Saturday, July 12, 2014 Tammuz 14, 5774

Bountiful Baskets

March 6, 2008 By:
Linda Morel, JE Feature
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Marcy Goldman still recalls the kind gesture on a Purim in the mid-1980s.

Her first son had come into the world with newborn jaundice and had to stay in the hospital after Goldman, author of A Passion for Baking (Oxmoor House, 2007), was discharged.

Reluctant to leave her baby -- he's now 22 and healthy -- Goldman spent some sleepless nights in the lounge nearby. Dismal, she calls those nights.

"But early one morning, three Orthodox ladies came with hamantashen, groggers and small cakes," recalls Goldman. "They sprinkled pennies and pastries around me. Like three angels, they gave me that gladness of feeling -- that very festive joy which Purim is known for."

Each year when the Megillah of Esther is read, Jews revisit the story of Haman, the wicked vizier who plotted to annihilate the Jews of ancient Persia, and instead was hung on the gallows he had built for his intended victims, thanks largely to the help of Queen Esther. Much relieved, her Uncle Mordechai asked the Jewish community to turn Purim into days of feasting and gladness. He implored Jews to send gifts to one another and donate money to the poor.

Jews to this day give charity, or tzedakah, to worthwhile causes and convey gift baskets, or mishloach manot, of baked goods, wine and other delicacies to family and friends. They also send them to the needy, and those new to a community or whose spirits need bolstering.

As a recipient of this kind of compassion, Goldman, a pastry chef and master baker, believes that everyone can sprinkle joy as easily as confectioners' sugar. You just need an oven; she'll help with the rest.

"At Purim," insists Goldman, "it's especially meaningful to bake. Besides the fact that most pastries don't taste as good prepared outside of the home, Purim is a holiday about giving, and baking is about giving of the spirit."

Hamantashen -- homemade or otherwise -- for centuries has been the heart of Purim presents among Ashkenazim. But with the advent of the Internet, many people buy professionally prepared gift packages revolving around themes, such as breakfast fare, healthy snacks, or pita bread and Middle Eastern cuisine.

Although Jewish law permits engaging an agent, such as a store or company, to distribute gift baskets, a business cannot duplicate the homemade flair or assemble gifts with feeling.

Since themes are popular and everyone appreciates the warmth of a cozy breakfast, make this the year to bake muffins, scones and coffee cake for family and friends.

Though Goldman is an award-winning cookbook author, she remains a home baker at heart. She has plenty of advice for those who fear baking.

"Look for recipes where the batter is mixed in one bowl," she says of the fuss-free, time-saving technique. Many one-bowl recipes yield impressive results.

"Make an easy dough," she adds. "Prepare a lot of one thing. Instead of attempting to bake four different pastries, make four batches of one recipe."

Give limited amounts of the batches to each person or family on your list, she suggests, then add thoughtful extras that personalize each basket based on the recipient's interests or taste.

Some examples: For tea-lovers, include an assortment of fragrant teas, a tea-bag caddy and a tea infuser. Avid readers might enjoy a new novel, bookmarks or magazine subscriptions.

Goldman claims that on her Web site, Betterbaking.com, she receives more traffic on Purim than at any other time during the year, even though it is a mainstream site.

"People who don't bake find a way to rise to the occasion at Purim," she says.

Goldman also is full of ideas on presenting these breakfast treats with style. One is to use attractive tins. With open containers, such as baskets, she suggests wrapping with yards of cellophane that can be purchased in a rainbow of colors at stores that sell gift wrap.

Loaf-pans work well as containers, as do colorful mixing bowls, large Chinese take-out boxes (from dollar and/or party stores), flower pots, platters (bought on sale or at thrift shops) or any offbeat vessel.

People love to be surprised by unusual packaging. No two gifts have to be presented the same way, nor do they have to contain identical extras.

Here are some extras that complement breakfast pastries: honey or jam, pancake mix, maple syrup, granola, a small breakfast cookbook, coffee or mugs. The day's newspaper might be a nice touch, too.

Like the three women who one morning long ago showered Goldman with pastries and pennies, you, too, can be the sunshine that brightens someone's day.

Lemon-Yogurt Poppy-Seed Muffins

(Dairy)

A traditional Purim ingredient, poppy seeds lend crunch to these muffins, which stay fresh for days. You can make them extra large for a splashy presentation or in miniature for small "mishloach manot" containers.

Batter Ingredients:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
11/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsps. pure vanilla extract
juice of 1 lemon
zest of 1 lemon, finely minced
1 tsp. pure lemon extract
1 cup plain yogurt
21/4 to 21/2 cups all-purpose flour
21/2 tsps. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2-4 Tbsps. poppy seeds

Lemon-Syrup Ingredients:

3/4 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon extract
1 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 375°. Arrange oven rack to middle position.

Line a large 12-cup muffin pan or a 24-cup mini-muffin pan with appropriately sized paper liners and place pan on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

In a mixer bowl, cream butter until smooth and creamy.

