Celebrate Queen Esther with chocolate
Queen Esther, the heroine of the Purim tale, was quite a woman. Not only did she outwit the evil Haman and save the entire Jewish population of Persia, she did it all as a vegetarian. According to tradition, when she moved into the palace, she became quite a party girl but limited her diet to seeds, vegetables, fruits, nuts and, of course, chocolate.
So, this year, to celebrate her special diet, I am planning to treat my family to a special array of chocolate Purim desserts. The custom of gift-giving to friends during the holiday is referred to as mishloach manot, and my favorite gift when we are invited for dinner to the home of friends is to bring a ribbon-wrapped box filled with homemade chocolates.
There are plenty of other treats to try: I am sharing my recipe here for Chocolate-Dipped Oatmeal Cookie Fruit and Nut Bars and Chocolate-Covered Halvah Truffles.
And don’t forget hamantaschen, the traditional Purim pastry. The first recipe I remember for these came from my mother. Instead of making them with the yeast-based pastry that is found in most Jewish bakeries, she used cookie dough filled with poppy seed and prune preserves.
Over the years I have developed my own hamantaschen pastries. My favorite is adding chocolate and poppy seeds to the dough and stuffing them with a mixture of chocolate and chopped nuts.
Just when your guests think all the desserts are on the table, surprise them with scoops of Chocolate Sorbet. Then you can nosh some hamantaschen!
CHOCOLATE-DIPPED OATMEAL COOKIE FRUIT AND NUT BARS
- Oatmeal Cookie Dough (recipe follows)
- 1 1/2 cups whole almonds, toasted
- 1 1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted
- 1 cup pecans, toasted
- 1 cup diced dry cranberries
- 1 1/2 cups diced dry apricots
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 2 to 3 tablespoons water
- 1/2 cup cream, warmed
- 1 package (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate pieces
Prepare the Oatmeal Cookie Dough; bake as directed and set aside.
Mix the nuts and dried fruits in a bowl. Spread the mixture evenly over the baked cookie dough.
Combine sugar and water in a heavy pot; cook over medium heat, stirring gently, until light brown. Remove from heat; add the cream, stirring constantly. Transfer to a large measuring cup and pour over dried fruit and nuts in baked cookie dough. Set aside to cool, then cut into bars of desired size. (See yields below.)
Melt chocolate in a double boiler over gently simmering water or in a microwave. With your fingertips, dip one end of each bar into melted chocolate, leaving the nuts and fruit showing and place on a wax paper-lined platter. Refrigerate until chocolate is set.
Makes 54 bars, 2 by 2 inches each; or 108 bars, 1 by 2 inches each.
OATMEAL COOKIE DOUGH
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 pound unsalted butter or margarine
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 1/2 cups old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats (do not use instant oatmeal)
- 1 1/4 cups toasted chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350 F.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the sugars and butter. Beat in vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping sides of bowl after each one.
In a bowl, mix together flour, cinnamon, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Add flour mixture to butter-sugar mixture in two to three additions, beating until just combined. Add oats in two or three additions, stirring until just combined. Stir in pecans.
Roll dough into a ball, flatten with hands, and spread evenly onto a greased, rimmed 12-by-18-inch baking sheet. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown.
CHOCOLATE-COVERED HALVAH TRUFFLES
Chocolate-dipped oatmeal cookie fruit and nut bars and chocolate-covered halvah truffles.
- 1/2 cup tahini (sesame paste)
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1/2 cup unsweetened grated coconut
- 1/2 cup wheat germ
- 1/2 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
- 1 pound semisweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
In a mixing bowl, stir together the tahini and honey. In a food processor, combine the coconut, wheat germ and sunflower seeds; process until finely chopped. Stir coconut mixture, cocoa and cinnamon into tahini-honey mixture until well-blended and firm. Shape mixture by hand into l-inch balls.
Melt chocolate in a double boiler over gently simmering water. With your hands, dip each halvah ball into the melted chocolate; place on waxed paper-lined plate. Refrigerate until the chocolate is set.
Makes 30 (1-inch) balls.
CHOCOLATE POPPY-SEED HAMANTASCHEN
- Chocolate Filling (recipe follows)
- 3 cups flour
- 1/2 cup finely ground almonds
- 1 to 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter or margarine
- 3 tablespoons hot water
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
- 1 whole egg
- 1 egg white
Preheat oven to 325 F.
Prepare Chocolate Filling; set aside.
In bowl of an electric mixer, combine flour, ground almonds, poppy seeds, baking powder, salt and sugar. Blend in butter until mixture resembles very fine crumbs.
Combine water and cocoa in a small bowl; beat in the whole egg. Add to flour mixture, beating until mixture begins to form dough. Do not overmix.
Transfer to floured board and shape into a ball. Chill 30 minutes for easier handling.
Divide dough into six portions. Flatten each with the palms of your hands; roll out 1/4-inch thick. Cut into 3 1/2-inch rounds with scalloped cookie cutter.
Place 1 teaspoon Chocolate Filling in the center of each round. Fold edges of dough toward center to form a triangle, leaving a bit of filling visible in the center. Pinch edges to seal.
Place on a lightly greased foil- or Silpat-lined baking sheet and brush with lightly beaten egg white. Bake until firm, about 30 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool.
Makes 6 to 7 dozen.
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup milk, cream or coffee
- 1 cup chopped, toasted walnuts
Combine all filling ingredients in a bowl; blend thoroughly.
Makes about 2 1/4 cups.
- 3 cups unsweetened cocoa
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 cups water
- 1 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted
- 1 cup port or Concord grape wine
Combine cocoa and sugar in a large, heavy saucepan. Add water, a little at a time, in a thin stream, mixing with wire whisk until well blended and smooth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes or until thick. Stir in melted chocolate and port. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for about 4 minutes, or until thick, stirring constantly. Pour into an 8-cup pitcher or bowl and place inside a larger bowl filled with ice and cold water. Stir until cool. Remove bowl from ice water. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Process in an ice cream machine, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the sorbet to a covered container and freeze for at least 1 hour for flavors to mellow. If frozen solid, soften in the refrigerator and beat until smooth and creamy before serving.
Makes about 2 quarts.
Judy Zeidler is a food consultant and author of “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her Web site is JudyZeidler.com.