How to Jew Purim


Saturday, March 11, to Sunday, March 12

BACKGROUND

Purim, celebrated every year on the 14th of Adar, commemorates how Jews living in the fourth century Persian Empire pre-empted a plot by the evil prime minister, Haman, to have them all killed. Haman — angered by the refusal of a Jew named Mordecai to bow down to him — persuaded the Persian ruler, King Ahasuerus, to issue a decree calling for the extermination of the Jews on the 13th of Adar, a date Haman had chosen in a lottery. (“Purim” is Persian for “lots.”)

Mordecai heard of the plot and appealed to his cousin, Esther, who the king had selected as his wife in a beauty contest, not knowing she was Jewish. Esther held a feast at which she revealed to Ahasuerus that she was a Jew and persuaded him to reverse the decree. The king then had Haman and his 10 sons hanged from the gallows, and named Mordecai prime minister. A new decree was then issued allowing the Jews to defend themselves against their enemies. When the 13th of Adar arrived, the Jews struck back against those enemies. They celebrated their accomplishment on the 14th of Adar.

TRADITIONS

The day before Purim is a day of fasting to commemorate the Fast of Esther — her three days of fasting before the feast. This year, because Purim is on Shabbat, the fast is observed on March 9 from dawn till dusk.

Traditionally, the Megillah (the Book of Esther) is read twice — on the night of Purim and on Purim day. During the often boisterous reading, the congregation makes noise with groggers and yells “Boo!” at every mention of Haman’s name. Purim also is a special time to dress up in costumes. Many synagogues and community centers have carnivals, parties and humorous skits or shows called Purim spiels.

Other aspects of the holiday involve giving gifts or providing acts of charity. One such tradition is to give a basket of treats, or mishloach manot, to neighbors, friends or members of the community. It’s also a custom to donate money to at least two needy people as part of a tradition called matanot l’evyonim.

SPECIAL FOODS

Jews enjoy the holiday with hamantashen — triangular pastries typically filled with fruit preserves — that, according to one legend, are symbols of Haman’s three-sided hat. Some celebrations include a special Purim challah, which is bigger than the usual bread and made with more braids to symbolize the rope with which Haman was hanged. Another holiday food is kreplach, dumplings filled with meat.

— Kylie Ora Lobell, Contributing Writer

Sources: Chabad.org, MyJewishLearning

Hamantashen: As easy as one, two, three corners


What makes the Purim holiday so special? Is it the heroic tale of Queen Esther? The children dressing up in costume to re-create the story? The sweet pastries her story inspired?

For all of these reasons, my family loves Purim! It is a time when our grandchildren and great-grandchildren dress up, attend a Purim carnival and feast at our Purim dinner — a reminder of how our children celebrated when they were young.

This year, we will enjoy the holiday with family and friends at one long table in the dining room. A sampling of our Purim groggers (noisemakers) will be arranged down the center. (We can’t include them all because our collection now numbers almost 100.)

The most popular treats for Purim are hamantashen, three-cornered pastries. They are served throughout the world, filled with poppy seeds, prune jams and more. 

I still remember making my first hamantashen using a recipe I received from my mother. Instead of using the traditional yeast pastry, sold in bakeries, she made them with cookie dough filled with poppy seeds and homemade strawberry jam.

Over the years, I have developed many recipes for making these holiday delights. One year, I added chocolate and poppy seeds to the cookie dough and filled it with a mixture of melted chocolate and chopped nuts, resulting in a decadent treat for chocolate lovers.

Another family favorite is a Poppy Seed Yeast Ring; it’s like a delicious coffee cake that doubles as a hamantashen yeast dough. The dough is covered with a towel and refrigerated overnight, then rolled, filled and served hot for breakfast. Or you can make the dough in the afternoon, refrigerate it for several hours, bake and serve for dessert after dinner.

This year I am including a recipe for a hamantashen pastry filled with vegetables, too. It can be served as an appetizer or a main course for the vegetarians among us.

Remember, the dough and fillings usually can be prepared in advance, and stored in the refrigerator or freezer, then baked when convenient.

Now, go get ready to make some noise — in the kitchen and at the table with your Purim grogger!

