hamantaschen zb 08

Before I moved to Minnesota, my husband and I lived in Burlington, VT, which we considered a suburb of Montreal. When our small college town felt as if it would pop at the seams, we’d jump in the car and drive to Canada. We’d make the rounds of foods we couldn’t find in Vermont, like Montreal bagels at Fairmont, smoked meat at Schwartz’s and hamantaschen at a Jewish bakery, the name of which, I am sorry to say, has escaped me. The bagels and smoked meat are specialties of the city, and reason enough to visit Montreal. Hamantaschen can be found in any city, at most Jewish delis and bakeries, especially during the holiday of Purim. Making these triangular cookies is easy and in my humble opinion, better than most that I’ve sampled, including those in Montreal. The dough I use is the soft, rich, tender variety, the same one I use for rugelach, as opposed to the firm, crumbly, shortbread style dough, which is also common with this cookie. This dough is simple to work with and has a lovely texture and lemony flavor, which is a great partner to the poppy seed filling. Just like a rugelach, there are as many fillings as there are ovens, but the most traditional are poppy seed and prune. I went traditional here, but added some other dried fruits to the mix. If my fillings are not to your liking the cookies are fantastic with raspberry preserves, chocolate, apricot, lemon curd or anything else you are craving.

The shape of these cookies is said to represent the three-cornered hat of Haman, the diabolical villain who tried to take down the Jews in ancient Persia. Other stories say that hamantaschen (which translates “Haman’s pouch”) symbolizes his purse, which he tried to use as a payoff for permission to destroy the Jews. Haman’s sinister plans were thwarted and the story ends well with the celebration of Purim, where these tasty pastries are normally served. But, I think you should enjoy them way more often than that. (more…)

Read More

7 Layer Cake for Passover (Matzo Sponge Cake with Poppyseed Buttercream)

Passover Cake

Next week is the beginning of Passover. I love this holiday for the ritual, the gathering of wonderful people and the challenge to come up with new desserts worthy of the day. This cake was inspired by a conversation I had with Deb Perelman about Dobos Tortes, which is a cake made up of many layers (7 to be exact) of sponge cake, separated with chocolate buttercream and topped with a layer of caramel. It is a style of cake that is claimed by many cultures, each with a different name depending on heritage or the state you are standing in. Dobos Torte (Hungarian), Deberge Cake (New Orleans), Seven-Layer (I think of this as a Jewish cake from New York, but as soon as I write this, I’m sure I’ll hear from folks who will correct me) and Drum cake (I’ve never heard it called this before, but just read it on Wikipedia).

Purists beware, my cake is so loosely based on the cake I described above, that it will make some of you squirm. Stick with me, give it another name if you need to, but try this version, it is delicious. One of my very favorite Jewish desserts are poppy seed hamantashen, which I need to make for you soon. They are cookies stuffed with sweetened poppy seeds. I thought the poppy seeds would be a fantastic match for the layers of orange scented sponge cake and chocolate buttercream. It is also stunning to cut into the cake and see the speckled icing. I left off the caramel top and added chocolate shavings. But, if you want to add a bit of caramel, for tradition sake, then why not make a batch of my Caramel Matzo and use it to decorate the top.

Baking cakes without flour is something of a magic trick. The only saving grace to the baker during Passover is matzo cake meal, and it can be a touch overbearing if used all on its own. To create a sponge cake that is both delicious and light, adding a bit of potato starch to the recipe is key. (more…)

Read More