(December 11, 2020 / JNS) Jewish individuals and families around the world will light the first Hanukkah candle after sundown on Dec. 10, marking the beginning of the eight-day “Festival of Lights” and the start of the celebration of a resounding story of freedom. In the mid-second century BCE, the Greeks prohibited Jewish practices, even circumcision. The last straw was when the Holy Temple was converted into a pagan shrine, prompting Judah Maccabee and his four brothers to lead a rebellion defeating the Syrian-Greek armies. The Temple was cleansed on the 25th day of the month of Kislev, and rededicated by Judah and his followers, who built a new altar. A makeshift menorah was lit by a cruse of oil that was enough for one day but lasted for eight until more was to be had. The tradition of cooking with oil symbolic of that miracle.
This Hanukkah is like no other in living memory. In the midst of a deadly pandemic, family and friends are isolated. In-person hugs and kisses, laughter and handshakes, dreidel games and gifts of gelt are all missing. But COVID-19 can’t stop us from celebrating. We’ll order online from the comfort of home. Likely items will include comfy pajamas, warm socks, soft blankets, sweatpants, board games and snack foods. We’ll share dinners on Zoom and FaceTime to connect with family, albeit virtually, exchanging recipes for the best latkes and doughnuts.
During World War II, when Britain was battered and bombed by Nazi Germany, people were able to be together, to sympathize with hugs and shoulders to lean on. Forced to seek safety in air-raid shelters, seated shoulder to shoulder with gas masks slung over their shoulders, adults and children were comforted by a social intimacy. They sang songs to keep up their spirits, entertained kids with stories, gossiped to add a degree of normalcy, and shared snacks and drinks until the all-clear siren sounded. With mandatory night blackouts when there wasn’t a glimmer of light to be seen, friends walked along the dark streets to neighbors for a cuppa (a good strong cup of tea) and a hand of whist (card game).
Just about everything was rationed, including butter, sugar, meat and tea. Each person got one pound of sugar per person per month—and that included candy. Margarine was substituted for butter. But Brits learned to cook overcoming severe shortages. Lentils substituted for meat in Shepherd’s Pie; sponge cakes were prepared without eggs; vinegar, plus water, replaced yeast; and oil was in short supply. Though we cannot be together this year, our supermarkets are well-stocked with an abundance of ingredients to help us celebrate Hanukkah.
With time on our hands and a bit of thought, we can establish new traditions. Set an example to be followed. Show kindness to neighbors, shop for the elderly who are living alone, make phone calls to shut-ins or, as I’ll be doing, bake and cook for a local food bank.
Hanukkah dishes fried in oil are traditional. But young kids and a pot of hot oil can be a recipe for burns and tears. And children do want to help, so let them join in with the proper precautions. In the recipe for Pumpkin Sufganiot, I’ve included baking instructions with plenty “hands-on” preparation. Sticky Toffee Pudding, a British classic soaked in toffee sauce, is baked in muffin tins for solo or “bubble” groups. Sinfully rich, it’s a magic bullet guaranteed to soothe body and soul.
To a sweet and safe Hanukkah season!
Pumpkin Sufganiyot (Dairy)
Traditionally, Israeli sufganiyot, served crisp and hot, have no filling. Pre-coronavirus, when traveling to Israel on El Al Airlines, baskets of sufganiyot were offered at ticket counters. Not so this year.
*No deep-fry thermometer? Drop a 1-inch piece of bread into the oil. If it takes 60 seconds to brown, the oil is between 325 to 350 degrees or stick end of a wooden spoon into oil. When bubbles form and start to float up, the oil is ready for frying.
*Fry in small batches. Do not crowd.
*For the cinnamon-sugar: 2 teaspoons cinnamon to 2 tablespoons sugar. It stores well in a tightly covered container at room temperature.
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
¾ teaspoon pumpkin-pie spice
1 egg, lightly beaten
1¼ cups vanilla yogurt
2 tablespoons canned pumpkin
vegetable or canola oil for frying
powdered or cinnamon-sugar to sprinkle
In a medium bowl, stir the flour, baking powder, sugar and pumpkin-pie spice.
Make a well in the center. Add the egg, yogurt and pumpkin. Mix well.
Cover and set aside for 15 to 20 minutes. Roll into 1½-inch balls.
In a large heavy saucepan or deep fryer, heat 2 inches oil to 345 degrees on a deep-fry thermometer. Gently slide in dough balls without crowding. Lower the heat.
Cook until crisp and nicely browned, 2 to 3 minutes.
Turn often with a slotted spoon. Drain on paper towels. Toss in powdered or cinnamon-sugar.
Safer Baking Method:
With floured hands, roll the dough into 2-inch balls. Brush with oil, then roll in cinnamon-sugar.
Place on a greased baking tray.
Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 15 to 18 minutes.
When done, sufganiyot will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
My Best Brisket (Meat)
*Three secrets for perfect brisket: marinate first; braise slowly in well-seasoned liquid, and let rest overnight in the gravy before reheating and serving.