DOUBLE CHOCOLATE HAMANTASHEN

– Chocolate Filling (recipe follows)
– 3 cups flour
– 1/2 cup finely ground almonds
– 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1 cup unsalted margarine
– 3 tablespoons hot water
– 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
– 1 egg
– 1 egg white

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Prepare Chocolate Filling; cover and set aside. 

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine flour, almonds, baking powder, salt and sugar. Blend in margarine until mixture resembles very fine crumbs.

Blend water and cocoa in small bowl and beat in egg. Add to flour mixture and beat until mixture begins to form dough. Do not over-mix.

Transfer to flour board and knead into a ball. Chill 30 minutes for easier handling. Divide into 6 or 7 portions. Flatten each with palms of hands and roll out 1/4-inch thick. Cut into 3-inch rounds with scalloped cookie cutter. Place 1 teaspoon of filling in the center of each round. Brush edges with a little water. Fold edges of dough toward center to form a triangle, leaving a bit of filling visible in center. Pinch the edges to seal.

Place on a baking sheet lined with lightly greased foil or a Silpat mat and brush with egg white. Bake in preheated oven until firm, about 20 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool.

Makes about 5 dozen hamantashen.

CHOCOLATE FILLING

– 1/2 cup cocoa powder
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1/3 cup coffee, milk or half-and-half
– 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
– In a large bowl, combine cocoa powder, sugar, coffee and walnuts and blend thoroughly.
– Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

In a large bowl, combine cocoa powder, sugar, coffee and walnuts and blend thoroughly.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

POPPY SEED YEAST RING

The dough from this recipe also can be used to make Yeast Hamantashen; see below. From “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” by Judy Zeidler.

– Poppy Seed Filling (recipe follows)
– 2 packages active dry yeast
– 1 cup warm milk (110 to 115 F)
– 1/2 pound unsalted margarine
– 2 tablespoons sugar
– 3 eggs yolks
– 2 1/2 cups flour
– Pinch of nutmeg
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 2 tablespoons olive oil

Prepare the Poppy Seed Filling; set aside.

In a measuring cup, dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of the milk. In a large mixing bowl, cream the margarine with 2 tablespoons sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and beat well.

Combine the flour, nutmeg and salt. Add the yeast mixture to the mixing bowl alternately with the flour. With the back of a wooden spoon, smooth the top of the dough and brush with oil. Cover with a towel and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Divide the dough into 2 portions. Roll out each portion on floured wax paper into a 16-by-20-inch rectangle. Spread half the Poppy Seed Filling over each dough half, leaving a 1-inch margin around the edges. Starting from a long edge, roll up each one, jelly-roll fashion. Bring the ends together to form a ring.

Place each ring in a 10-inch pie pan, sealing the ends together. Brush the top with the remaining milk and sprinkle with poppy seeds. (If you like, you can hold the rings in the refrigerator, covered, for 1 hour.) Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot.

Makes two Poppy Seed Yeast Rings.

POPPY SEED FILLING

– 3 egg whites
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1 1/2 cups canned poppy seed filling

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold in the 1/2 cup sugar and poppy seed filling.

Makes 4 cups.

To make Yeast Hamantashen:

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Roll out the dough and cut it into 3-inch rounds with a cookie cutter. Place a teaspoon of poppy seed filling in the center of each circle of dough. Fold the edges of the dough toward the center to form a triangle, leaving a bit of the filling visible in the center. Pinch the edges to seal.

Place the hamantashen on a baking sheet lined with lightly greased foil or a Silpat mat and bake for 10 minutes; pinch edges again to reseal and bake 10 minutes longer or until golden brown. Transfer to racks and cool.

Makes 3 dozen hamantashen.

VEGETABLE HAMANTASHEN

– Carrot or Eggplant Filling (recipe follows)
– 1/2 cup unsalted margarine
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 3 eggs
– Grated zest of 1 orange
– 2 cups flour
– 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
– 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Prepare Carrot or Eggplant Filling; cover and set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat margarine and sugar until well blended. Beat in 2 of the eggs and zest, blending thoroughly. Add flour, baking powder and salt, blending until dough is smooth.

Transfer dough to a floured board and divide into 3 or 4 portions for easier handling. Flatten each portion with palm of hand and roll out 1/4-inch thick. Using scallop or plain cookie cutter, cut into 2 1/2-inch rounds. Place 1 teaspoon of filling in center of each round. Brush edges of round with a little water. Fold edges of dough toward the center to form a triangle, leaving a bit of filling exposed. Pinch edges to seal.

