Apple Pie and Salted Caramel Hamantashen

It’s that time of year again! That time when kids set off fireworks non-stop, that time when every girl is a princess and every boy is a ninja, that time when something cool and awesome better make its way to me wrapped up in a bow. That’s right! It’s my birthday! Oh yeah, and Purim, that too. I guess that’s what everyone else is celebrating. Me? I have my priorities.

The cast of characters.
The cast of characters.

It’s the time of year when we can get most creative with our religious food – hamantashen for the masses y’all! In previous years I have made lemon meringue hamantashen which were a big hit. I have also made your run of the mill jam-filled hamantashen – Rocker Dude will not have Purim without them. And last year I tried a brownie-speculoos version – needed work so when I have it down I will post it here. But this year we are doing something a little different. We are combining two of my favorite foods – apple pie and hamantashen.

The process.
The process.

At first it may seem like an obvious pairing, delicious fillings in dough always are, and yet, it’s not too common. And just to dress it up, caramel shards on top.

Apple Pie and Salted Caramel Hamantashen
Apple Pie and Salted Caramel Hamantashen

I am always looking for something different to do with my hamantashen and while I know that tradition has its place, so does deliciousness. So let the baking begin! (Pesach is in a little over a month and here I am bulk buying flour for Purim – #ridiculoustiming – but there you have it. We have to have cinnamon rolls for mishloach manot!)

Nom nom nom nom.
Nom nom nom nom.

For the first time ever, we decided (read: I agreed) to dress up for Purim as a family, with themed costumes and everything. But not for us some Disney Princess with the rest of us as supporting characters, no, we do it properly. Superheroes all the way. The Little Rocker will be defending the city as Batgirl, with Squeaker as her loyal sidekick Robin from Rocker Dude and I as The Joker and Harley Quinn. It took a bit of planning but we got the costumes together and we are all set. I don’t know if we will do this every year, but it is fun to do once in a while. Also as Purim falls out on my birthday this year, we have to do something special. (Pictures to come soon!)

Recipe:

Cookie:
I used a double batch of this recipe from our sugar cookie adventures in December

Filling (based on this recipe from King Arthur):
3 cups peeled, cored, finely chopped apples – I prefer Gala, Pink Crispy or Pink Lady
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 cup apple juice concentrate

Caramel Shards (based on this recipe from Epicurious):
1 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 tsp. salt

Make your filling first. You can make it a few days in advance and leave it in the fridge until you are ready to make your cookies. Mix all of the ingredients and stir until the filling begins to bubble and thickens considerably. You want to make sure that the filling bubbles so that you don’t taste the flour afterwards. Continue cooking until the apples reach your desired tenderness. It’s nice to have a little crunch still in the apples for texture. Set aside and cool. You can refrigerate for up to four days.

Follow the directions to make the sugar cookie dough until the refrigeration stage. You can keep the dough for a week in the fridge and for two months in the freezer.

When you are ready to make your cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and roll out the cookie dough to a 1/8 inch thickness. Using a drinking glass or a circle cookie cutter, cut out as many circles as you can. Place 1 tsp. of filling in the center of each one. Pinch each side together to make a triangle. (See here for instructions). Place cookies two inches apart on a baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the cookies are very lightly browned. Let cool.

To make the caramel shards, lightly oil a 12-inch square of foil. In a heavy saucepan boil sugar, water and salt over moderate heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Boil syrup without stirring, washing down sugar crystals on side of pan with a brush dipped in cold water, until pale golden. Continue cooking syrup without stirring, swirling pan, until deep golden. Immediately pour caramel onto foil and cool completely, about 20 minutes. Break caramel into shards. Place a few small pieces into the center of the cooled hamantashen. Serve immediately or soon after. (Shards keep, layered between sheets of wax paper, in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 day.)

These are best served slightly warm – like real apple pie, but are also good at room temperature.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

 

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Brownie-Swirl Cheesecake

Hello again to all my friends, I’m glad you came to play. Our fun and learning never ends, here’s what we did today! (Bonus points to anyone who remembers that show from childhood.)

Well we are back with another cheesecake recipe.  Here is something for you chocolate lovers – brownie and cheesecake – together! Doesn’t get much better than that.  In this version, we have a brownie layer and a cheesecake layer which are then swirled together – somewhat – and then chocolate chips are sprinkled on top.  My version did not get so swirled as the brownie layer was much denser than the cheesecake layer (possibly because I used white cheese instead of cream cheese – but those are my limitations here). So it ended up more as a fudgy-brownie layer (the best kind) and a cheesecake layer.

