Purim Feature: Tradition of Giving Gifts Makes Baking a Mitzvah

The holiday of Purim commemorates the time when Queen Esther saved the Jews of Persia from a plot by Haman, King Ahasuerus’ cruel minister.

Purim is not a solemn day. Celebration begins is the synagogue when the story of the courageous Esther is read. Children dress up in costumes and spin noisemakers at the mention of Haman’s name.

A custom that has been observed since ancient times is a special kind of gift giving, called “shalach manot.”

The gifts are generally sweets, such as pastries and candies, delivered by children or messenger to relatives, friends and neighbors. By tradition these are three-cornered – some say like Haman’s ears, his pursue, pocket or hat.

Chickpeas are also remembered during the holiday as a remembrance of the peas and beans that did not violate the dietary laws of Esther.

This, the last festival before Passover, is an occasion to use up your supply of flour. Hummus – Chickpea Spread 1 can chick peas, drained 2 cloves garlic 2/ 3 cup olive oil (or less, if desired) 1/2 cup tahini (sesame seed paste) 3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice 1 tsp. salt freshly ground pepper to taste 1/2 tsp. cumin (optional) 2 Tbsp. olive oil for garnish (optional)

Place all ingredients except last 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a food processor or blender. Process or blend until smooth. Transfer to a serving dish and spread top with remaining oil, if desired. Serve with pita cut into quarters, party rye or crackers.

Yield: 1 1/4 cups Hamantaschen 2 cups flour 2 tsp. baking powder 1/2 cup sugar 1/4 lb. margarine or butter 2 eggs, lightly beaten 1 tsp. vanilla

Note: Dough does not need chilling.

In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients. Cut in margarine or butter, until very fine particles appear. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix dough until it forms a ball. Roll out dough on a lightly floured board with a lightly floured rolling pin until it is 1/8″ thick. Cut into 2 1/2″ or 3″ circles with a round cutter (a glass can be used). Place a rounded 1/2 tsp. of filling in center of each round.

Bring three edges to center, pinching together to form closed triangle over the filling. Place on nonstick sprayed cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes about 2 dozen. Low Cholesterol Hamantaschen 3/4 cup egg substitute 1 cup sugar 1/2 cup canola oil 1/2 cup orange juice 4 1/2 cups flour 1/4 tsp. baking soda 3 tsp. baking powder dash of salt

In a large mixing bowl, beat egg substitute, adding sugar gradually. Continue beating, adding orange juice. In another bowl, combine the dry ingredients and add to the egg mixture. Dough will be sticky.

On a lightly floured board, with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll dough to 1/8″ thickness. Adding too much flour will result in hard pastries. Cut into 3″ circles. Place a rounded 1/2 tsp. of filling in center of each round.

Bring three edges to center, pinching together, leaving center slightly open so steam can vent. Bake on nonstick sprayed cookie sheet at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Prune Filling 1 1/4 cups pitted prunes 1/2 cup raisins water or sweet wine to cover 1/2 cup chopped almonds juice and grated rind of 1 lemon 1/ 2 cup sugar

Soak prunes and raisins in water or wine several hours. Drain well. Place all ingredients in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until blended. Apricot Filling 1 lb. dried apricots, snipped 3 cups water 1 cup sugar 1 Tbsp. grated lemon rind

Cook apricots in water until very soft, adding more water if necessary. add sugar and stir until fruit comes to a boil. Remove from stove. Stir in lemon rind. Cool. Uncooked Prune or Apricot Filling 16 large pitted prunes or apricots 1 tsp. grated lemon rind 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice 2 Tbsp. honey

Place all ingredients except honey in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until smooth. Add just enough honey to bind. Orange Raisin Balls 1 cup graham cracker crumbs 1/4 cup raisins 3 Tbsp. powdered sugar 2 Tbsp. instant milk powder 2 Tbsp. chopped pecans 1/4 cup unsweetened orange juice 2 Tbsp. orange liqueur additional powdered sugar

Combine graham cracker crumbs, raisins, sugar, milk powder and pecans in a mixing bowl. Add orange juice and liqueur, stirring just until ingredients are moistened. Shape mixture into 12 1″ balls. Roll balls in powdered sugar. Store in an airtight container. Chocolate Dipped Fruit Balls 5 cups dried fruit, such as raisins, figs, apricots, pears, pitted prunes 1 cup walnuts 2 Tbsp. fruit juice or fruit-flavored liqueur powdered sugar 4 ozs. semisweet chocolate, chopped

In a food processor, chop fine the fruit and walnuts and mix in enough liquid to hold the mixture together. Shape the mixture into 1″ balls and roll lightly in the powdered sugar. Let them stand uncovered at room temperature overnight.

In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally until it is smooth; remove from heat. Coat half of each ball with the chocolate, letting the excess drip off. Reheat chocolate if necessary.

Chill the balls on a baking sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper until the chocolate has hardened. The sweets keep chilled in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Makes about 50 sweets.

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