Purim is just around the corner, and it’s time to start assembling sweets for the mitzvah of mishloach manot — gift baskets, traditionally filled with sweets, that are sent to your friends and family for the holiday. Think of it as the Jewish version of the Christmas cookie exchange, only better: Each cookie has its history in the Jewish Diaspora, and sometimes a secret meaning (eating Haman’s ears!). But more than anything else, we have poppy seeds!
Below are recipes for more Purim classics. Hungarian kifli are crescent-shaped pastries filled with a sweet filling of poppy seeds, milk and honey. The dough is made with yeast, although more recent Hungarian versions use baking powder and sour cream and are more similar to American rugelach. In Hungary, kifli are served on Christmas or just with coffee every day of the year. In Israel, they are similar to the poppy-seed filled hamantaschen made by Hungarian Jews.
Date-filled roulade cookies are a take on a classic Northern African sweet, and the marzipan filled rice wrap cigars are a gluten free, updated version of a Northern African classic.
Hungarian poppy seed crescents (kifli)
The classic filling for these yeast dough crescents is poppy seeds cooked in milk and honey. But you can also try them with the filling from the marzipan cigars below.
The yeast in the dough is meant to give it a bit of elasticity; it does not actually rise.
Poppy seeds are available in bulk online, and at most Eastern European and Middle Eastern supermarkets. Alternately, you can buy four jars of poppy seeds from the spice rack at any chain supermarket.
Yields 15-18 small pastries
2 cups flour
1 tablespoons instant dry yeast or active dry yeast
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup warm milk
2 eggs, divided
1 stick (8 tablespoons) soft butter
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
For the filling:
8 oz. poppy seeds
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sugar
Grated zest of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup vanilla cookie crumbs or tea biscuit crumbs
1/4 cup golden raisins
1. Put flour, dry yeast and powdered sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and mix for a minute. With mixer on medium-low speed, add milk and then one egg, and mix until incorporated, about 2 minutes. Stop mixer and use a spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. Add butter spoon by spoon, and then add salt and mix the dough for 6 minutes on medium speed. Transfer dough to a lightly floured bowl, cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge for 3 hours or up to a night.
2. In the meantime, prepare the filling. Grind poppy seeds in a spice mill, running each portion twice on the finest setting. You can also grind it in a dry-blade container in your blender (such as Vitamix). Just grind until poppy seeds become dark black.
3. Put milk, butter, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla extract in a small pot over medium heat and bring to a boil. Add ground poppy seeds, mix and cook for about 5 minutes. Add cookie crumbs and raisins, mix again and remove from heat. Keep aside until cool.
4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
5. Lightly flour a small working surface and a rolling pin. Divide dough into 1 1/2-inch balls. Roll each ball into an ellipse, about 7 inches long and 4 inches wide. Arrange a spoonful of the filling along the length of the ellipse, leaving half an inch on each side. Cover the filling with one side of the dough, then with the other, rolling it to a long, 7 inch snake with pointy ends. Bend roll into a crescent shape, and put on the baking sheet. Continue with the rest of the dough, leaving 1 inch between the crescents on the baking sheet.
6. Beat remaining egg in a small cup and brush crescents. Bake for 20-22 minutes, until top is dark golden. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.
Date and walnut roulade-shaped cookies
Date filled roulade cookies are very popular in Israel, especially before Purim.
These cookies are easy to make if you can get store-bought date spread. It is available only at Kosher stores. Pressed dates from Middle Eastern stores are good too, although they’re harder to spread. The recipe below includes simple instructions for making date spread yourself.
Yields about 25 cookies
12 oz. pitted dates
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3/4 cup toasted walnuts
2 cups flour, plus more for the work surface
1/4 cup farina or semolina (can substitute with regular flour)
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) soft butter
1/3 cup orange juice
Powdered sugar for dusting
1. Soak dates in boiling water for 30 minutes and strain well. Put in a food processor with brown sugar and process until very smooth. Keep aside.
2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (160 degrees Celsius). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
3. Put walnuts in a plastic bag and crush them into small pieces using a rolling pin. Set aside.
4. To make the dough, put flour, farina, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a food processor and blend for a minute. Add butter and orange juice, and process to make crumbs. Transfer to a large bowl and knead dough with your hands to create a ball.
5. Lightly flour working surface and rolling pin. Divide dough into two, then roll one half into a thin 10-by-13-inch rectangle. Spread half the date mixture on the rolled dough, leaving half an inch clean near the longer edge. Sprinkle with walnut pieces. Start rolling lengthwise towards the clean long edge, to create a 13-inch-long roulade. Gently transfer to the baking sheet. Using a sharp knife, make slits in roulade, 3/4 inch apart. Repeat with second half of dough.
6. Bake for 25 minutes, until golden at the bottom. Cool on a cool rack. Dust with powdered sugar and cut to slices to serve.
Marzipan and roasted nut cigars in rice paper (gluten free)
This is a gluten-free take on phyllo dough cigars, a classic Northern African sweet. Rice paper wrappers, generally used for spring rolls, are easy to use, and this recipe makes the cigars crunchy by frying them in butter and dipping them into sugar-lemon syrup.
Rice paper wrappers are available at Asian supermarkets and some health food markets.
Yields about 18 cigars
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup toasted walnuts
3/4 cup toasted hazelnuts
7 oz. marzipan
1/4 cup chopped candied orange peel or dried sour cherries
18 round rice paper wrappers
4 tablespoons butter
1. Make a sugar syrup: Put sugar, 3/4 cup water and lemon juice into a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Simmer for 5 minutes over medium-low heat, then set aside to cool.
2. Mix walnuts and hazelnuts in a food processor and chop into small, rice-size pieces. Transfer to a medium bowl. Crumble marzipan with your hands and add to the bowl along with the candied orange peel, and mix well. Create eighteen thin, 2 1/2-inch-long cigars out of the nut mixture, pressing them with your hands to keep their shape.
3. Prepare a large bowl with warm water, and a large baking sheet. Dip rice wrappers into water until pliable, one by one (follow package instructions). Lay one wrapper on a work surface, and put the nut cigar on the bottom third of the wrapper. Fold both sides on top of the filling, then fold the bottom on top of it and roll upward to create a wrapped cigar. Transfer to a baking sheet. Continue with the rest of the wrappers. Make sure to leave space between cigars on the baking sheet.
4. Heat two tablespoons butter in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Put saucepan with sugar syrup next to it. Fry 6 cigars in butter for about 2 minutes, frying for 1 minute per side. Transfer cigars directly into the sugar syrup to coat, and then return to the baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the cigars, adding more butter to the pan as needed.
5. Now fry sugar-dipped cigars again in the butter, for 2 extra minutes each, and then return to the baking sheet.
6. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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