, an acknowledgement that we are still here,” says Shoyer. Her recipes in this chapter reflect the fun and whimsy of the holiday: Decorated Brownie Bites (shown in cellophane in photo, upper left), Licorice or Root Beer Chocolate Truffles, Peppermint Candies, Mazel Cookies (her take on Fortune Cookies), Homemade Marshmallows: Coconut or Raspberry Swirl and Tie-Dyed Mini Black and White Cookies.
If Purim is here, can Passover be far behind? Heads up: The Holiday Kosher Baker contains 45 Passover recipes alone, including Lemon Tart with Basil Nut Crust, Chocolate Chocolate Éclairs and Lime Macarons. And for more Passover ideas please join me for my “Beyond Matzoh Ball Soup” Passover discourse and lunch at the Merage Jewish Community Center in Irvine on Thursday, March 27. Call (949) 435-3400 for more information.
Chocolate Chip Hamantaschen
Yield: 3 dozen
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
½ cup canola or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
3 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces no larger than 1/4-inch (very important)
6½ ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, cut into ½-inch squares OR 1½ cups chocolate chips
1 In large bowl, mix together eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla. Add flour and salt and mix until dough comes together. Add chopped chocolate and mix in gently. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate one hour to firm up.
2 Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line two or three large cookie sheets with parchment. Divide dough in half.
3 Sprinkle flour on another piece of parchment, place one dough half on top; then sprinkle a little more flour on top of dough. Place second piece of parchment on top of dough and roll on top of parchment until dough is about ¼-inch thick. Every few rolls, peel top parchment and sprinkle a little more flour on both sides.
4 Use a 2- to 3-inch cookie cutter or glass to cut dough into circles. With metal flat-blade spatula, lift circles and place on another part of flour-sprinkled parchment. Place one ½-inch square of chocolate or seven chocolate chips into center and fold three sides together very tightly. Place on prepared cookie sheets. Repeat with remaining dough.
5 Bake 14 to 16 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned but tops are still light. Slide parchment onto wire racks to cool. Store in airtight container up to 5 days or freeze up to 3 months.
Decorated Brownie Bites
Yield: 96 one-inch bites
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate
½ cup canola oil, plus 2 teaspoons for greasing pan
1½ cups sugar
1/3 cup soy milk
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
At least 3 different colored sugars, sprinkles, nonpareils, crushed candies or ground nuts
Preheat oven to 350˚F. With one teaspoon oil, grease 9X13-inch baking pan. Line with parchment paper, allowing some to extend up and over sides. Grease top and sides with remaining teaspoon oil.
1 Break or chop chocolate into small pieces and melt it, either over double boiler or in microwave for 45 seconds, stir, heat 30 seconds, stir and heat another 15 seconds, if needed, until completely melted.
2 Add oil and sugar and whisk well. Add soy milk, eggs and vanilla, and whisk again. Add salt, baking powder and cocoa and mix. Add flour in four parts and whisk well each time. Scoop mixture into pan and spread evenly.
3 Bake 30 minutes, or until top looks dry and toothpick inserted in center comes out looking a little gooey. Cool 30 minutes; freeze minimum of one hour.
4 Place decorations into small shallow bowls. Pull up parchment paper to lift brownie out of pan. Trim 1/2-inch for sides and cut short side into long 3/4- to 1-inch wide strips. Cut each strip into small squares. Press top or bottom of each brownie into desired decoration. Store in airtight container up to 3 days or freeze up to 3 months.
Source: The Holiday Kosher Baker
by Paula Shoyer