Baking Hamantaschen for Purim

hamantaschen cookies

I have always loved Purim.  When I was a little girl, I (like every other little girl I knew) put on my princess dress and marched around the synagogue, pretending to be Queen Esther and making as much noise as possible.  My dress was a shiny pink satin trimmed in silver glitter and clear plastic beads. My mom pulled it out each year, along with my tiara, but the year I turned eight, disaster struck.  As I tugged my shiny satin dress over my head, it became abundantly clear just how big my recent growth spurt had been.  After I stopped sobbing, I realized I only had 30 minutes to make a new costume.  Clearly a proper Queen Esther costume was out of the question, but a couple of pieces of triangular poster board and some string and I was a hamantaschen!  My little brother even discarded his standard Mordecai beard in favor of his own hamantaschen costume. 

Our local kosher grocery store sold huge hamantaschen, big enough that together Evan and I couldn’t finish one. And one year, my Mom even had a box of these crumbly triangular cookies sent from a famous bakery in San Francisco. I don’t remember my Nannie ever making hamantaschen.  My mom swears she did, but  I searched and searched through my binders of Nannie recipes, and found no hamantaschen.  My super-duper cookie-baking Jewish grandmother had no hamantaschen recipe?  Seriously? But honestly, I’m not all that surprised.  Hamantaschen are kind of fussy, and Nannie didn’t go for fussy food.  All that rolling, cutting and pinching were a bit much for a woman with four kids and nine grandchildren to run after.  But sometimes I like fussy.  It’s fun, on occasion, to play with dough, and reap the rewards.  Pinching the corners of these cookies would be a great task for little hands, if you have helpers in the kitchen. That is, of course, unless they are too busy making their poster board costumes.

hamantaschen and espressoI am a dunker – from Oreos in milk to hamantaschen in coffee, I believe that all cookies are best when dunked.  Eating Haman’s hat is truly even yummier with a cup of joe, or even a double espresso.  But most store-bought hamantaschen are so stuffed with filling that a glop of poppy seeds inevitably lands in the bottom of my mug.  So for these hamantaschen, I decided to make a much smaller cookie, increasing the dough-to-filling ratio and allowing for easier dunkability. You can, of course, make bigger hamantaschen, but be sure to increase the baking time.

hamantaschen cookies

Hamantaschen With Poppy Seed Filling

2 cups flour (plus extra for rolling)

2 teaspoons baking powder

pinch of salt

1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut in small pieces

1/4 cup  sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg, beaten

for the filling:

1/2 cup poppy seeds

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup honey

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 egg, beaten

In a food processor, pulse together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Add the butter and pulse until a sandy texture.  Add in the sugar, vanilla, and egg and pulse again to combine.  The dough will be crumbly.  Gather together the dough scraps and press into a ball.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, prepare the filling.  Combine all of the filling ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat.  Cook, stirring, until the mixture thickens (take care to keep the heat low to avoid scrambling the egg).  Allow the mixture to cool before using.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Divide the dough in four.  Roll out one portion at a time on a floured surface to about 1/6 inch thickness and cut into rounds (I use a 11/2 inch round cookie cutter). Place a dollop of filling in the center of each dough circle and pinch the corners to form a triangle.  Be sure to pinch the dough tightly so the cookie will hold its shape while baking.  Bake in batches on a greased cookie sheet until golden, about 15 minutes, rotating the cookie sheet once halfway through baking.


Published in: on February 28, 2010 at 4:47 pm  Comments (11)  
Tags: , , , ,

Healthy Comfort Food (Thank You Mollie Katzen!)

fresh basil leaves

About half of the cookbooks on my shelf did some time in the cabinet above my parents’ toaster.  Most of the books are stained, bindings broken, pages folded and worn.  And the best ones have notes scribbled in the margins, even highlighted lines, like a high school copy of Romeo and Juliet.  Occasionally I’ll come across my mother’s chicken scratch (although by now I can barely discern her handwriting from my own), but more often the handwriting is unfamiliar yet well-known.   