Place hamantashen 1/2 inch apart on a baking sheet lined with lightly greased foil or a Silpat mat. Brush with beaten egg. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes in preheated oven, until golden brown. Transfer to racks to cool.

Makes about 5 dozen hamantashen.

CARROT FILLING

– 1 pound carrots, peeled and grated
– 1 1/2 cups water
– 1/3 cup sugar
– 1/3 cup ground almonds
– 1/4 cup golden raisins

Combine carrots and water in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring occasionally until all the liquid has evaporated, about 20 minutes. Add sugar, almonds and raisins. Simmer on low heat until thick and liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Cool.

Makes about 2 cups.

EGGPLANT FILLING

– 1 (1 pound) eggplant, peeled and diced
– Water
– 2 cups sugar
– 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
– 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
– 2 tablespoons lemon juice
– Grated zest of 1 lemon

Place eggplant in a large saucepan and cover with water to cover. Bring to a boil and boil until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Combine sugar, 2 cups water, cinnamon and nutmeg in large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add eggplant. Remove from heat and cover. Let stand 1 hour.

Remove eggplant with slotted spoon. Cover syrup until thick, about 20 minutes. Add eggplant, lemon juice and zest. Boil until syrup forms into a firm ball when dropped into cold water from spoon, 220 F on candy thermometer. Spoon into a bowl and cool.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups.


JUDY ZEIDLER is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of 10 cookbooks, including “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is judyzeidler.com.

Purim: Poppy seed pleasures


It all began with Queen Esther, the heroine of the Purim story, who became a vegan when she married King Ahasuerus and moved into the palace. She favored fruits, beans and grains in her diet, and legend has it that poppy seed pastries were her favorite.

Over time, I have developed desserts inspired by the traditional poppy seed hamantaschen that are served during Purim, and my family celebrates the holiday with a variety of Purim desserts, which are either filled with poppy seeds or include poppy seeds in the batter.

This year I am making several cookie recipes, including one that combines poppy seeds with hazelnuts for a crunchy, distinctive flavor — a perfect dessert companion to accompany your Purim dessert table – as well as lacy, flourless Purim Seed Crisps.

My husband Marvin’s favorites are Korjas, paper-thin poppy seed cookies, a traditional family recipe that was given to me many years ago by my friend Della Spector. This recipe makes hundreds of cookies, similar in texture to potato chips. I never cut the recipe in half; the raw dough stores well in the refrigerator or freezer and is ready to roll out and bake at any time.

Poppy Seed Cheesecake is a creamy confection with an almond nut crust that is filled with poppy seeds and topped with sour cream. A small slice is so satisfying that one cheesecake can serve at least 20. For mishloach manot, or Purim gift baskets, make mini cheesecakes using the same recipe and muffin tins.

Start Purim day with a breakfast of Poppy Seed Pound Cake, which can be served toasted and topped with sweet butter or jam. It is a delicious treat that goes well with your morning cappuccino.

A tip for the baker in the family: I bake all my cookie recipes on a silicone baking mat to ensure that the cookies come off easily and never get stuck to the pan. You can store any of the cookie recipes in the refrigerator or freezer before baking; just defrost, roll out, and bake for everyone to enjoy.

PURIM SEED CRISPS

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
2 tablespoons whole milk
1/2 cup sesame seeds
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
2 tablespoons millet seeds

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Combine butter, sugar, corn syrup and milk in a medium skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the butter is melted and all the ingredients are combined thoroughly. Mix in the seeds. Transfer to a glass bowl. Refrigerate or freeze until firm, about 15 minutes. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days and stored in the freezer for 1 month.)

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or a silicone baking mat. Using 1 teaspoon of batter at a time, shape batter into rounds the size of a nickel. Place rounds 2 to 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. (Bake six at a time, as the cookies spread significantly.)

Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown. (Watch closely — they brown quickly.) Let cool completely then carefully peel off of the foil, or, if using a silicone baking mat, remove cookies with a metal spatula.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies.


