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Breakfast pastries for Purim

Blueberries-and-Cream Mall muffins from "A Passion for Baking," can be a delicious Purim treat. (Courtesy of Oxmoor House)

Blueberries-and-Cream Mall muffins from “A Passion for Baking,” can be a delicious Purim treat. (Courtesy of Oxmoor House)

NEW YORK (JTA) – Marcy Goldman still recalls the kind gesture on a Purim in the mid-1980s.

Her first son had come into the world with newborn jaundice and had to stay in the hospital after Goldman, the author of “A Passion for Baking” (Oxmoor House, 2007), was discharged.

Reluctant to leave her baby – he’s now 22 and healthy – Goldman spent some sleepless nights in the lounge nearby. Dismal, she calls those nights.

“But early one morning, three Orthodox ladies came with hamantaschen, graggers [noisemakers] and small cakes,” Goldman remembers. “They sprinkled pennies and pastries around me. Like three angels, they gave me that gladness of feeling, that very festive joy, which Purim is known for.”

Each year when the Megillah of Esther is read, Jews revisit the story of Haman, the wicked vizier who plotted to annihilate the Jews of ancient Persia and instead was hung on the gallows he had built for his intended victims, thanks largely to the help of Queen Esther.

Much relieved, her Uncle Mordecai asked the Jewish community to turn Purim into days of feasting and gladness. He implored Jews to send gifts to one another and donate money to the poor.

Jews to this day give charity, or tzedakah, to worthwhile causes and convey gift baskets, or mishloach manot, of baked goods, wine and other delicacies to family and friends. They also send to the needy and those new to a community or whose spirits need bolstering.

As a recipient of this kind of compassion Goldman, a pastry chef and master baker, believes that everyone can sprinkle joy as easily as confectioners’ sugar. One just needs an oven; she will help with the rest.

“At Purim more than at any other holiday, it’s especially meaningful to bake,” Goldman says. “Besides the fact that most pastries don’t taste as good prepared outside of the home, Purim is a holiday about giving, and baking is about giving of the spirit.”

Hamantaschen – homemade or otherwise – for centuries has been the heart of Purim presents among Ashkenazim. But with the advent of the Internet, many people buy professionally prepared gift packages revolving around themes, such as breakfast fare, healthy snacks or pita bread and Middle Eastern cuisine.

Although Jewish law permits engaging an agent, such as a store or company, to distribute gift baskets, a business cannot duplicate the homemade flair or assemble gifts with feeling.

Since themes are popular and everyone appreciates the warmth of a cozy breakfast, make this Purim the year to bake muffins, scones or coffee cake for family and friends.

Although Goldman is an award-winning cookbook author, she remains a home baker at heart. She has plenty of advice for those who fear baking.

“Look for recipes where the batter is mixed in one bowl,” she says of the fuss-free, time-saving technique. Many one-bowl recipes yield impressive results.

“Make an easy dough,” Goldman says. “Prepare a lot of one thing. Instead of attempting to bake four different pastries, make four batches of one recipe.”

Give limited amounts of the batches to each person or family on your list, she suggests, then add thoughtful extras that personalize each gift basket based on the recipient’s interests or taste.

Some examples: For tea lovers, include an assortment of fragrant teas, a tea bag caddy and a tea infuser. Avid readers might enjoy a new novel, bookmarks or magazine subscriptions.

Goldman claims that on her Web site, Betterbaking.com, she receives more traffic on Purim than at any other holiday during the year, even though it is a mainstream site.

“People who don’t bake find a way to rise to the occasion at Purim,” she says.

Goldman also is full of ideas on presenting these breakfast treats with style. One is to use attractive tins, which can be ordered online at Cookietins.com. But with open containers, such as baskets, she suggests wrapping with yards of cellophane that can be purchased in a rainbow of colors at stores that sell gift wrap.

Loaf pans work well as containers, as do colorful mixing bowls, large Chinese take-out boxes (from Dollar stores, Sweet Celebrations and party stores), flower pots, platters or bowls (bought on sale or at thrift shops) or any offbeat vessel.

People love to be surprised by unusual packaging. No two gifts have to be presented the same way, nor do they have to contain identical extras.

Here are some extras that complement breakfast pastries: jars of honey or jam, pancake mix, maple syrup, granola, a small breakfast cookbook, tea, coffee or mugs. The day’s newspaper might be a nice touch, too.

Like the three women who one morning long ago showered Goldman with pastries and pennies, you can be the sunshine that brightens someone’s day.

The recipes below are from “A Passion for Baking.”

Lemon-Yogurt Poppy Seed Muffins

A traditional Purim ingredient, poppy seeds lend crunch to these muffins that stay fresh for days. You can make them extra large for a splashy presentation or in miniature for small mishloach manot containers.