Brownie Swirl Cheesecake
Brownie Swirl Cheesecake

I have to say that it was really easy to make.  Only required one bowl (which I washed in the middle) and in the oven it went. I actually doubled the cheesecake part of it because I was making the cake in a 9×13 pan instead of an 8×8 as the recipe calls for. The recipe below is the original.

I was actually up to one am last night as one of my customers decided to have a conference call event at midnight Israel time, just to be sadistic, and I had to stay up for it.  So if I was going to need to stay up anyway, might as well accomplish something.  So I made this cheesecake to take to our friends at whom we will be staying for Shavuot, and a blueberry cheesecake for Rocker Dude, because it is his favorite.

Chocolate chips!
Chocolate chips!

Shavuot is kind of a crazy holiday because it is only one day long (or two outside of Israel) and there is so much preparation for it because everything has to be dairy.  Most people I know cook primarily meat for holidays, so everyone tries to get in all the fancy dairy food that they have always wanted to make and it sometimes makes for some really heavy meals. I planned on practicing restraint this year, but now we are going away for the holiday, so I don’t have to do anything but provide dessert.

Have a bite.
Have a bite.

Shavuot is when we celebrate receiving the Bible. As a result, one of the customs on Shavuot is to learn Torah all night.  Usually it’s the men who do it, but some women like to join in as well.  Once you have kids it is harder because those kids will be up at 6:30 in the morning, so you better be functional at that time of day. Going to bed at 4 am – not so conducive.  So Rocker Dude plans on being up all night, and he needs good food to keep him going – so, cheesecake!!!

All done!
All done!

Squeaker is squeaking, so I have to run.  Here is the recipe.

Recipe (from Smitten Kitchen):

Brownie batter
1 stick (1/2 cup or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup all-purpose flour

Cheesecake batter
8 ounces cream cheese, well softened (or equivalent amount of white cheese – gevina levana)
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. Heat butter and chocolate in a heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, whisking occasionally, just until melted. Remove from heat and whisk in sugar, eggs, vanilla, and a pinch of salt until well combined. Whisk in flour until just combined and spread in baking pan.

Whisk together cheesecake batter ingredients in a small bowl until smooth. Dollop over brownie batter, then swirl in with a knife or spatula.

(You can use a butter knife because the tip of it is round enough that you can use it to fold bits of the brownie batter over the cheesecake batter for a more visibly marbled effect.)

Sprinkle chocolate chips over cheesecake/brownie batter swirl.

Bake until edges are slightly puffed and center is just set, about 35 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Caramel Cheesecake with Brown Sugar Crust – Bring on the Dairy!

Hello everyone.  Here we are two days before Shavuot – the holiday during which we eat tons and tons of dairy to make up for all the other holidays in which we eat meat. Rocker Dude, being of a lactose intolerant nature, does not enjoy this holiday as much as other people, and this year, due to Squeaker’s sensitivities, I will be joining him in the non-dairy consuming club. But don’t worry, to make up for this, when I do stop nursing her, we will have a make-up Shavuot filled with all sorts of dairy delicacies.

In any case, at this time of year, the interwebs are filled with tons of cheesecake recipes of all varieties.  As we were having a cheesecake celebration at work, I wanted to make something different, something new. I spent a morning exploring options for possible flavorings, and settled on two options – something caramely or a brownie cheesecake. I knew that I would only have a few hours to make the cake on Saturday night as I did not want to stay up past midnight, so I decided to go with the caramel cheesecake for work.

Caramel cheesecake with caramel goodness all over.
Caramel cheesecake with caramel goodness all over.

I bounced around possible versions in my head for a few days and finally on Saturday I finalized how I would go about making it. I had bought dulce de leche to mix into the cheese, but then I read on the container that it is not suitable for cooking in high temperatures, so I freaked. What was I supposed to do now??? Do I just make a standard cheesecake and put the dulce de leche on top? Do I scrap the idea completely? Major dilemma.