You see, the beautiful thing about our Nannies was that each prepared Madhur Jaffrey’s lentils and Sheila Lunkins’ chicken just a little bit differently.  And each wrote different kinds of notes to remember. Linda was very precise, next to a recipe listing 1-2 cloves garlic she wrote “1 teaspoon minced”.  Laura liked to add her own touches, “better with provolone” she noted. Jeffrey catalogued presentation, “beautiful in the shallow blue pasta bowls.” Kris was tuned-in to our preferences, “skip onions for Evan.”

cooked broccoliBy far the most well-loved of all my mother’s cookbooks were those by Mollie Katzen.  The Enchanted Broccoli Forest is missing a cover and Moosewood Restaurants Low-Fat Favorites is held together with a huge rubber band. We adored the cottage cheese dill bread, the fresh tomato soup, and most of all, the penne with creamy walnut sauce. I think our creamy walnut phase was during Jeffrey’s reign – the poor guy probably made it two hundred times in the few years he lived with us. It’s a wonder we didn’t turn green!  This saucy pesto is still a go-to recipe for me, easy to make, healthy, and great the next day too. It’s amazingly flavorful and hearty, and packed with nutrients.  The original recipe calls for tossing the sauce with penne and broccoli florets, and I quite like the broccoli.  But you can certainly leave it out, or perhaps throw in some green peas instead. I have, of course, made a few tweaks, including cutting the recipe in half, since the cookbook version makes a ton of sauce.  The amount below is plenty to coat a pound of pasta and then some!

mollie katzen's penne with creamy walnut sauce


Penne with Creamy Walnut Sauce (Adapted From Moosewood Restaurant’s Low-Fat Favorites)

serves 4-6

1 pound whole wheat penne (or other pasta shape)

3 cups broccoli florets

1 6-ounce bag baby spinach

2 tablespoons water

1/3 cup packed fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup walnut pieces, toasted

1/2 cup freshy grated parmesean cheese, divided

1 large garlic clove

1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente.  Steam the broccoli over the boiling pasta water until tender but not mushy. Meanwhile, transfer the spinach to a microwave safe bowl and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of water. Microwave on high for two minutes until wilted. 

Transfer the spinach (with any liquid from the bowl), basil, walnuts, 1/4 cup parmesean cheese, garlic clove, and cottage cheese to a food processor and whir until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides if necissary. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss the sauce with the pasta and top with the broccoli and remaining cheese.

moosewood penne with creamy walnut sauce

Published in: on February 24, 2010 at 7:35 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , ,

Creamy Dreamy Caramels

salted caramel

Sometimes chocolate shops overwhelm me.  When confronted with case after case of goodness, I tend to stick with my old standby, the cherry cordial.  Do you remember Chocolat, the book by Joanne Harris, and also a film with Johnny Depp? Vianne (played by Juliette Binoche), the chocolatier, has a knack for guessing the townspeople’s favorites and says that you can tell a lot about a person by his chocolate preferences. I wonder what cherry cordials say about me?  Perhaps that my true interior leaks out to mar my glossy outer shell, no matter how hard I try to keep the juicy sweetness bound inside.

My mom is a caramel girl all the way.  Salt caramels enrobed in dark chocolate are her thing. Does that mean she is more complex than she first appears? Or perhaps that she is sticky and tenacious? Could be. Or it could simply be that there is nothing better than the way the salty sweetness lingers on the roof of your mouth. 

milk chocolate trufflesThis weekend, as a friend and I went on a bonbon-making jag, I was determinted to master those perfect caramels.  I’ll tell you this – it’s not easy!  Great caramel requires precision and patience.  The ingredients are simple, but the key to developing spectacular flavor is in the details.  It took a few tries for us to get it right, but we triumphed.  We made two kinds of truffles and three different cremes,  but the caramels were truly the loveliest of our confectionary treasures. 

