ARTICLES BY NORENE GILLETZ  

Creative Gift Baskets for Purim
by Norene Gilletz

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This article originally appeared in the Orthodox Union's weekly e-newsletter, Shabbat Shalom (www.ou.org/shabbat)

If you feel like a basket case as Purim approaches and are searching for interesting items for your shaloach manot gift baskets, read on! You'll find lots of tasty treats that are sure to please family and friends. Your baskets will runneth over!

The best-known treat for Purim is hamantaschen, those scrumptious three-cornered pastries shaped like Haman's three-cornered hat. Everyone has their own special recipe, ranging from crisp cookie dough to tender yeast dough. The delectable dough encases a variety of fillings, depending on your family's tradition.

Divine Kosher CuisineTwo mavens in the art of hamantaschen-making are Rise' Routenberg and Barbara Wasser. They are the co-authors and recipe editors of the award winning cookbook, Divine™ Kosher Cuisine: Catering to Family & Friends, a congregational project of Congregation Aguadat Achim, Niskayuna, NY. The recipe co-ordinator was Arlene Mendelson, who handled the huge project and was in charge of arranging the tasting, testing and taking care of all the minute details that go into the making of a cookbook.

The dedicated teamwork of the many congregants produced a magnificent cookbook that is very much like the intricate needlepoint tapestry pictured on the cover of Divine™ Kosher Cuisine. The tapestry hangs in the foyer just outside the synagogue sanctuary.

Rise' (pronounced Risa) and Barbara compiled the recipes and contributed greatly to the recipe base from their own personal collections, and especially from the secret, never-before-revealed and much sought after recipes of As You Like It Kosher Catering, which has been in business for over 35 years (the two women were co-leaders of the catering business for many years). About half of the recipes in Divine™ Kosher Cuisine are a compilation of these secret recipes; the rest of the recipes were submitted by 150 or more congregants.

When I spoke with Risé on the phone and asked her for some unique, creative items that could be used to fill Purim baskets, she didn't hesitate and suggested the following tried and true recipes.

Rise' told me: "These are great recipes for Purim baskets because they don't require refrigeration and they package very nicely in plastic wrap or baggies. Every one of these recipes is simple to prepare.

"We usually made all the hamentashen and another committee would package them. We would make about 4,000 hamantaschen in about 2 days! The secret to our success is doing them assembly-line fashion in the synagogue's commercial kitchen that has large commercial ovens, equipment and mixers - not in someone's home. We made several batches of dough at a time and we always made the dough ahead of time. This dough is nice and firm and not dry.

"We discovered that the congregants who purchased them liked traditional fillings best. The most popular ones are usually the red jelly and apricot fillings. Not as many people like prune, but the poppy seed filling is just as popular as the fruit fillings. Our Double Chocolate Filling is always very popular. It's our own recipe that we formulated until we got it to bake nicely so it wouldn't dry out. I only like the chocolate ones, but my co-author Barbara Wasser's  favorite filling is prune."

Divine™ Kosher Cuisine was the 2006 MidAtlantic Region winner of the Tabasco- McIlhenny Award. To order, visit www.divinekosher.com or phone 518-344-1190. Please note that this is NOT the phone number to order hamantaschen or your mishloach manot baskets. You'll have to make them yourself!

Easy dough's it! So roll up your sleeves, put on your apron, gather your helpers and start baking. Fill up those Purim baskets with these tasty triangles and other no-bake treats listed below. Chag Purim Sameach!

COOKIE DOUGH HAMENTASCHEN (Dairy or Pareve)

As Purim approaches, Jewish bakers around the world make their version of Haman's pockets. At Congregation Agudat Achim, a large baking crew gathers annually to bake 4,000 hamantaschen, to fill mishloach manot package orders.

1 cup butter for dairy (use margarine for pareve)
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 1/2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups flour
Flour for rolling
Prune, poppy seed, apricot, raspberry, cherry, or Double Chocolate Filling (recipe follows)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease cookie sheets.

2. Cream butter or margarine and sugar at medium speed with electric mixer. Beat in 2 eggs, vanilla and juice.

3. Combine baking powder and salt with flour and gradually add to creamed mixture. Dough will be sticky.

4. Divide dough into 4 balls and cover with plastic wrap. Chill 4 hours.

5. Roll each ball on lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut 3-inch circles with cookie cutter.

6. Beat remaining egg with 1 teaspoon water. Brush rim of circle with egg wash and place 1 teaspoon of filling in center. Pinch edges together to form triangle, leaving center open slightly to expose filling.

