Purim, the most jubilant holiday in the Jewish calendar, is a celebration of the defeat of Haman and his heinous plan to exterminate the Jews. It's a holiday where in synagogues all over the world, there's dressing up, drinking and dancing till you're dizzy -- this is a holiday where it's permitted to get drunk.
Shalach manot baskets sent to neighbors and family are a meaningful part of the celebration. The custom dates back to the time of Mordecai, Queen Esther's uncle, who instructed Jews to celebrate their freedom by "sending portions to one another and as gifts to the poor."
Today, the custom reaches beyond families and neighborhoods. Synagogues prepare the baskets as fundraisers, and to support Israel, you can mail-order baskets brimming with Israeli chocolates, fruits and wine to send anywhere you like.
This year, consider a selection of homemade savories as well as sweets. Arrange the tidbits (for they should be small) on a napkin or a covered tray. Dollar stores sell pretty plastic and reusable plates that may be made part of the Purim gift. Then there's no need to ask for the plate to be returned.
A wonderful addition to shalach manot plates are petit fours, which may refer to any bite-sized sweet or pastries but are most often tiny iced cakes served at the end of a meal. In French, petit fours literally mean "small ovens." It was an economical way to use up leftovers while the ovens cooled down at the end of the day's baking.
As you'll see in the recipes below, with the help of some store-bought items, they're not as difficult to make as they sound. Petit fours consist of a firm sponge or pound cake soaked with a syrup, sandwiched with a filling, such as lemon curd, strawberry jam or buttercream, then bathed in a white or chocolate glaze or a tinted frosting.
Decorate with edible silver balls, candied violets or rose petals, or pipe on a rosette of delicately tinted frosting.
Petit Fours, Simple-Style
Pound cake absorbs the syrup and stands up to filling, cutting and decorating. Before using, pound cake should be refrigerated for at least 3 to 4 hours.
1 store-bought (approx. 11 oz.) pound cake
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
3/4 cup strawberry or other jam, warmed
chocolate glaze (see below)
candied violets, edible silver balls or tinted frosting
Cut thin slices from the top and sides of the cake so that the brown layers are removed and the cake resembles a brick. (Crumble the slices and toast. Freeze for later use to top fruit salads, puddings or fold into ice cream).
Cut the cake in half, lengthwise, with a serrated knife. Place the trimmed cake on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet.
To Prepare Syrup: In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water stirring to dissolve the sugar. Bring to boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat, stir in the maple syrup. Simmer 3 minutes longer. Cool.
To Assemble: Using a pastry brush, generously brush the bottom cake layer with the sugar syrup. Spread a thin layer of jam over it, making sure the jam comes to the edges. Gently press the remaining cake layer on top as in a sandwich. Brush generously with the syrup allowing it to soak in.
Cut the cake into six 1-inch-wide slices. Then cut each slice into three, crosswise, making 18 pieces. Arrange the pieces on the wire rack about 1-inch apart. Using a measuring cup, pour the warm glaze over and around the sides of each little cake. Use a small spatula or butter knife to reach any bare spots.
Decorate each with silver balls, a candied violet or rose petal, or with a rosette of tinted frosting. Or just frost the top of each cake and decorate as desired. Refrigerate until needed.
Makes 18 cakes.
1 oz. (8 squares) dark chocolate, chopped
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 Tbsp. corn syrup
Place the chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover loosely with wax paper. Cook on high for 2 minutes. Add the corn syrup. Stir and cook on high for 1 to 2 minutes longer or until the chocolate is glossy and soft and butter is melted. Stir to blend to a smooth mixture. Use immediately.
Food Editor's Tips:
· To make rosettes, spoon frosting into a small plastic bag cutting off one small corner, (about 1/4-inch). Press the frosting through to make little rosettes.
· For tinted frosting: add 2 drops food coloring to 1/2 cup prepared frosting. Mix well.
· Extra glaze that drips off onto the baking sheet may be reheated and reapplied. Strain if the glaze is full of crumbs.