KORJAS (CRISP POPPY SEED THINS)

1 cup oil
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
6 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk
2 ounces poppy seeds
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Add oil and 1 1/2 cups sugar to the bowl of an electric mixer and blend together until fluffy. Beat in the eggs until smooth. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add the milk alternately with the sifted dry ingredients to the oil mixture, beating after each addition. Blend in the poppy seeds. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 4 days and stored in the freezer for 3 weeks.)

Remove the dough a heaping teaspoon at a time onto a generously floured board or a sheet of wax paper. Roll out the dough into a thin rectangle, about 8 by 11 inches. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into diamond shapes and place them on a greased baking sheet or silicone baking mat. Mix together the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the cookies.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer the cookies to racks to cool.

Makes about 200 cookies.


POPPY SEED HAZELNUT COOKIES

1 cup unsalted butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup poppy seeds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped hazelnuts,
toasted

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Add butter and sugar to the bowl of an electric mixer, and blend until creamy. Add egg and vanilla.

In another bowl, stir together flour, poppy seeds, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Gradually add to butter mixture, blending thoroughly. Add hazelnuts, mixing to distribute evenly. On a floured board, shape dough into three or four rolls, each 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap rolls in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or until firm.

Using a sharp knife, cut dough into 1/8-inch thin slices: place slices about 1/2 inch apart on a foil or a silicone mat-lined baking sheet.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are golden. Transfer to racks and cool.

Makes about 8 dozen cookies.


POPPY SEED POUND CAKE

1 cup unsalted butter or margarine
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup poppy seeds
Grated peel of 1 lemon
1/2 cup ground almonds

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Cream butter, cream cheese and 1 1/2 cups sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and blend until mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until creamy. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt and add to cream cheese mixture.

Mix together poppy seeds, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, lemon peel and remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.

Coat a 9 1/2-inch bundt pan with additional butter, all of the ground almonds and 3 tablespoons of the poppy seed mixture. Spoon 1/3 of the cream cheese mixture into pan.

Top cream cheese mixture with 1/2 of remaining poppy seed mixture. Spread another 1/3 of cream cheese mixture over the seeds and sprinkle with remaining poppy seed mixture. Top with remaining cream cheese mixture.

Bake for 1 1/2 hours or until cake is dry when tested in the center. Cool in pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely. Wrap in plastic wrap and keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Keeps for at least 2 weeks. Serve at room temperature or warm, sliced thin.

Note: Mixture also may be placed in 6 (5-by-3 inch) loaf pans and baked at 325 F for 1 hour.

Makes 1 (9 1/2-inch) cake, 16 servings.


POPPY SEED CHEESECAKE

Almond Nut Crust (recipe follows)
2 cups sour cream
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
5 tablespoons poppy seeds
4 eggs

Prepare, bake, and cool the Almond Nut Crust; set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Add sour cream, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1/4 teaspoon almond extract to a small bowl. Blend well, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. 

Add cream cheese, remaining 1 cup sugar and 3 tablespoons poppy seeds to the bowl of an electric mixer, and blend until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Blend in the remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla and remaining 1/4 teaspoon almond extract. Pour this filling into the baked Almond Nut Crust.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the center is set and the top is golden. Remove the cake from the oven. Spread the prepared sour cream mixture on top and return cake to the oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven, garnish with remaining 2 tablespoons poppy seeds. Cool. Remove from springform pan, and serve.

Makes 1 (9-inch) cheesecake, 18 to 20 servings.

ALMOND NUT CRUST

1 1/2 cups unpeeled whole almonds
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Mix almonds and sugar in a food processor or blender, and blend until the almonds are coarsely chopped.  Add the butter and almond extract, and process just until the mixture begins to come together. Press the almond mixture evenly into the bottom and 1⁄4 inch up the sides of 9-inch springform pan.
   
Bake for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Cool.


Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (Morrow, 1988), “The International Deli Cookbook” (Chronicle, 1994)  and the recently released “Italy Cooks.” She teaches cooking classes through American Jewish University’s Whizin Center for Continuing Education. Her Web site is judyzeidler.com.

Holiday Food Fight: Potato vs. Pastry


“The Great Latke-Hamantash Debate” edited by Ruth Fredman Cernea (University of Chicago Press, $18).