I wanted to get the caramel flavor into the cake itself, so in the end, as I was measuring the sugar to mix into the batter, I decided to caramelize it first. I threw the whole cup and a half straight into a pot and set it on the fire.  I knew that it would be hard when it cooled, but that I could probably use the cheese to smooth the caramel out.  When the caramel was ready, I put in half of the cheese because I didn’t want the consistency to change too much. After much stirring, the caramel smoothed out and became usable in the cheesecake. I mixed it with the rest of the ingredients and into the oven it went.

The whole cake. (Sorry for the poor photography, I did not have fancy dishes at work to really show this cake off).
The whole cake. (Sorry for the poor photography, I did not have fancy dishes at work to really show this cake off).

My one issue with this whole affair was that I would not be able to taste the cheesecake when it was done – how would I know if it even tasted good?? Well, we put our faith in God.

When the cheesecake cooled, I spread the dulce de leche on top so that this cake would have a double whammy of caramel flavor.

Caramel Cheesecake with Brown Sugar Crust
Caramel Cheesecake with Brown Sugar Crust

I brought the cake to work the next day and let me just say, God delivered.  It was a hit all around, the consistency was perfect, and the caramel flavor was there. I even snuck a bite (hope it doesn’t come back to bite me later when Squeaker wakes up crying at night because her tummy hurts), and it was delicious.

Shavuot cheesecake spectacular
Shavuot cheesecake spectacular

If you need a cheesecake pick-me-up – here you go. Also, just because I am curious, do you say car-a-mel or car-mel?

Recipe:

Crust:
50 g tea biscuits, crushed into fine crumbs
50 g butter or margarine, melted
1 tbsp. brown sugar

Cake:750 g white cheese (gevina levana) 5%, or equivalent amount of cream cheese
5 eggs
3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

400 g dulce de leche

Preheat oven to 150 degrees C/320 degrees F. Combine all the ingredients for the crust and press into the bottom of a 9 inch springform pan, or a 9×13 rectangular pan (the crust will just be a tad thinner). Bake the crust for ten minutes until it is lightly browned.

Place the sugar in a pot over medium-low heat. Without stirring, let the sugar heat up until it dissolves. You can use a wet pastry brush to wash down the sides of the pot from any sugar crystals that might creep up. When the sugar starts browning, take it off the fire to ensure that it doesn’t get too dark.  It should stay a light amber color. The sugar will still cook after it is removed from the fire. Once you have reached the desired caramel color, add half of the cheese to the pot.  The caramel will seize up and bubble, but keep stirring the mixture over the medium-low heat, and it will soften and mix into the cheese. Set aside to cool (or refrigerate for 10 minutes or so.

In a bowl, mix up the rest of the ingredients, being careful to not incorporate too much air.  Add the caramel mixture and mix well.  Bang the bowl firmly on the table or counter to pop any air bubbles that might have gotten in. Gently pour the batter over the crust and place the pan in the oven. Because I usually cook my cheesecakes in my toaster oven I don’t have space for a water bath, so I just undercook the cake slightly – it should still be jiggly in the middle, and usually that is enough to prevent cracking. Also, covering the cake with a topping helps.

When the cake is completely cool, spread the dulce de leche over the top of the cake. Slice and serve!

You can also melt some chocolate with some heavy cream and drizzle it on top of the cake and that would be delicious too.  I just didn’t have time for it.

Think Spring – Strawberry Pavlovas with Vanilla Bean Cream

Okay, I know in Israel we are a little ahead in our growing season than the US, so this recipe might not be as useful for my Israeli compatriots as the strawberry season is almost over, but it is just starting in the US.  On Yom Haatzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) we finally went strawberry picking. Well I went strawberry picking with the Little Rocker and Squeaker and with my friend E and her daughter S. I heard of this strawberry field that was only about 20 minutes away and they didn’t charge for picking, just for the actual strawberries themselves.

I was a little worried about going anywhere on Yom Haatzmaut because the whole country is out and in all the parks and recreation areas. I was warned by native Israelis to not try to go any more than 10 minutes from my house because otherwise the amount of traffic would just make the whole trip not worth it.  I was also warned that if I wanted to barbecue in a park (the official Independence Day pastime), then I should stake out a spot and picnic table the night before and have someone stay in the park the whole night. Soooo, that was out.

The barbeque process, everyone with their drink of choice.
The barbecue process, everyone with their drink of choice.
The Little Rocker hamming it up for the camera.
The Little Rocker hamming it up for the camera. Look at that wind!

We had already planned to get together with E and A on Yom Haatzmaut and I was just looking for something to do during the day before the barbecue.  So I decided on strawberry picking before the season ended.

