Party flavors


Oy vey! Purim and St. Patrick’s Day fall on the same day. Now I’m not going to get some crazy idea like adding green food coloring to cookie dough or cake batter (although within the past few years, there have been green bagel sightings throughout the city).

Instead, I’ll focus on Purim, which begins at sundown Monday, and is a most joyous festival on the Jewish calendar. It is the night to eat, drink, dress in costumes and be very merry, which is why it is called the Jewish Mardi Gras. Even Rabbi Ira Stone and Cantor George Mordecai of Beth Zion-Beth Israel in Center City dress up in for the reading of the Megillah, the story of how the beautiful Queen Esther saved her people from extermination at the hands of the wicked Haman. Every time the name Haman is read, everyone hoots, hollers, stamps their feet and makes noise by turning a grogger, also known as a Jewish noisemaker.

During Purim, it is traditional to send sweets to friends, family and neighbors and make contributions to charities. Like Hanukkah, Purim is not mentioned in the Torah.

Through the years, I have given you recipes for hamantaschen, the triangle-shaped filled cookies that are available in bakeries and supermarkets. Termini’s sells them year-round. You can easily find recipes for them in Jewish cookbooks and on the Internet. So I searched my recipe files and cookbooks for other easy-to-make sweet treats for this most joyous holiday.

Here are recipes for Purim from The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden.

Nut and Raisin Pastries


3-1/3 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
8 ounces unsalted butter, softened
5 to 8 tablespoons white wine, preferably sweet
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup slivered or coarsely chopped almonds
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup chopped candied citrus peel
Confectioners’ sugar to sprinkle on


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix the flour and sugar, and work into a soft dough with the butter. You may use a food processor at this stage, then turn the ingredients into a bowl.

Add just enough wine — a tablespoon at a time — to make the dough hold together. Then work in the pine nuts, almonds, raisins and citrus peel. Shape into little round cakes, about 2-1/2 inches in diameter, pressing the mixture firmly between your palms.

Place on oiled baking sheets and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. The pastries will still be soft and hardly colored, but they firm up when they cool. Do not try to remove them until they are firm. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.

Makes about 22.

Note: Roden writes that this is a very old recipe from Rome, where Jews bake the pastries for all holidays.

Butter Cookies


12 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 cup superfine sugar
3-1/3 cups flour
Confectioners’ sugar


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Cream the butter with the superfine sugar in the processor. Add the flour and process until blended to a soft dough. Roll into walnut-sized balls and flatten slightly. Arrange on wax or baking paper on a baking sheet abut 1 inch apart because they spread.

Bake for about 25 minutes. They should still be white. They will be very soft and seem uncooked but they will firm up when they cool. Remove from the paper only when they have hardened and dredge in confectioners’ sugar.

Makes about 40.

Note: Roden writes these cookies are prepared by Sephardic Jews all over the Middle East. You can add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon to the dough and replace 1/2 cup of the flour with ground almonds or ground hazelnuts.

Poppy Seed Cake

For the pastry:

2 cups flour
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
6 ounces unsalted butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 to 2 tablespoons milk
1 egg yolk, to glaze
Confectioners’ sugar to sprinkle

For the filling:

1 cup poppy seeds
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup raisins
1 egg, lightly beaten


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

For the pastry, mix the flour and sugar and rub in the butter with your hands. Mix in the egg; if this is not enough to bind the pastry into a soft dough that holds together, add a little milk, 1 tablespoonful at a time. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.

For the filling, put the poppy seeds in a pan with the milk and bring to a boil. Leave to soak for 30 minutes, then stir in the rest of the ingredients.

Divide the pastry dough into two balls. On a well-floured surface, roll the first ball out and line a greased 9- or 10-inch pie pan. Pinch the edges of the pastry up to make a very slight rim and spread the filling over the surface. Roll out the remaining dough and place it carefully on top of the filling. Gently press down the edges to touch the bottom pastry. Brush with egg yolk mixed with a teaspoon of water and bake for about 35 minutes, until nicely golden.

Makes one (9- to 10-inch) pie.

Note from Phyllis: There are many recipes for poppy seed cakes, cookies and torts, which Ashkenazic Jews prepare year-round but especially on Purim, since Queen Esther loved poppy seeds. All sorts of fruits and nuts are used in Purim sweets because Queen Esther loved them as well.

>Date Cake


1/2 pound dates, pitted and finely chopped
1 cup sugar
1 cup blanched almonds, finely chopped
4 eggs, lightly beaten
Oil and flour or matzo meal for the cake pan


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Thoroughly mix all ingredients. Line a 9-inch cake pan with greaseproof paper or use a nonstick springform cake pan, rubbed with oil and dusted with flour or matzo meal. Pour in the mixture and bake for about 45 minutes.

Makes one (9-inch) cake.

Note: Roden writes that the "Jewish community of the Italian port of Livorno has an ancient connection with Tunis and there are many Livornese dishes with a Tunisian touch."