As if we didn’t have enough on our plates, here’s something new to argue about. Not that Jews don’t have a fine history of conflict: Hillel vs. Shammai, Bundists vs. Zionists, Labor vs. Likud. But now, to have to pick between sweet and savory, round and triangular, latke and hamantashen. How to choose?

Of course, Purim (hamantashen) and Chanukah(latke) are new holidays, Johnny-come-latelies that turned up after the Bible, so of course they have to fight. You don’t see smack-downs between matzah (Passover) and challah (Sabbath), do you? (Actually, you already know who would win. There’s a reason that Pesach only lasts eight days.) No, the old guys are established. They have their turf. It’s the arrivistes who have to put on the big show.

Thank goodness one of our great universities — Chicago, no less — is on the case. For close to 60 years, it has staged an annual latke-hamantashen debate. Big names (such names! Nobel laureates, New York Times best-seller-list writers, presidents from only the top schools) use their fancy-schmancy degrees and expertise to argue about which food is better. They have some learning, let me tell you, and they show it. Apparently a few of them wear costumes, and those who don’t wear their doctoral robes. (Philosopher Martha Nussbaum once declaimed her argument in Grecian dress.) This is one dignified occasion.

You’d think that after almost six decades, there would be a clear winner. But the more than 50 entries in this anthology just argue one another to a standstill. Not that they don’t try. Alan Gewirth shoots the moon with a complicated semantic analysis proving superiority of the latke, while Lawrence Sherman shows the importance of the hamantashen in Shakespeare. Did you know that the latke was central to the Renaissance? It was. Did you know that the lyrics to a famous and popular song really should read, “Tears on my Hillel?” They should. You can only imagine the advances that the Superconducting Super Hamalatkatron will bring to science. (It harnesses the strongest force known to man: guilt.)

So the old saying, “Two Jews, three opinions” still holds. In this book, one feminist argues that women should embrace the latke as the epitome of their struggle, while another shows how the potato pancake is the symbol of women’s oppression: It has banished them to the kitchen while the others — all men, of course — eat.

And some of the contributors make things even worse by throwing in some ringers: Darwin and his voyage on the “Bagel,” the discovery of the mysterious Shroud of Purim. There is even an entry that proves (conclusively, in this reviewer’s opinion) that the herring is truly the essential Jewish food.

So, is this book funny? Of course it’s funny, even laugh-out-loud funny. It’s Mickey Katz in academic drag, Borscht Belt with a Ph.D.: “‘When I want your opinion,’ as the great Jewish thinker Sam Goldwyn remarked, ‘I will give it to you.’ This is known as the Socratic method.”

Ted Cohen, who now presides over this affair as the emcee, shows why he is an eminent philosopher:

In every possible world, there is a latke. How do we know this? By discovering that it is impossible to imagine a world in which there is no latke. Try it.

First imagine a world. Put in everything you need for a world; this is to be a whole world, not a fragment.

Now add in a latke.

Now take that latke out. It cannot be done, can it…?

Consider, “The schlemiel has said in his heart there are no latkes.”

The schlemiel can say this, but he cannot think it, for it makes no sense.

What sense is there in a nonexistent latke? How can the perfectly edible be absolutely inedible? It makes no sense.

Similarly, French deconstructionist Francoise Meltzer writes with characteristic simplicity:

“How, in short, can it be that the latke and the hamantash are mere orts about to merge in triumphant sublation which will neutralize the apparent dialectic? …[T]he answer is that the sublation of the two forms is always already present in the existence of what we (significantly) refer to as — the croissant.”

You see what she means. Other participants — and here the social scientists really shine — use the arcane methods of their disciplines to isolate, demystify, recalibrate and interrogate the very meaning of our collective, nay, communal lives that the latke and the hamantashen do so much to affirm and, yet, to undermine.

But seriously, folks. Most of the humor here is in-crowd stuff, college professors poking fun at their own pomposity with Yiddish and food and some shared traditions. You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy “The Great Latke-Hamantash Debate,” because the editor includes a glossary of Hebrew and Yiddish terms (as well as some recipes). But here, as with most parodies, you really do have to know something about the object(s) being pilloried — in this case, the academic fads and fashions of the last half-century. And unfortunately, some of the material is dated. Nothing ages like university gossip.

