Celebrating the Fruit of the Carob Tree on Israel's Bonfire Holiday

Legend holds that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai fled the Romans and hid in a cave for 13 years, eating nothing but carob. Thus a Lag Ba'omer holiday tradition was born. Two sweet recipes.

Carob, orange and pistachio rugelach.
Vered Guttman

One of the stories related to Lag Ba’Omer, the Jewish holiday celebrated today, is that of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Bar Yochai was one of Rabbi Akiva’s diciples who fled the Romans after they conquered Jerusalem in the 2nd century AD. He lived in hiding in a cave in the northern village of Peki’in with his son for 13 years. The legend holds that the two survived solely on the fruits of a carob tree and water from a small spring. It is believed that during his stay in the cave Rabbi Bar Yochai wrote the Zohar, the main book of the Jewish Kabbalah.

The tradition of eating carob on Lag Ba’omer is observed mainly by the Chabad movement, but carob trees grow all over Israel, and the fruits have always been a quick snack for kids, picked straight off the branches of the tree.

More commonly found carob products include powder, chips, “chocolate” bars, Middle Eastern carob molasses and the occasional dried carob pods available in some Israeli supermarkets. Lag Ba’omer is a good excuse to bake with this delicious natural ingredient.

Carob balls

This recipe is a version of a classic Israeli kids' treat, chocolate balls, which first appeared in a children’s cookbook by Ruth Sirkis in the 1970’s. As simple as it is to prepare, it is nevertheless one of the best children's sweets out there.

Petit Beurre biscuits are available in the cookie section and the kosher aisle of most supermarkets. You can also find them at kosher supermarkets.

Carob powder is available at health food supermarkets.

Yields about 30 carob balls.

Ingredients:
7 oz. Petit Beurre biscuits
1/2 cup carob powder
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup milk
1 cup shredded coconut

Carob Balls.
Vered Guttman

Directions:
1. Put biscuits in a large bag such as a ziplock bag, and lightly beat with a rolling pin or a meat tenderizer to create rice-size crumbs. Transfer to a large bowl.

2. Add carob powder and sugar to the bowl, and mix. Add butter and milk, and mix thoroughly using your hands. Cover with plastic wrap and transfer to the fridge for 20-30 minutes.

3. In the meantime, heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Spread shredded coconut over a baking sheet and bake for 4-5- minutes until medium-brown in color. Cool on a rack.

4. Transfer coconut to a small bowl. Create 1-inch balls out of the carob mixture and roll them in the coconut. Arrange on a tray, cover with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes before serving (if you can resist for that long!) Keep in the fridge up to 4 days.

Carob, orange and pistachio rugelach

This recipe is based on an old Bon Appetit recipe for rugelach, but with a different filling. This combination of carob chips, dates, orange marmalade, pistachio and cardamom is more Israeli.

Yields 32 rugelach.

For the dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 ounces chilled cream cheese, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

For the filling:
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg
3/4 cup orange marmalade (or apricot jam)
1/2 cup carob chips
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup finely chopped pistachio
1/4 cup whipping cream

Preparation:

1. Prepare the dough: Blend first 3 ingredients in food processor. Add butter and cream cheese, and mix using the pulse button until a dough begins to form. Gather dough into a ball. Divide dough into 4 equal pieces; flatten into disks. Wrap each in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.    

2. For the filling: Line large baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix sugar and spices in a small bowl. Roll out 1 dough disk on floured surface to a 9-inch round. Spread 3 tablespoons of orange marmalade over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons carob chips, then 2 tablespoons chopped dates, 2 tablespoons spiced sugar and 2 tablespoons pistachio. Press filling firmly so it adheres to the dough.

3. Cut dough round into 8 equal wedges. Starting at the wide end of each wedge, roll up tightly. Arrange rugelach, tip side down, on prepared baking sheet, spacing 1 1/2  inches apart and bending slightly to form crescents. Repeat with remaining dough disks. Place baking sheet in freezer for 45 minutes.

4. Position rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius). Brush cookies lightly with whipping cream. Bake frozen rugelach until golden brown, about 35-40 minutes. Transfer rugelach to cooling racks and cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.