Do use good salt here, as the flavor comes through strongly.  It might be fun to experiment with a variety of different salts. I actually have some beautiful pink salt from Hawaii that would look lovely against a backdrop of shiny dark chocolate that I think I’ll use next time.  Certainly a smoked salt would be worth a try, as well. If you don’t want to cover the caramels in chocolate, they are lovely as is.  As the caramels begin to cool, sprinkle them with a bit of the salt (it will melt into the caramel), then cut and wrap individually in wax paper. These make great gifts, chocolate covered or not (yes Mom, I promise a batch is coming your way the next time I see you).

home made caramel

Dark Chocolate Salt Caramels

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

6 tablespoons salted butter, cut in small pieces

1 1/3 cups light brown sugar

1 tablespoon water

8 ounces good quality dark chocolate, chopped

1 teaspoon grey salt

Heat the cream, vanilla, butter, sugar, and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Stop stirring. Bring the mixture to a boil, keeping the heat at medium.  Cover and cook for 3 minutes.  Uncover (do not stir) and continue cooking until the mixture reaches 235 degrees on a candy thermometer.  Meanwhile, prepare a small (6 by 6 inch square)  baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.  Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and let cool.  When the caramel is still slightly soft, score the top into squares and then leave aside to cool completely. Once the caramel is cooled, cut the squares.  Place the cut squares in the refrigerator to firm even further while you prepare the chocolate.

To temper the chocolate, melt about half of the chopped chocolate in the microwave in 20 second bursts on low power, stirring in between.  Continue to heat in 20 second bursts until the temperature of the chocolate reaches 113-115 degrees on a candy thermometer.  Add the remaining chocolate one handful at a time, stirring quickly to melt each handful, until the temperature drops to 88-89 degrees.  You may not use all of the reserved chocolate.

Working quickly, dip each caramel in the tempered chocolate, tapping off the excess, and place on parchment paper to cool.  If the temperature of the chocolate drops, reheat it in the microwave for 10 seconds on low, being careful not to heat above 89 degrees.  Before the chocolate completely hardens on each caramel, sprinkle with a bit of the grey salt.  Allow the chocolate to harden completely.  Store caramels in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Published in: on February 21, 2010 at 6:12 pm  Comments (7)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Gluten Free Baking Extravaganza

gluten free cake

I am a terrible listener.  I pretend to listen, I nod and say ‘mmm-hmm’ at the right moments, but really my mind is whirring away down the road.  It’s not that I don’t care – I really do care very much. It’s just that the moment I hear the mention of a problem, a crisis, or a situation, my very goal-oriented brain rushes off to find a solution.  But so many problems have no solution, particularly relationship-related problems. 

So when my best friend called last week with an entirely different sort of problem, I was secretly thrilled.  OK, ok, not thrilled that she HAD a problem, but thrilled that in this case I could actually DO something.  I had braced myself to feel utterly useless in discussing romantic woes, but instead she (exhausted and cranky from a day of medical tests) quickly blurted “gluten is my enemy.”  This I could work with.  Yes, it is miserable to be forced to cut out the foods we love.  And since gluten is in just about everything (seriously, start reading labels – you’ll be shocked), this is most assuredly one of the toughest special diets. But that doesn’t mean that spectacular gluten-free goodies don’t exist.

And since I’m on a mission to find these goodies, I started baking. I have to admit, despite my mother’s wheat sensitivity, I have had pretty limited experience with gluten-free baking.  So the first few tries were awful, as you can probably imagine. I quickly learned that you really can’t just substitute gluten-free flours for wheat flour and expect a palatable texture. But most gluten-free baked goods seem to call for about a million different kinds of flours and stabilizers, and since I had just about none of those ingredients in the house, I needed to create something simple.  