So maybe the book does get a little long. Though the jokes are broad, the premise wears thin. These guys only do this once a year, so reading the book is like cramming all those years into one sitting. It’s a little hard to digest. And at the end, it’s still hard to decide on which one, latke or hamantashen, the smart money should bet.

Article courtesy the Forward.

David Kaufmann cooks for his family nightly in Washington, D.C.

 

Not Your Grandmother’s Macaroons


You knew this was bound to happen.

Just this past Purim, The Journal reported about how hamantashen were becoming a hot food delicacy outside of Jewish circles. Now, two enterprising Los Angeles-area women are bent on doing the same for yet another holiday dessert staple — the macaroon.

“They’re not just for Passover anymore!” is the official slogan of Melfer’s Macaroons, the West Los Angeles-based gourmet macaroon business founded by Melissa Sanders and Jennifer Klein. And we have Sanders’ uncle Sid to thank for the original chocolate macaroon family recipe.

“I was the only third-generation person baking,” recalls Sanders, 32, of her childhood. She was only 8 years old when she began baking batches of the delicious family treats.

Before long, Sanders was making the magical macaroons every holiday season and beyond. By the time she was attending McGill University in Montreal, Sanders was sending batches of her family holiday confection to friends at other colleges.

Sanders, who studied sociology at school, recently entered the gourmet macaroon business as “kind of a fluke.” One day, Klein, 36, asked Sanders for the macaroon recipe, and Sanders told Klein to come over and bake some. “I said OK, and we baked a few hundred,” Klein says.

Last December, Sanders and Klein tested the market waters by selling the macaroons at a Wyndham Bel Age charity event. The baked morsels went over well, and the women decided to enter into business together. The friends, who are both single, now spend a lot of time together baking up batches of 50 macaroons at a time, usually in five-hour spurts.

“I don’t think our friends realize the work that goes into it,” says Klein, whose day job is working as a freelance producer on commercials and shows, such as “America’s Most Wanted.” “They’ll say, ‘Oh, you’re baking today.’ But, we’re also packaging and marketing.”

There’s marketing and then there’s taste: The freshly baked treats live up to their promise — far superior to anything one might find on the supermarket shelves around Passover. Consider the exotic flavors Melfer’s offers: original chocolate, chocolate chip, white chocolate chip, chocolate truffle, chocolate cappuccino, chocolate orange, white chocolate pina colada.

There are also monthly novelty flavors. February’s was white chocolate raspberry, which capitalized on Valentine’s Day. Sanders and Klein even whipped up a batch of candy cane-flavored macaroons just this past Christmas.

These macaroons even look different — far more textured and attractive to the eye. Call it a Passover makeover.

Currently, Melfer’s Macaroons are only available through Vicente Foods and through the official Melfer’s Macaroons Web site. And if you’re allergic to chocolate, you need not apply. Melfer’s Macaroons’ gourmet flavors are all chocolate-based. However, the pair are working on a sugarless recipe for diabetics.

Melfer’s also produces gift baskets, which run in the $50-$83 range and contain a dozen macaroons packaged with an assortment of items, such as bubble bath, bath soaps and salts, champagne flutes, hot fudge and hot cocoa mix, gourmet coffee, herbal teas and salmon paté.

Although the macaroons are already made with only natural, kosher ingredients, the ladies are presently pursuing official kashrut certification for their mouthwatering morsels, so that they can get Melfer’s Macaroons into Los Angeles’ kosher stores.

Judging by the current word-of-mouth on their product, Sanders and Klein should be spending a lot more time together in the months to come.

“Thank God we haven’t become bored of each other yet,” Sanders says.

For more info visitwww.melfersmacaroons.com

Hamantashen Goes Mainstream


First it was bagels. Then rugelach. What’s the next Jewish food to go mainstream?

Could be hamantashen.

Hamantashen now can be seen next to mini-bundt cakes and lemon poppy-seed muffins in the display case of your local coffee shop.

Several large supermarket chains now carry them, and it’s no longer something they bring in just around Purim time. The triangular pastries — shaped to reflect the three-cornered hat of Purim villain Haman — increasingly are being sold year-round.

"It’s a staple," says Chris Calfa, who manages Lassen and Hennigs, a small gourmet food store in New York.

He carries them throughout the year and says he sells approximately a dozen a day.