The meat.
The meat.

On the morning of the big day, all we saw were grey clouds and I was a little apprehensive. It was also really windy. I had heard that the rain was supposed to be spotty so we set out anyway in the hopes that it would be nice and sunny when we got there.  As we drove to the field (and with a few wrong turns 😉 ) the sun came out and the weather turned lovely.  Bright and sunny, but a cool breeze too. We got to the field and picked the freshest strawberries I have had in this country. The Little Rocker did all the bending down for me which was awesome as I had Squeaker in a backpack on me. And we ended up with some really bright and sweet strawberries.

Kite Flying
Taking advantage of the windy day and the open soccer field.

We got home and continued with our plans and had an amazing barbecue with great fresh fruit for dessert. But afterwards we still had all those strawberries.  I made a strawberry pie with some of them, and it was great.  But then I made these strawberry pavlovas and they were the bomb-dizzle.

Adding strawberry sauce.
Adding strawberry sauce.

I had a ton of egg whites saved up in the freezer from some time when I made lemon curd or something. I didn’t want to make more meringues, because they always took so long and then I always ate them because Rocker Dude doesn’t like them.  So here is something to do with all those extra egg whites.

The finished product.
The finished product.

I ended up making individual pavlovas as opposed to one big one, because if I have a choice, I prefer to make individual desserts as opposed to family style, and this is one chance to do that without shaping individual pie crusts.

I wanted to really have the strawberry flavor pop, so I also made a strawberry sauce to be drizzled over the cream. The Little Rocker was really excited to try these and though she usually does not like the desserts I make (no taste that one, I don’t know what to do with her) she loved this one.

Strawberry Pavlovas
Strawberry Pavlovas

We had a bunch of people for dinner and these came out wonderfully, though in the future I might make the pavlovas themselves a little smaller as some felt that there was too much sweet on the plate.

This is a wonderful dessert for warm spring or summer days as it is sweet and refreshing.

Recipe (serves 12):
Pavlovas (from the Pastry Studio):

6 egg whites at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp.  cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F and line two baking sheets with baking paper.

In a clean mixing bowl, beat egg whites on medium-low speed.  When they are foamy, add the cream of tartar. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue beating until egg whites are opaque.  Slowly dd the sugar a few tablespoons at a time until continue whipping until the egg whites are stiff and shiny.

Drop the meringue by spoonfuls onto the baking sheets, using about 1/3 cup per pavlova. Smooth the tops with the back of a spoon, leaving an indentation for the filling. Bake for about 1 1/2 -2 hours or until the meringues are dry and can be released easily from the baking paper.  Remember to rotate the baking sheets halfway and if you have them on two racks then to switch the pans as well. When they are done, turn off the oven and let the meringues dry out for another 30 minutes in the oven.  After 30 minutes, place the meringues on a wire rack to cool.

Vanilla Bean Cream:

250 ml whipping cream
2 tbsp. confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

In a clean mixing bowl, begin whipping the cream. As the cream thickens, add the sugar and the vanilla. Continue beating until stiff. Chill in the refrigerator until needed.

Strawberry Sauce:

15 strawberries, washed and hulled
2 tbsp.-1/4 cup sugar, depending on how sweet the strawberries are

In a food processor or blender, combine the strawberries with the sugar until you have a uniform sauce.

Washed, hulled and sliced strawberries for garnish.

Assembly:

On each plate, place a meringue.  Add a generous spoonful of cream on top, followed by some sliced strawberries.  Then drizzle some strawberry sauce over the whole thing. Serve immediately.

Lemon Meringue Hamantashen

It is Purim!  My favorite time of the year.  Now, it may have something to do with the fact that my birthday is always around Purim, but I think it is similar to how people think about Christmas.  Everyone is happier around Christmas time, and it makes for a general cheer all around. In fact that is what many American ex-pats miss when they move out.  Here in Israel, now is the general happy time.  Everything is silly and people really try to step outside their comfort zone in order to get into the holiday spirit.  Everyday for the past couple of weeks, the Little Rocker has come home from kindergarten dressed as something else.  One day it was a ladybug, another day, masks they drew themselves, on other days her face was painted with various animals.  It’s really a fun time. I love seeing people dressed up, though I am not such a fan of dressing up myself.