These little tea cakes are about as simple as it gets.  Filled with bits of dark chocolate, they are so wonderful with a cup of cocoa (I know that I’m calling them tea cakes, but seriously, trust me and go for cocoa).  I made mine in shaped tiny tart pans, but you can certainly bake them in mini muffin tins and they would still be adorable.  Part cookie, part cake, these totally satisfy the craving for a treat.bitter orange cake

Once I had mastered these little tea cakes, my confidence was restored and I was ready to experiment.  I remembered an old Sephardic recipe for orange cake, rind and all, and figured this might make a moist base for a more sophisticated gluten-free dessert.  This cake strikes just the right balance between bitter and sweet.  It would be wonderful with some whipped cream, but being the addict that I am, I’d probably go for a drizzle of dark chocolate instead.  Not that there is anything wrong with doing both.  I have to say that it’s a good thing that this cake is no longer in my house.  The flavor is simply so interesting that I just had to have taste after taste.

gluten free orange cake

Chocolate Chunk Tea Cakes (Gluten-Free)

1 egg, beaten

1/4 cup milk

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 cup rice flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

pinch of salt

1/4 cup chopped dark chocolate

2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Wisk together the egg, milk, oil and sugar in a medium bowl.  Stir in the rice flour, baking powder and salt until combined.  Fold in the chocolate chunks. Divide the batter into greased tartlette pans or mini muffin tins and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar.  Bake 18-20 minutes until slightly browned.  Cool before unmolding.

Bitter Orange Cake (Gluten-Free)

2 oranges

3 cups water

4 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup sesame tahini

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 cups chickpea flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bring the oranges and water to a boil in a large pot.  Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for an hour until oranges are soft.  Remove oranges from the water and cut into quarters.  Remove any visible seeds and transfer the orange segments, rind and all, to a food processor.  Pulse until pureed.  Transfer to a large bowl and mix in eggs, honey, sugar, tahini and oil.  Add in the chickpea flour and baking powder and mix well.  Transfer the batter to a greased cake pan.  Bake 40-50 minutes until firm and browned on top.  Cool slightly in the pan and serve with whipped cream or melted dark chocolate.

gluten free tea cakes

Published in: on February 16, 2010 at 7:52 pm  Comments (7)  
Tags: , , , ,

Red Velvet Cupcakes for Valentine’s Day



red velvet

I love the way the house smells just as cupcakes are ready to come out of the oven.  It fills every nook and cranny so that even the closets smell warm and sweet and so dangerous.  This is the smell that compels me to eat cupcakes for dinner, and love every bite.

red velvet cupcakeIt is also the smell that overwhelms the senses the moment you enter The Bakery Boutique, my absolute, hands-down favorite bake shop anywhere.  (Which, conveniently, isn’t just anywhere, but is conveniently pretty close by in Rhode Island).  Deana Cimorelli and her husband Ryan have the ability to shoot in the foot even the most disciplined of diets.  And I love them for it.

Our friends are still talking about the almond cupcakes Deana and Ryan made for our wedding in July, and I won’t deny that they were fabulous. But what I will always remember is the tiny red velvet cake that Deana baked just for me and Jeff – and the fluffy icing that Jeff smeared all over my nose.  So for Valentine’s day in our house, it has to be red velvet.  This year, and every year.

red velvetFor my column this month in the Dedham Transcript, Deana generously shared her recipe for her incomparable red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing.  The icing is really the key here – Deana herself admits it.  So please, please don’t use pre-made icing from the grocery store shelf, since you’d probably give Deana a coronary. Check out the recipe for the cupcake and the icing in my column here.  And if your cupcakes, like mine, don’t looks quite as perfect as those from the Bakery Boutique, I promise you that they will still be the best red velvet cupcakes you have ever tasted.




