Purim 2022

The Jewish holiday Purim begins this year (it’s 5782 according to the Jewish calendar) on Wednesday evening, March 16, and ends on the following Thursday evening. Although the photos in this post were originally published a year ago, some things never change. Tradition!

The story of Purim memorializes the time in ancient Jewish history when Haman, royal vizier to King Ahasuerus of Persia, had been plotting to exterminate all the Jews in the empire. His plan was thwarted by Mordecai and Queen Esther, his adopted daughter, and the deliverance is one of joyful celebration, steeped in traditional ceremonies and festivities. Among the many icons of the holiday, one of the most renowned is the hamantasch, literally “Haman’s pocket”.

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Hamantaschen are delicious triangular baked pastries conventionally filled with thick prune jam (lekvar) or ground poppy seeds (muhn), but these days creative cookery presents some serious competition. Happily, the always mind-blowing Breads Bakery with four locations in Manhattan, covers the entire spectrum. On this plate, there’s sweet poppy seed, halva, chocolate, and apple along with a pair of savory challengers, purple haze and pizza. The former, covered in sesame and nigella seeds, holds sauerkraut – a little sweetish and worth a bite even if you don’t care for sauerkraut. The latter is filled with a blend of tomato paste, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, basil, garlic, and olive oil and tastes exactly like what you’d expect with that set of ingredients; try warming this one up. Fusion food for sure. This year’s specialties are apple, apricot, poppy, chocolate, and pizza with walnut pesto.


Sometimes a change of focus helps to make a point – or six.
 
 

Pi Day

From a visit to the amazing Petee’s Pie Company in Manhattan back in 2018 – and they’re still going strong!

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Pi Day is upon us! The official day that celebrates the astonishing discovery in 1988 that the first three digits of the mathematical constant pi (π≅3.14) correspond to the calendar date using the month/day format (3/14).

Provided, that is, that you don’t use the MM-DD format with its leading zeros. Or that you’re literally anywhere in the world outside of the United States where, intuitively, DD-MM-YYYY puts the numbers in order of significance. Or that you’re not enamored of the eminently more logical and sortable YYYY-MM-DD format.

But I digress.

IMHO 🥧 > 🍰 and Petee’s Pie Company at 61 Delancey St in Manhattan and 505 Myrtle Ave in Brooklyn dishes up some of the best I’ve ever tasted, but making the decision about which of the delightful daily selections to choose is neither as easy as pie nor is it a piece of cake. Of course they have wonderful fruit pies, nut pies, and custard pies, but their chess pies are always first to grab my attention.

Chess pie occupies (ahem) the middle ground between cheesecake and custard pie. Devoid of cheese and generally with a little more body than custard pie (often due to the addition of cornmeal) they are incredibly rich and, unsurprisingly, hail from America’s South.

Folktales about the genesis of its name are plentiful. One has it that chess pie is so sweet, it needs no refrigeration and could therefore be kept in the kitchen pie chest → pie ches’ → chess pie. Another speculation involves a tangled explanation involving English curd pies (think lemon curd as opposed to cheese curd and therefore sans cheese) and an American corruption of the British pronunciation of “cheese pie” – a long way around if you ask me. I favor the simpler, homespun tale that goes, “That pie smells incredible! What kind is it?” to which the modest Southern baker’s humble response was, “It’s jes’ pie.”

This incredible black bottom Almond Chess Pie infused with amaretto, topped with toasted almonds, resting on a layer of chocolate ganache and served with housemade vanilla ice cream was the capper on a day so packed with pigging out that we wondered if we would have room, but it was so delicious that it wasn’t a stretch. (Not so my belly, however.)
 
 
Visit Petee’s Pie Company on the web to check out their complete menu.
 
 

Sanguinaccio Dolce

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An equal opportunity celebrant, I’m always keen to learn about traditional foods that are associated with religious holidays. Lent, the forty day period that begins today with Ash Wednesday and ends just before Easter Sunday, is celebrated in southern Italy with an unusual delicacy called Sanguinaccio Dolce, a sweet (“dolce”) dessert pudding made with pig’s blood (“sangue”) although some bakeries around these parts opt for beef blood. (For the faint of heart <groan> bloodless versions can be found.)

Now don’t go running off: if you follow me you know that I wrote a piece for Edible Queens suggesting that durian pizza is the gateway drug for durian, the much maligned tropical fruit. I propose that sanguinaccio dolce fulfills the same role for food crafted with blood as an ingredient. Numerous cultures are at home with it – blood rice cakes in China, blood pancakes in Sweden, dinuguan in the Philippines, as well as sausages in Great Britain and Ireland, morcilla in Spanish speaking countries worldwide, boudin in France, and so many more in Northern and Eastern Europe. Pretty much everywhere actually. And you also know that I only recommend truly tasty food; I have never been one to embrace the sensationalism of “Look what gross thing I just ate!” No. This is genuinely delicious.

An expertly crafted version tastes like a rich, dense, dark chocolate pudding that carries notes of cinnamon and bits of candied orange peel, pine nuts and sliced almonds. There is no hint of minerally blood flavor. It’s often served with savoiardi, crisp ladyfingers, but a spoon will suffice. The pasticciotto sports a tender shortbread crust with a kiss of lemon and is filled with sanguinaccio. These two examples came from Morrone Pastry Shop at 2349 Arthur Ave in the Bronx last year but it can be found at other hardcore Italian bakeries as well.