Lemon Meringue Hamantashen.
Lemon Meringue Hamantashen.

So I am finally getting around to making something that I have been thinking about for over a year.  Lemon-meringue hamantashen.  Hamantashen are my favorite holiday-related food – even more than honey cake for Rosh Hashana and matza brei for Pesach. In Israel hamantashen season starts right after Chanuka, so already in December, the stores started stocking freshly made hamantashen.  The one issue I have with it is that in Israel, they are not so creative with the fillings.  They always have the traditional poppy seed filled ones (eew), date filled ones (quite good), walnut filled ones (eh), and chocolate filled ones (eh). None of the usual strawberry, apricot or other fruit filled ones.  This actually led to a long discussion at work between the Americans and the Israelis.  All the Americans were deploring the lack of fruity hamantashen that we are used to, while all the Israelis were shocked that anyone would put jelly in a hamantashen. Just another culture clash that may never be resolved.

The Little Rocker and her friend making hamantashen together.
The Little Rocker and her friend making hamantashen together.
The fillings they chose.  The Little Rocker chose raspberry jam and chocolate and her friend chose plain chocolate.
The fillings they chose. The Little Rocker chose raspberry jam and chocolate and her friend chose plain chocolate.

So every year I make the usual hamantashen, strawberry, blueberry, apple, etc. and last year, I though about trying something new – lemon-meringue. Last year I started planning it, and it was going to be really awesome as Purim fell out on my birthday, but then Rocker Dude had to leave me on my birthday and go do his army reserve service.  Apparently the army doesn’t accept “Sorry, it’s my wife’s birthday” as an excuse. So as I was alone with the Little Rocker and not in the mood to put effort into anything (my usual hubby-in-the-army situation), so I shelved the idea.

This year, I am on maternity leave, so I have tons of time (sort-of) and free hands (mostly) so this is the year that we make lemon-meringue hamantashen.

I usually use my sugar cookie recipe for the base of the dough, but I feel like the end product always comes out a bit too sweet. In Israel, the cookie recipe is less sweet and I think complements the filling more. So I looked around on Israeli sites to see what people were using.  To give you an idea of what the difference is between the recipes, my sugar cookie recipe calls for two cups of sugar to three cups of flour.  The one I ended up using from Aviva Pibko (a contestant on Master Chef here) has one and a quarter cups of sugar to four cups of flour.

Ready circles of dough
Ready circles of dough
Filled circles.
Filled circles.
Ready to bake hamantashen.
Ready to bake hamantashen.

I made a lemon curd as the filling and with the leftover egg whites, made  a meringue that I toasted in the oven. The end result is a tart cookie with a pillow of sweetness on top.

Hamantashen just after toasting.
Hamantashen just after toasting.

Of course Rocker Dude tasted the cookie and said, “What’s that in the dough?” When I said “Lemon,” I got a sour face in response. Now he will deny that he said that, but we all know that he wanted regular sugar dough instead ;).

Don't you want to try a bite?
Don’t you want to try a bite?

If you are looking for some more interesting hamantashen ideas, check out this link.

Here is the recipe for the hamantashen.

P.S. I also used regular raspberry preserves as a filling and they came out great. There was a nice contrast between the lemon in the dough and the sweet jam.

Recipe:
Dough (based on this recipe from Aviva Pibko):

250 g butter or margarine
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract or paste
4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
grated zest of one lemon
1/4 tsp. salt

Cream the butter or margarine with the sugar.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating the mixture for a full minute between each egg. Add the vanilla and the zest. Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and slowly add them to the wet ingredients, mixing only until the dough is combined.  Put the dough into a plastic bag and refrigerate the dough for at least an hour.

Filling (from The Art and Soul of Baking):

3 eggs
3 egg yolks
1 cup minus 1 tbsp. sugar
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 tbsp. cold butter or margarine

Meringue:

3 egg whites
1/4 cup sugar

Prepare a double boiler, or a pot with a heat-safe bowl on top.  In the bowl (off the heat), mix the eggs, egg yolks, sugar and lemon juice until well blended. Place the bowl over the boiling pot and heat the lemon mixture.  Make sure to keep whisking the mixture, and scrape the sides of the bowl to keep the mixture from curdling.  After about 7 minutes, the curd should thicken (it will hit 180 degrees).  Pour the curd through a strainer.  Then add the butter or margarine, making sure that it is completely melted.  Press a piece of plastic wrap to the surface of the curd and refrigerate the curd until it is needed.