*Use a disposable oven-roasting bag—a kitchen item that Bubbe never had.
*Flat beer is fine.
¾ cup beer
⅓ cup chili sauce
1 medium onion, thickly sliced
10-12 prepared baby carrots
10-12 button mushrooms, halved
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon bottled minced garlic
3½- to 4-pound brisket, trimmed of excess fat
salt and pepper to sprinkle
Prepare a large size oven-roasting bag according to package directions.
Pour the beer, chili sauce, onion, carrots, mushrooms, bay leaves and garlic into the bag and mix.
Sprinkle the brisket with salt and pepper. Add to the bag spooning the beer mixture over top.
Tie bag and place in a roasting pan large enough to hold the brisket without it flopping over the sides. Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Bake for 2½ hours or until a fork easily pierces the thickest part of the meat.
Cool slightly, then slice and arrange in a baking dish along with the vegetables and gravy. Remove the bay leaves. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.
Shortly before serving, skim off any fat. Cover tightly with heavy foil.
Heat through in a preheated 375-degree oven, about 20 minutes. Or reheat in a pot over medium heat, covered.
Potato Latkes From Normandy (Pareve)
I first tasted these latkes in Normandy, where butter was used instead of oil. Either way, these two-ingredient latkes cook into a crunchy, thin pancake. They are addictively delicious.
*Recipe may be doubled. Use two skillets for faster cooking.
*Serve with “No Cook” Apple-Raspberry Sauce.
1 large baking potato
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
salt and pepper
Scrub the potato. No need to peel. Shred on the large holes of a box grater or better still, grate in the food processor using the grating blade.
In a 7-inch skillet, melt 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat.
Spoon half of the potatoes into the hot oil. With a spatula, press evenly over the bottom of the skillet. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Raise heat to high and cook for 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium and cook until crisp on the bottom, 2 to 3 minutes longer.
Flip over and cook until underside is browned and crisp, about 2 minutes.
Drain on paper towels and keep warm.
Repeat with remaining ingredients.
Creamed Mushrooms on Toast (Dairy)
*Use any preferred bread: Kaiser rolls, challah, hamburger buns.
*Sprinkle generously with chopped fresh parsley before serving.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 box (16 ounces) sliced white mushrooms, rinsed and patted dry
1 medium onion, chopped
1½ cups sour cream
4 small ciabatta rolls, split and toasted
In a large, deep skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat.
Add the mushrooms and onion.
Raise heat to high, stirring until mushrooms are beginning to brown.
If mushrooms have released liquids, reduce to medium heat and cook for 5 minutes, or until almost no liquids remain.
Remove from heat. Stir in sour cream. Spoon over toasted rolls.
‘No Cook’ Apple-Raspberry Sauce (Pareve)
A palate refresher.
*Substitutions: 1 tablespoon grated ginger root for cinnamon.
*Use blueberries for raspberries, if preferred.
*Use 1 tablespoon of warm honey for sugar, if preferred.
2 pounds McIntosh apples, cored, unpeeled
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons sugar or to taste
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup fresh raspberries, rinsed
Cut apples into chunks.
Place in the food processor with lemon juice, 1 tablespoon sugar and cinnamon. Pulse until the mixture is reduced to small chunks. Transfer to a bowl.
If needed, add sugar to taste. Stir in the raspberries.
Sticky Toffee Pudding (Dairy)
A British classic and allegedly, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge’s favorite dessert.
*Pudding may be made ahead. Wrap in foil and warm in preheated 350 degrees oven for 10 minutes.
*Garnish with a dab of whipped cream.
3 ounces pitted dates
½ cup water
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
⅓ cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon orange extract (optional)
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon light or dark corn syrup
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 6 muffin tins with nonstick baking spray. Set aside.
Place the dates and water in a small saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat. Reduce to low. Simmer for 3 minutes. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, cream the butter, sugar, orange extract, molasses and corn syrup, whisking till smooth. Add the flour and baking powder, beating well to combine.
Purée the date mixture in a blender or food processor. Add to the batter, along with the baking soda.
Mix well. Pour into prepared muffin tins. Bake in a preheated oven for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the centers are firm. They are ready when you gently press tops with your finger and it springs back or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Place on serving dishes. Prick tops with a fork. Pour hot toffee sauce over.
Toffee Sauce (Dairy)
Makes about 1¼ cups
Tips and Tricks:
You may want to double this rich recipe. Any leftovers may be refrigerated and warmed before drizzling over top vanilla ice-cream or toasted pound cake.
¼ cup butter, softened
½ cup whipping cream
¼ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tablespoon molasses
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1 teaspoon orange extract (optional)
Place all the ingredients in a small saucepan. Stir to mix.
Bring to boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to simmer.
Cook for 3 minutes to thicken slightly.
Pour over hot muffin puddings.
Serve as above.
Ethel G. Hofman is a widely syndicated American Jewish food and travel columnist, author and culinary consultant.
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