If, like me, you appreciate the concept of snout-to-tail cooking and decry food waste, you should look into this. But if you just want to sample the richest, most delicious Italian dark chocolate pudding you’ve ever tasted, you need to give this a chance. Unless of course you just don’t like chocolate pudding at all, in which case move along, nothing to eat here.

#bloodydelicious (couldn’t resist 😉)
 
 

Open Heart Sugary – or, the Anatomy of a Valentine Cookie

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These are Red Currant Raspberry Linzer Cookies, first cousins of Austria’s Linzer Tart – traditionally, I do stars for Christmas and hearts for Valentine’s Day. This particular batch began months earlier with the acquisition of red currants and raspberries when they were in season followed by a little time spent prepping and cooking them up. It’s a lot easier than you’d expect and the filling keeps for quite a while in the fridge while you’re procrastinating doing the fussy part. If you’re not a fanatic, however, I can recommend Hero Red Currant Premium Fruit Spread; I’ve had pretty good luck with it – it just needs a bit of finessing via the addition of some red raspberry jam to achieve the degree of sweetness you’re after plus some straining.


The dough calls for flour, sugar, and butter, of course, plus finely ground blanched almonds, almond extract, and lemon zest. Start by baking equal numbers of fronts and backs.

Occasionally a front or back will fracture which then perforce spells doom for its perfectly intact intended mate, but sadly, I’ve never found an effective way to repair a broken heart. Sometimes, you just have to eat your losses. This is an example of how culinary art reflects life. But hey, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.


Look closely at the finished cookies in the first photo and you’ll see that the powdered sugar blankets only the outer section of the heart while the inner red lifeblood of this classic treat shines through unobstructed. Now, examine the above photo and follow along to see how I do it:

Bottom rows:
Starting with solid backs, use a plastic squeeze bottle to add preserves around the perimeter but not in the center. (Neatness doesn’t count.) Match tops to bottoms.

Top rows:
Let it snow, let it snow, etc. Note the unfilled but sugary centers. Next, squirt a blob of preserves into the cutout thereby hiding the powdered sugar.

Now, here’s the painstakingly obsessive step (why do I do these things?): then and only then, for each cookie, carefully use a toothpick to smooth out any less than perfect curves of the inner heart, et voilà! Your cookies will look like those in the first photo. Maybe better. (Why can’t they make Photoshop for food?)
 
 
When the cookies are complete and have been packed away, your workspace will look like this one, post-sugaring and pre-cleanup, an exercise in negative space.

And the beat goes on.
 
 

Two Flaky Treats from Jade Bakery

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From my last visit to Jade Bakery, 6223 8th Ave, Sunset Park, Brooklyn: Chinese egg custard tart (蛋挞, dan tat among other English spellings) and a pink winter melon pastry.

The inner workings:

The egg custard was rich and dense, firmer than others I’ve sampled, harmonizing perfectly with the flaky, tasty crust. A cut above.


Closeup of layers upon layers of layers! The filling was definitely sweet but with a subtle savory note at the same time; its texture was that of thick jam pointed up by an occasional unexpected shred of winter melon, a welcome contrast.

Suggested by my Number One Spy, who is never wrong.
 
 

Homemade Christmas Cookies, Day 5 – Linzer Cookies

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Linzer Stars

🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪
Finely ground almonds figure into in the sweet, tender dough; the filling is made from red currants that I bought when they were in season and preserved in anticipation of this maniacal operation. Why maniacal? Look closely and you’ll see that the powdered sugar blankets only the outer section of the star, yet the inner red star shines snow-free.
🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪

Follow along to see how I do it:

Start with solid backs.

Add preserves around the perimeter but not in the center. (Neatness doesn’t count.)

Match tops to bottoms.

Let it snow, let it snow, etc.


Squirt a blob of preserves into the cutout.

Now here comes the maniacal part: For each cookie, use a toothpick to draw out the five points of the star.

Et voilà!

The cookies are complete and packed up. Here’s the negative space that was left behind!
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!
🎅🎄☃️❄️
 
 

Homemade Christmas Cookies, Day 2 – Biscotti

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Biscotti

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These twice-cooked treats (aka cantuccini) are laden with toasted almonds and dried cherries that I simmered in Amaretto. Delicious dunked in coffee for breakfast, wine for dessert (as they do in Italy), or cocoa for snowstorms.
🍪🍪

Stay tuned: more cookies to come!
 
 

Homemade Christmas Cookies, Day 1 – Identity Crisis Cookies

When I bake Christmas cookies, it’s the same cast of characters every year. Not that this old dog can’t learn new tricks, it’s just that after I’ve made my signature treats, I usually don’t have enough energy left to take pictures of them. (Although somehow I do manage to muster the energy to consume them!)

So here are some past photos of those goodies. Enjoy!

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Identity Crisis Cookies

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So named because I couldn’t decide whether to make chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin or toasted coconut pecan and since I had all of those on hand…well, you get the picture.
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More to come….