7. Place on sheets and bake 15 to 18 minutes until lightly browned. Freezes well.

DOUBLE CHOCOLATE FILLING (Pareve or Dairy)

4 ounces dairy or pareve pound or chiffon cake
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa, sifted
1 tablespoon butter for dairy, melted (use margarine for pareve)
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons chocolate syrup
1 tablespoon orange juice
1/3 cup chocolate mini chips

1. Process cake into fine crumbs and mix in sugar and cocoa. Add butter or margarine.

2. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla. Add chocolate syrup and juice. Fold in chocolate chips.

3. Fill hamantaschen or other cookies, strudel or Danish.

CHOCOLATE-DIPPED PEANUT BALLS (Pareve)

A marriage made in heaven - chocolate-dipped peanut balls. These no-bake cookies are an easy crowd pleaser.

1 cup peanut butter
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup ground walnuts
1 cup finely chopped dates
2 cups chocolate chips

1. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper.

2. Cream peanut butter with sugar at medium speed with electric mixer and add walnuts and dates.

3. Shape into balls, using 1 1/2 teaspoons dough per cookie.

4. Melt chocolate chips and keep over container of hot water.

5. Dip balls into chocolate and place on sheet. Chill to set.

Yield: 48 balls.

AN EDIBLE COOKIE BOWL

Your cookie jar will never be empty with this clever edible. It can also be used to hold candy, fruit and ice cream. Make any size or shape, as long as you use an ovenproof container. What a wonderful idea for a child's birthday party, and as a house or teacher's gift!

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Wrap outside of ovenproof loaf pan or mixing bowl with foil. Grease foil.

2. Prepare favorite roll-out cookie dough and roll to 1/8-inch thickness.

3. Cut shapes with decorative edge cookie cutter. When using a loaf pan, use a
1 1/2-inch cookie cutter. Smaller containers require smaller cutters.

4. Cover prepared pan or bowl with cutouts, overlapping them slightly. Bake upside down until cookies are firm. Cool.

5. Lift cookie bowl from container carefully and peel away foil. Freezes well.

Chocolate-Dipped Peppermint PattiesCHOCOLATE-DIPPED PEPPERMINT PATTIES (Pareve)

The exhilarating duo of fragrant peppermint and sweet chocolate combine to make these patties truly flavorful but they owe their texture to a secret ingredient that will amaze everyone - read on!

Patties:
2 1/2 tablespoons mashed baked potato (nothing added)
2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons mint extract
1 recipe pareve Dipping Chocolate (recipe below)

1. Prepare ungreased cookie sheet covered with parchment or wax paper.

2. Cream cooled potato, sugar and extract at medium speed with electric mixer to form dough. Add water, 1/4 teaspoon at a time, as needed, until mixture holds together.

3. Form into quarter-size patties and place on sheet. Chill 10 minutes.

4. Dip each patty into Dipping Chocolate using a candy fork or plastic fork, allowing excess chocolate to drip off. Place on sheet, chill to set, about 30 minutes. Chilling is essential.

Yield: 24 patties.

DIPPING CHOCOLATE (Pareve or Dairy)

1 cup pareve chocolate chips (use dairy chocolate chips for dairy)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1. Melt chocolate with oil in a microwaveable container for 30 seconds. Stir. Continue to microwave for additional 30 second intervals, stirring each time.

2. Stop melting when a few small chunks are visible. Stir until smooth.

PARTY CAKE CONES (Dairy or Pareve)

These cake cones are always a hit with the youngsters. No forks or plates make for quick cleanup. Be careful placing the cones in the oven; they may wobble. Don't worry if the batter drips out of the cones while baking. It looks like melted ice cream. Use nondairy ingredients for a pareve version.

1 cake mix yielding 5 1/2 cups batter
24 flat-bottomed ice cream cones
16 ounces prepared frosting
Sprinkles and candy decorations

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare ungreased muffin tins.

2. Prepare cake mix as directed on package.

3. Fill ice cream cones with batter to 1 inch from top. Place cones in muffin tins, spacing them so they do not touch each other. Bake 23 to 25 minutes or until tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool.

4. Frost and decorate with sprinkles and candy.

Yield: 24 cones.

Meringue Baked PecansMERINGUE BAKED PECANS (Dairy or Pareve)

These glazed pecans are a delicious crunchy topping for leafy green vegetable or fruit salads. Pack them in an attractive container for gift giving.

2 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter for dairy, melted (use margarine for pareve)
1 pound pecan halves

1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease cookie sheet.

2. Beat whites until stiff. Combine cinnamon, salt and sugar and add to whites.

3. Fold in melted butter or margarine and pecans. Spread mixture on sheet and bake 15 minutes.

4. Turn nuts over and toast on other side, about 15 minutes. Watch carefully to avoid burning.

Any leftover glazed pecans may be frozen in a plastic bag.

Yield: 2 1/4 cups.

Click here for Norene's review of Divine™ Kosher Cuisine.

Photos © Divine™ Kosher Cuisine


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All images and recipes © Norene Gilletz 2013 unless otherwise noted.
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