To assemble the hamantashen: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out the chilled the dough to about a 1/4 inch thickness.  Use a round cookie cutter (four-inch diameter) to make circles.  Place a scant teaspoonful of the curd in the center of each circle and pinch the ends together to form a triangle.

Place the finished cookies on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and bake for about 12 minutes until the cookies are lightly browned.  If you notice that the triangles are opening while baking, refrigerate the formed hamantashen for 20 minutes before putting them in the oven.

While the cookies are cooling, beat the egg whites on high speed while slowly adding in the sugar.  Whip the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks. Place a heaping teaspoonful on the center of each hamantashen and either toast the meringue with a butane torch or set the oven to broil and toast the cookies for a minute in the oven. Watch them carefully because they burn quickly.

The cookies will keep (without the meringue) for 4 days in a sealed container.  Once you add the meringue, eat the cookies within the day.

Fig Newtons – For Tu B’Shvat

Many years ago I bought Desserts by the Yard by Sherry Yard.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to make much from the cookbook because every recipe usually has a lot of steps, and often requires ingredients that are difficult to get here, such as fresh berries, etc.  There was one recipe that has always stood out and begged me to make it.  Fig bars.  Or as we children of the nineties call them, Fig Newtons.

Fig Newtons
Fig Newtons

Another note on Sherry Yard, she was on Top Chef: Just Desserts and that was super cool.  She also works for Wolfgang Puck and he is a recurring judge on this season of Top Chef, so now that I have heard him speak, I re-read the forward to her book in his voice.  It was really cool.  I love Top Chef.

I have always loved Fig Newtons, and when you are stopping in the Hudson News in the train station, it was often one of the only kosher snack options, definitely the only pareve one.  High school was better with Fig Newtons.  Over the years there have been many Fig Newton knock-offs, such as strawberry or blueberry, but nothing compares to the original.

Cutting up the figs for the filling.
Cutting up the figs for the filling.

You would think that the recipe would be easy to make as Israel grows fresh figs and are readily available when they are in season.  But interestingly enough, these cookies need dried figs, something that is very hard to find in Israel.  I am not sure why this is the case, but for whatever reason, while you can get dried dates all the time, it is almost impossible to find dried figs.

So I gave up on making these cookies until Tu B’Shvat.  Around Tu B’Shvat, the dried fruit market expands and you can find a wide variety of dried fruits.  With all that, when I went to the supermarket on Thursday, there were no figs!! I went to a different store on Monday, and I finally found some.

In order for me to be able to have this post ready for Tu B’Shvat (yes, actually posting about a holiday before it happens), I made the filling a couple days before assembling the cookies.  Conveniently, Squeaker cooperated and let me cook while she slept in the stroller.  Thank you Squeaker!

Filling the cookies.
Filling the cookies.

The filling comes together really easily, and just needs to be boiled for a couple of hours – essentially making a jam. The dough is similarly easy to make.  I ended up making this over three days,  one day the filling, one day the dough, and the last assembly and baking.

Finished cookies.
Finished cookies.

While rolling out the dough, I did have some trouble because it was quite sticky, so I floured it up again and started rolling it out all over again.  Second time’s the charm!  I did not get as many cookies as Sherry says you are supposed to get (she says 40 – I got around 30), but they really do taste kike Fig Newtons, only better.

Fig Newtons
Fig Newtons

Happy Birthday trees!

Recipe (From Desserts by the Yard):

Filling:
1 cup dried figs, chopped
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup apple juice
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. orange zest

Dough:
4 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup vanilla sugar
1/2 tsp. grated orange zest
1 large egg white
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour

Combine the chopped figs, water, apple juice and sugar into a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low  and cook at a simmer for 1 to 2 hours until the figs are so soft that they are spreadable. Transfer to a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Add the orange zest and process until smooth. Cool to room temperature.

Cream the butter, vanilla sugar and orange zest for 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the egg white and vanilla and beat in. Add the flour and beat on low until the dough comes together.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface into a 12 by 16 inch rectangle.  Cut into 4 equal strips, each 12 by 4 inches.  Spoon a line of filling down the center of each strip.  Fold the dough over the filling and pinch the edges together.  Place on the parchment paper, seam side down.  The bars can be frozen at this point for up to 2 weeks.