One Super Bowl – Of Ice Cream!

double chocolate raspberry ice cream

This Double Chocolate Raspberry ice cream is my favorite part of our superbowl spread.  I enjoyed the tasty homemade corn dogs and the cool ranch dip, but nothing holds a candle to this intensely rich ice cream, which is even better with  a drizzle of chocolate syrup. Of course anything chocolate is always my favorite.  I’m not picky, I’ll happily eat Hershey bars.  I can appreciate the beauty of just about any chocolate concoction out there.  I’m even toying with the idea of trying a chocolate covered bacon recipe one of these days, but we’ll see. 

Last week, a friend and I held a chocolate tasting, trying bits of dark chocolate from about a dozen different brands.  It’s funny, but I never noticed the spectacular nuances of flavor, the amazing differences in texture, and the clear divergences in quality among different chocolates.  Our favorites had deep, rich chocolate flavor and balanced acidity, complimented by fruity, smoky, or earthy notes.  Others were simply flat, even tasting faintly oily. The crazy part  is what you taste by comparison that you wouldn’t otherwise notice. I had to resort to a beer analogy to explain this to Jeff.  Like Jeff, you will probably drink Bud Lite every so often and enjoy it well enough (this is like your Hershey’s bar). But maybe you prefer Sam Adams and keep that in the fridge at home (let’s call this your Lindt).  But once in a while you splurge on a fancy Belgian brew, like Chimay (this is your Green & Blacks or Valrhona). You can enjoy any of the three in the right setting – but how would you feel about that Bud Lite if you took a swig just 30 seconds after sipping your Chimay Red?  I know, this sounds nuts.  But trust me – give it a try.  Buy a few bars of good quality chocolate and hold a tasting of your own. double chocolate raspberry ice cream

Anyway, armed with my new awareness of my chocolate palate, I used Callebaut dark chocolate in the base of the ice cream, complimented by chunks of Green & Blacks Bittersweet Chocolate. I’m sure you could grab a bag of chocolate chips from the grocery store shelf and this ice cream would still be good – but it wouldn’t be THIS good. And as far as I’m concerned, if I’m going to go to the trouble to make my own ice cream, it had better be the best freaking ice cream on the planet!

chocolate syrup

Double Chocolate Raspberry Ice Cream with Chocolate Syrup

Serves 4 (you may have extra chocolate syrup – it’s great on pound cake!)

1 cup heavy whipping cream, divided

3/4 cup low-fat milk

1 1/4 cups sugar, divided

1/4 teaspoon salt

5 ounces chopped dark chocolate, divided

3 egg yolks

1/3 cup frozen or fresh raspberries

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

In a saucepan, heat 3/4 cup of cream, the milk, 1/4 cup sugar, and the salt over low heat until hot but not boiling.  Melt half of the chocolate and stir the melted chocolate into the warm cream mixture.  In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar.  Slowly add 1/4 cup of the warm cream to the egg yolks, stirring constantly to temper the yolks.  Add the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan.  Stir until the mixture thickens slightly and coats a spoon, about 10 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat, transfer the custard to a bowl, and refrigerate until cold.  Stir occasionally as the mixture cools.

Meanwhile, heat the raspberries with 1/4 cup of sugar in a small pan over low heat.  Cook, stirring, until the sugar melts and the berries begin to break apart.  Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. 

To make the chocolate syrup, bring the water and remaining 1/2 cup of sugar to a boil and then reduce heat slightly.  Mix together the cocoa powder and remaining 1/4 cup of cream in a small bowl.  Add the cocoa powder mixture to the sugar-water and stir well. Bring the mixture back to a boil and then remove from the heat.  Allow to cool to room temperature before serving (the syrup can be stored in refrigerator for a few days).

To make the ice cream, pour the chocolate custard into the bowl of an ice cream machine and freeze according to manufacturer directions.  At the last minute, add in the remaining chopped chocolate and the raspberry mixture, making sure they are fully mixed into the custard.  Transfer to a container and freeze until hard.  Serve with the chocolate sauce.

dark chocolate

Published in: on February 7, 2010 at 8:23 pm  Comments (5)  
Tags: , , , ,