Blend in sugar and then eggs, vanilla, lemon juice, zest, lemon extract and yogurt. Blend well; fold in flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and poppy seeds.

For large muffins, use a large ice-cream scoop to scoop a generous amount of batter into prepared muffin cups. Make sure you load muffin cups full, but deposit one muffin first as a tester -- batter should stay in place. If it topples over, add a bit more flour to the remaining batter. For mini muffins, use a mini ice-cream scoop to fill muffin cups.

For large muffins, bake until nicely browned around the edges and muffins are set, about 28 to 32 minutes. For mini- muffins, bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until muffins spring back when gently pressed with fingertips.

To make the Lemon Syrup, simmer water, lemon juice, extract and sugar over low heat for 5 minutes. Cool well.

Brush baked poppy-seed muffins 2 or 3 times with the Lemon Syrup while they are still warm.

Let cool 5 minutes before removing from pan.

Makes 12 large muffins or 24 mini-muffins.

 

Blueberry-and-Cream Mall Muffins

(Dairy)

No mixer is necessary for these gems with wonderful domed tops, just like you get at the mall, or for mini muffins, which fit nicely into small containers for "mishloach manot" gifts.

nonstick cooking spray
21/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
4 large eggs
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. each pure lemon and orange extract, optional
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups semi-frozen blueberries
sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 425°.

Arrange oven rack to middle position, which is the upper third of most ovens.

Generously spray a 12-cup large or standard muffin pan or a 24-cup small muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray, and then line with paper muffin liners. Place pan on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

In a small mixer bowl, blend sugar with oil and butter.

Briskly add eggs, vanilla and other extracts.

Fold in 4 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Blend somewhat before next blending in buttermilk and sour cream. Batter should be thick; if not, add a touch more flour.

Gently fold in berries with a spatula, trying not to break them apart.

For big mall muffins, use a large ice-cream scoop to scoop a very large amount of batter into prepared muffin cups, loading them as full as you can. You need almost a scoop-and-a-half of batter per cup. For mini-muffins, use a mini ice-cream scoop.

Dust tops of muffins with a little sugar.

For big mall muffins, bake 15 minutes at 425°; then reduce oven temperature to 350° and bake until muffins are golden-brown and spring back when gently pressed with fingertips, about 12 to 16 more minutes.

For mini muffins, bake at 375° until muffins spring back when gently pressed with fingers, about 22 to 25 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before removing from pan.

Makes 12 large mall muffins or 24 mini muffins.

 

Betterbaking.com's Famous Breakfast Scones

(Dairy)

As a "mishloach manot" gift, these wholesome scones can be presented inside an oversized coffee mug.

zest of 1 small orange
21/2 tsps. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
21/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter or canola oil
1/4 cup honey
2 Tbsps. maple syrup
2 large eggs
1 cup (or a bit more) buttermilk, soured milk or loose plain yogurt
1 cup granola cereal, a particularly fiber-filled brand
1/3 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup cornmeal
2 Tbsps. ground flax seed
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried sour cherries or cranberries
1/2 cup frozen raspberries, blueberries or diced apple
Finishing touches: milk for brushing, flour or granola for dusting, warm honey for drizzling

Preheat oven to 400°.

Have oven rack set up in upper-third oven position. Stack together 2 baking sheets and line top sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, blend orange zest, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, brown sugar and whole-wheat flour. Cut in butter or drizzle oil.

Make a well in center, and add the honey, maple syrup, eggs and most of buttermilk. Mix it halfway through and then fold in granola, oats, cornmeal, flax seed, sunflower seeds, nuts and fruit.

Stir with a fork to make a soft batter, adding more buttermilk, if mixture seems dry and doesn't hold together.

Use an ice-cream scoop to deposit scones on baking sheets.

Brush with milk, dust with flour or granola, or some brown sugar or flax seeds, or leave plain.

Bake 17 to 20 minutes, until scones are nicely browned.

Brush with warm honey as scones come out of the oven, if desired.

Makes 12 to 14 small to medium scones.

 

Breakfast Cafe Cinnamon-Crumb Cake

(Dairy)

This fragrant spice cake is easy and delicious. It's a tender cake that can be divided into individual servings and sealed in plastic wrap for "mishloach manot" gifts.

nonstick cooking spray
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
21/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsps. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 large egg
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
confectioners' sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350°.

Generously spray a 9- or 10-inch springform pan or a 13-by-9-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Place the pan on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

In a mixer bowl, blend butter, flour, both sugars, salt, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and nutmeg.

Remove 3/4 cup of this mixture, and add chopped nuts and remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon to it. Set aside to become crumb topping.

To batter remaining in mixer bowl, add baking powder, baking soda, egg, vanilla and buttermilk. Using a hand whisk, blend well.

Spoon batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle on reserved crumb topping.

Bake until the cake tests done and springs back when gently pressed with fingertips, about 40 to 45 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Dust with confectioners' sugar.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

 

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