Using a serrated knife, slice each log on the diagonal into ten cookies. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cook on a rack.  The cookies will keep, stored airtight, for 2 days.

Quince and Pear Sauce – Just in time for Chanuka

This time I am going to be organized.  I am going to post the holiday recipe before the holiday before the holiday is over, so that all you people can actually use it :).

Recently I found myself with some quinces in my fridge.  They were sending “Eat Me” messages and I really didn’t want them to go to waste.  On top of that, I have been feeling rather lazy lately and all I want to do when I get home from work is – nothing.  Yup, that’s right people, nothing.  I just went through a crazy busy time at work while I covered for the two department heads (congrats to both – one on a baby girl and the other on getting married!) and after working anywhere between 10 and 15 hours a day – all I want to do is, yes you guessed it, nothing.

Fruit Sauce
Chunky fruit sauce

Working against this force of laziness is Rocker Dude.  Well, not exactly against it so much as diverting it to laziness of another sort.  He keeps loading up episodes of our favorite tv shows on the computer for me to watch.  We are trying to catch up on Chuck and keeping updated with The Big Bang Theory.  And best of all, now that Shabbat ends early enough to actually do something afterwards, we have been watching movies again Saturday night.  The other week, Rocker Dude sat me down and told me that it was time for me to watch Captain America.  As our house is full of comic books, and Rocker Dude’s goal in life is to one day own all comic-related movies, it was obvious that when Captain America came out in the summer, he would be the first in line to see it.  Well he wasn’t the first, but he made sure to see it shortly after it came out. I feel less strongly about seeing movies in theaters (it’s kind of a waste of money) so I waited until we had a copy of it before I saw it.  Rocker Dude downloaded a copy (oh no he didn’t!) and has been waiting for a while to be able to watch it with me.  Apparently now was the time.

I decided to not waste time (for once) and take advantage of the time that we would spend watching the movie.  I took the two quinces that were getting old and lonely in the fruit bin and the red pear that was not quite sweet enough to be appetizing.

Quinces are notoriously hard to deal with – they are really hard – like a pain in the neck to cut  and peel – and you can’t eat them without cooking them first. But, due to the fact that these quinces were a bit old, they had softened and I could peel them and cut them off the core pretty easily.

I cut the quinces up into chunks and threw them into a saucepan (I know, boiling on the fire is not technically baking, but it ends up as a dessert so it  counts.)  I peeled and cut up the pear and threw that in the pot.  Added some water and boiled the fruit.

Then I sat down to watch Captain America.

About halfway through the movie (around the part where the Red Skull is revealing his plan to destroy the world) I remembered that the fruit was simmering on the fire.  Whoops.

I quickly took it off the fire, drained out some of the extra liquid and mashed everything up. I guess if I was less lazy I could have thrown it all in the food processor and gotten a much smoother sauce, but again, lazy.

I added some cinnamon and some agave syrup (keep the glucose levels down).  Then I let the sauce cool until after the movie was over.

Captain America saved the day but was frozen in a glacier and my fruit sauce was awesome.

So for all you people who are planning on having plain old boring apple sauce with their latkes this year during Chanukah – we at the Casa de la Smoj will be indulging in a different condiment this year.  (If I have time to make more, I already ate the first batch.  What?  It was really small!)

Little Rocker the Chanuka Candle
Little Rocker the Chanuka Candle (from her preschool party).

Recipe (from what was left in my refrigerator):

fruit from the apple/pear family (apples (not red delicious), pears of different sorts, asian pears, quinces, etc.)
water for boiling
cinnamon
agave syrup or honey or brown sugar
nutmeg (optional)
allspice (optional)
cardamom (optional)

Peel and cut all the fruit into big chunks. Put them into a saucepan with enough water to come halfway up the pile of fruit.  Boil for a while until everything is soft.  Drain some of the water (leave a bit so that you have an easier time mixing). Mash the fruit and add the agave syrup/brown sugar/honey.  Start with a little bit and taste the mixture to make sure that it is not too sweet.  Then add the nutmeg, and/or allspice and/or cardamom.  It’s probably a good idea to add some salt too, so that the flavor really pops.

Let it cool and then eat with your favorite latkes!

P.S. I made version 2.0 with quinces, pears, Jonathan apples and Yellow Delicious apples this week.  Added some cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and cloves.  After cooking the fruit I blended it all with an immersion blender to make a smooth sauce – yum!