Sweet Treats for Mimouna Togetherness

For those who do not know, Mimouna is a holiday celebrated by Moroccan Jews immediately after the close of Passover - this year, beginning next Wednesday evening, April 3.

For those who do not know, Mimouna is a holiday celebrated by Moroccan Jews immediately after the close of Passover - this year, beginning next Wednesday evening, April 3. Unlike Passover, which is charged with religious meaning, this is a festival devoted to the celebration of community, friendship, togetherness and hospitality. Mimouna is celebrated by throwing one's home open to friends, neighbors and even strangers, with public parties, and by sharing - a large portion of that sharing involving food. Mimouna is thus clearly all about encouraging peace, kindness and human warmth. It also centers around making music, singing and dancing.

Many of the celebrants dress in traditional Moroccan garb, making the holiday seem somewhat "exotic" to those not raised in the tradition. Yet to those who take part, there is nothing at all exotic about the customs and symbols involved.

Whether served in private homes, neighborhood-wide parties, or even at celebrations held in huge tents to which all are welcome, food plays a major role in this holiday, for there are few better ways of sharing than by breaking bread together. And what is shared is far more than bread for the festive tables will invariably be covered with white tablecloths and laden with milk or buttermilk, flour, eggs, honey, fruits, butter, sweets, dates, coins, beans and nuts. The dairy-based holiday specialties are mostly sweets - especially mofleta, which is the first leavened bread eaten after the Passover holiday.

Mofleta

Adapted from Claudia Roden's "The Book of Jewish Food" (Knopf, 1996)

3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. dry yeast

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. sugar

about 1 cup lukewarm water

2 tbsp. olive oil

butter and honey for serving

In a bowl, combine the flour, yeast, salt and sugar. Make a well in the center and add enough water to make a ball. Knead on a lightly floured board for 10 minutes or until silky and elastic, using the heels of your hands. Turn into an oiled bowl. Cover with a clean towel and let rise until the dough has doubled in size. Punch dough down. Take pieces the size of an egg, and roll out as thinly as possible on a lightly oiled surface.

Heat a small oiled, non-stick skillet (a crepe pan is ideal) over medium-low heat. Fry each mofleta for 2 minutes. Flip over and cook another minute until both sides are pale brown. Wrap in a clean cloth to keep soft. Eat as soon as possible as they quickly become tough. Serve with a tub of sweet butter and honey to spread over. Yields 20 pieces.

Nougat ice cream with honey and figs

Adapted from a recipe by the Roux brothers

40 gr. slivered almonds

60 gr. sugar

For the meringue:

30 gr. sugar

60 gr. clear honey

15 gr. glucose

3 egg whites

150 ml. heaviest possible sweet cream

60 gr. assorted soft candied fruits, finely diced 6 very ripe fresh figs

1 tbsp. oil, for greasing pan

Prepare the nougat by spreading the almonds on a baking sheet. Place these in an oven that has been preheated to 200 degrees Celsius (400 degrees F.) and heat until they are lightly colored, taking care not to let them brown too much.

Place the sugar in a saucepan and dissolve over a medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spatula until pale golden in color. Add the toasted almonds, stir well and heat for 10-15 seconds. Pour onto a lightly oiled baking sheet and let cool for 30 minutes. When completely cold, crush with a rolling pin.

To make the meringue: In a very clean pan combine the sugar, honey and glucose. Set over a low heat and dissolve, skimming the surface if necessary. Wash the inside of the pan with a brush dipped in cold water and then increase the heat. Insert a sugar thermometer into the mixture to check the temperature and when the temperature of the sugar reaches 110 Celsius (230 degrees F.), beat the egg whites until firm, add a pinch of sugar and beat until very stiff.

When the sugar temperature reaches 125 degrees Celsius (255 degrees F.), pour the cooked sugar into the egg whites, still beating at a medium speed. Once well blended, continue to beat until the mixture is very smooth and has cooled to about 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees F.). Set aside at room temperature.

Whip the cream until it holds soft peaks.

Pour the meringue into the cream, and then add the candied fruits and nougat. Mix carefully and thoroughly, using a spatula. Divide the mixture between 6-8 small cake tins or molds (about 8 cm. in diameter and 3 cm. deep). Place in the freezer for 2-3 hours at least.

To serve, unmold the ice cream onto well chilled serving plates. Serve plain or with a creme anglaise spooned over. (Serves 6-8)