Approximate nutrients per piece: calories, 253; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 38; fat, 11 g; cholesterol, 39 mg; sodium, 98 mg.
Black and White Brownie Bites
1 stick unsalted butter, cut in 6-7 pieces
1 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup, plus 2 Tbsps., sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 tsp. lemon extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup mini-semisweet chocolate chips
confectioners sugar to dust (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a 9-inch-square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
In a heavy bottomed, medium pan, place the butter and white chocolate chips. Heat over low heat, stirring often until chocolate is completely melted and mixture is smooth.
Remove from heat. Stir in the sugar. Cool slightly. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, and the lemon extract. Add the flour, mixing well. Stir in the mini-chocolate chips.
Pour into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 35 minutes or until golden and center is barely firm when lightly pressed. Cool for 30 minutes. Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours before cutting into small squares. Dust with confectioners sugar before serving (optional).
Makes 20 brownies.
Approximate nutrients per piece: calories, 190; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 25 g; fat, 10 g; cholesterol, 35 mg; sodium, 16 mg.
Mango Coconut Cubes
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup mango juice
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup dried flaked coconut
1/2 cup farina
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
11/2 tsps. baking powder
2 Tbsps. grated lime rind
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 lime and finely chopped pistachios to garnish
Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a 9-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, mix the sugar, oil, mango juice and eggs. Stir in the coconut, farina, flour, baking powder and lime rind.
Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until firm in center. Cool while preparing the syrup.
In a small heavy saucepan, mix the sugar and water. Squeeze the juice from the lime half, adding the squeezed half to the mixture. Stir to dissolve the sugar and bring to boil over high heat. Lower heat to medium-low and continue cooking for 7 minutes.
Cut the cake into squares or diamond shapes. Remove any seeds in the syrup. Pour the sugar syrup over the cake. Garnish with chopped pistachios. Serve at room temperature.
Makes 20 cubes.
Approximate nutrients per piece: calories, 161; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 44 g; fat, 8 g; cholesterol, 31 mg; sodium, 48 mg.
Piquant Salmon Tartlets
3/4 cup canned salmon, well drained
1/4 cup finely shredded pepper jack cheese
1/4 cup low-fat sour cream
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill or 1 tsp. dried
15 mini-fillo tartlets (1.9-oz. package)
fresh parsley sprigs or dill for garnish (optional)
In a medium bowl, flake the salmon with a fork. Stir in the cheese, sour cream, mustard, lemon juice and dill. Mixture should be soft enough to easily heap into the tartlets. If too stiff, add more sour cream or a little milk. Spoon into tartlet shells. Garnish. Refrigerate until needed.
Approximate nutrients per tartlet: calories, 46; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 2 g; fat, 3 g; cholesterol, 8 mg; sodium, 93 mg.
Dizengoff Deviled Eggs
I recently discovered, and loved, the flavors of this lively variation accompanied by soft, warm pita bread at a Dizengoff sidewalk café.
6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
4 Tbsps. mayonnaise
3 Tbsps. hummus
1-2 Tbsps. finely chopped celery
1 Tbsp. (rounded) chopped black olives
salt and pepper to taste
paprika to sprinkle
Cut eggs lengthwise in half. Slip the yolks out into a bowl. Mash with a fork.
Stir in the mayonnaise, hummus, celery and olives. Mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Fill the egg whites with the mixture, heaping lightly. Sprinkle with paprika. Refrigerate before arranging on platters. Deliver as soon as possible. Do not allow to remain at room temperature longer than 30 to 40 minutes.
Makes 12 pieces.
Approximate nutrients per piece: calories, 88; protein, 4 g; carbohydrates, 1 g; fat, 8 g; cholesterol, 109 mg; sodium, 85 mg.
Editor's Tip: Cut a very thin slice from the bottom of each egg white half so that they stand firmly on a platter. Chop the slices finely and add to filling mixture.
Ethel G. Hofman is a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.