"They’re definitely more popular than they used to be," says Renee Apostolou, who manages Prolific Oven, a local bakery and coffee shop in Palo Alto.

While the shop used to sell hamantashen only at Purim, about five years ago they began offering them year-round because of customer demand. People treat them just like any other cookie, Apostolou said.

"We fill ours with figs, so to them it’s like a Fig Newton," she says.

In Yiddish, the word "hamantashen" means "Haman’s pockets." According to "The Jewish Book of Why," this reflects a tradition that Haman filled his pockets with bribe money. The cookies are folded to form a pocket that is usually filled with poppy seeds, fruits, jam or nuts.

In Hebrew, the cookies are called "oznay Haman," or "Haman’s ears."

Many people apparently do not know that the cookies are connected with a specific Jewish holiday. Calfa, for example, was surprised to learn that hamantashen are connected with Purim.

"I had no idea," he says.

Tish Boyle, food editor of Pastry Art and Design Magazine, said she thinks the increasing popularity of hamantashen is due not only to new interest among non-Jews, but also among Jews who aren’t religious.

"They recognize the shape and are willing to buy it for nostalgic reasons," she says. "It’s like comfort food."

She also thinks non-Jewish bakeries may be making them because they’re easier to make than many other pastries.

"It’s an easy shape" to make, she says. They’re like little pies, but, "you don’t have to use a pie tin."

Joan Nathan, cookbook author and host of the weekly PBS program "Jewish Cooking in America," says the popularization of hamantashen has stripped them of their cultural meaning.

"I like the fact that you can only have hamantashen at Purim. To me that’s special," Nathan says.

The new year-round popularity of hamantashen is "like getting challah all days of the week," she says. "I don’t want to get challah all days of the week. I want it on [Shabbat]."

Among the stores where hamantashen have gone mainstream is Costco, a membership wholesale club where people can get discounts by buying products in bulk.

Like two other wholesale clubs, Sam’s Club and B.J.’s, Costco gets its hamantashen from David’s Cookies.

"Costco just got 140,000 pounds," says John Griner, the plant manager of David’s Cookies, which manufactures more than 6 million hamantashen a year.

The company sells most of its hamantashen to large supermarket chains and wholesale clubs.

Bob Goodman, who markets David’s Cookies to major supermarket chains, says supermarkets started carrying hamantashen to appeal to Jewish clients, but discovered that they appeal to non-Jews as well.

"One of our supermarket chains ordered about 14,000 packages in the past seven weeks. I can’t imagine that’s all for Jewish people," he said. "You don’t have to be Italian to like pasta sauce."

Many stores don’t even call the cookies hamantashen.

"Different places call them different names," Goodman says. "In New England, they call them ‘patriot hats’" — a reference to the three-cornered hats worn by Colonial-era Americans.

Jim Dolan, a vice president for retail sales for David’s Cookies, says his company markets hamantashen not as a Jewish product, but as a variation of the chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies that David’s Cookies is known for.

That’s because the company’s products weren’t kosher when David’s Cookies first opened in 1979.

Ari Margulies, an Orthodox Jew, bought the Fairfield, N.J. company in 1995 and made all of the cookies kosher.He kept the company’s predominantly non-Jewish client base, but began marketing Jewish products to them.

Margulies, who moved to the United States from London 10 years ago, hopes to make hamantashen even more popular than they already are, perhaps as ubiquitous as rugelach.

The smell of baking hamantashen fill the air of the factory. This is not a mom-and-pop operation. The flour is held in 18-foot-high metal containers that look like miniature grain silos. The dough is mixed in a 360-quart mixer.

In the weeks before Purim, Margulies’s factory dedicates half its operation to hamantashen.

To fill the flood of incoming orders, David’s Cookies has to bake hamantashen 24/6 — the factory is closed on Shabbat — for three weeks straight.

Hamantashen are more labor intensive than most cookies.

While the dough is rolled and cut into circles mechanically, the cookies must be filled, shaped and packed individually by hand.

While David’s Cookies produces some hamantashen under its own label, most of the cookies are produced for other companies, such as Rokeach, that sell them using their own names.

Raphi Salem sells them under his own label on his Web site, www.purim.com.

"Everyone says I sell the best hamantashen around," he says. "I feel like I’m fooling people, but then I tell them. No one ever minds."

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