Muffin Batter

Ingredients:
1/2cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Juice of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 lemon, finely minced
1 teaspoon pure lemon extract
1 cup plain yogurt
2 1/4 to 2 1/2 all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 to 4 tablespoons poppy seeds

Lemon Syrup:
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 cup sugar

Preparation:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Arrange oven rack to middle position. Line a large 12-cup muffin pan or a 24-cup mini muffin pan with appropriately sized paper liners and place pan on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
2. In a mixer bowl, cream butter until smooth and creamy. Blend in sugar and then eggs, vanilla, lemon juice, zest, lemon extract, and yogurt. Blend well; fold in flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and poppy seeds.
3. For large muffins, use a large ice cream scoop to scoop a generous amount of batter into prepared muffin cups. Make sure you load muffin cups full, but deposit one muffin first as a tester – batter should stay in place. If it topples over, add a bit more flour to the remaining batter. For mini muffins, use a mini ice cream scoop to fill muffin cups.
4. For large muffins, bake until nicely browned around the edges and muffins are set, about 28 to 32 minutes. For mini muffins, bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until muffins spring back when gently pressed with fingertips.
5. For Lemon Syrup, simmer water, lemon juice, extract, and sugar over low heat for 5 minutes. Cool well.
6. Brush baked poppy seed muffins 2 or 3 times with Lemon Syrup while they are still warm. Let cool 5 minutes before removing from pan.
Yield: 12 large muffins or 24 mini muffins

Blueberries-and-Cream Mall Muffins

No mixer is necessary for these gems with wonderful domed tops, just like you get at the mall, or for mini muffins, which fit nicely into small containers for mishloach manot gifts.

Ingredients:

Nonstick cooking spray
2 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon each pure lemon and orange extract, optional
5 cups, approximately, all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups semi-frozen blueberries
Finishing Touch: sugar for dusting

Preparation:

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Arrange oven rack to middle position, which is the upper third of most ovens.
2. Generously spray a 12-cup large or standard muffin pan or a 24-cup small muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray and then line with paper muffin liners. Place pan on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
3. In a small mixer bowl, blend sugar with oil and butter. Briskly add eggs, vanilla, and other extracts. Fold in 4 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Blend somewhat before next blending in buttermilk and sour cream. Batter should be quite thick; if not, add a touch more flour. Gently fold in berries with a spatula, trying not to break them apart.
4. For big mall muffins, use a large ice cream scoop to scoop a very large amount of batter into prepared muffin cups, loading them as full as you can. You need almost a scoop and a half of batter per cup. For mini-muffins, use a mini ice cream scoop. Dust tops of muffins with a little sugar.
5. For big mall muffins, bake 15 minutes at 425; then reduce oven temperature to 350 and bake until muffins are golden brown and spring back when gently pressed with fingertips, about 12 to 16 more minutes. For mini muffins, bake at 375 until muffins spring back when gently pressed with fingers, about 22 to 25 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before removing from pan.
Yield: 12 large mall muffins or 24 mini muffins

Betterbaking.com’s Famous Breakfast Scones

As a mishloach manot gift, these wholesome scones can be presented inside an oversized coffee mug.

Ingredients:

Zest of 1 small orange
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter or canola oil
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 large eggs
1 cup, or a bit more, buttermilk, or soured milk, or loose plain yogurt
1 cup granola cereal, a particularly fiber filled brand
1/3 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons ground flax seed
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried sour cherries or cranberries
1/2 cup frozen raspberries or blueberries, or diced apple
Finishing Touches: Milk for brushing, flour or granola for dusting, warm honey for drizzling

Preparation:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Have oven rack set up in upper third oven position. Stack together 2 baking sheets and line top sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, blend orange zest, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, brown sugar, and whole wheat flour. Cut in butter or drizzle oil.
3. Make a well in center and add honey, maple syrup, eggs, and most of buttermilk. Mix it halfway through and then fold in granola, oats, cornmeal, flax seed, sunflower seeds, nuts, and fruit. Stir with a fork to make a soft batter, adding more buttermilk, if mixture seems dry and doesn’t hold together.
4. Use an ice cream scoop to deposit scones on prepared baking sheets. Brush with milk or dust with flour and granola, or leave plain.
5. Brush with milk, or dust with flour or granola, or brush with milk and dust on some brown sugar or flax seeds, or leave plain.
6. Bake 17 to 20 minutes until scones are nicely browned. Brush with warm honey as scones come out of the oven, if desired.
Yield: 12-14 small to medium scones

Breakfast Cafe Cinnamon Crumb Cake

This fragrant spice cake is easy but delicious. It’s a tender cake that can be divided into individual servings and sealed in plastic wrap for mishloach manot gifts.

Ingredients:

Nonstick cooking spray
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Preparation:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously spray a 9- or 10-inch springform pan or a 13-by-9-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place pan on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
2. In a mixer bowl, blend butter, flour, both sugars, salt, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and nutmeg. Remove 3/4 cup of this mixture and add chopped nuts and remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon to it. Set aside to become crumb topping.
3. To batter remaining in mixer bowl, add baking powder, baking soda, egg, vanilla, and buttermilk. Using a hand whisk, blend well.
4. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle on reserved crumb topping. Bake until cake tests done and springs back when gently pressed with fingertips, about 40 to 45 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Dust with confectioner’s sugar.
Yield: 10 to 12 servings

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