Some sweet treats for the holiday

By LINDA MOREL / JTA
September 29, 2010 16:26

These confections are best served with coffee, tea, milk or club soda.




A pear and plum crisp

311_baked crisp. (photo credit: JTA)

While most people equate Succot and Simhat Torah with autumn vegetables, I picture these holidays as a tea party. Among Jews who build succot, the evening meal is the most popular time to gather inside these modern-day harvest huts.


Because temperatures often dip at night, it’s nice spending afternoon hours inside a succa with a favorite book. Nibbling cookies and sipping a cup of tea are nice accompaniments to the pleasure of reading by the light of the setting sun.

Held at the end of the growing season, Succot began in ancient Israel as a harvest festival. Just before the crops were gathered, Jews erected huts - succot – adjacent to the edges of their fields and lived inside for a week.

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While people no longer live inside their succot, it is customary, weather permitting, to eat as many meals as possible inside the huts.

Almost everyone loves sweets. Children often go for the gooier and more chocolate-laden stuff. But the health-conscious diet of a world increasingly suffering from obesity goes hand in hand with desserts typical of harvest celebrations – those composed of baked fruit.

Although flaky and delicious, these desserts usually don’t garner much attention. Perhaps that’s because they often overlap with the pastries that were served two weeks earlier on Rosh Hashana. Apple cakes, apple pies and apple strudel are popular pastries at both holidays.

Succot desserts, however, are a distinct genre in Jewish cuisine. Traditional holiday sweets are made with fall fruits such as pears, plums and late-season berries.

Holiday pastries are studded as well with dried fruits, nuts and seasonal spices such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom. Fruits that are abundant in seeds – notably pomegranates – also are popular in Succot baking. Their plentiful seeds symbolize fertility and hopes for a bountiful harvest.

Another group of dessert recipes popular at Succot are pastries that call for an etrog. Because of the etrog’s role in Succot ritual, Orthodox and Conservative Jews usually don’t cook with them until after Succot ends. While honoring the etrog, many traditional Succot pastry recipes call for lemon juice and zest.

These confections are best served with coffee, tea, milk or club soda. But for a festive flair, one can go the harvest way, all the way for the garnet hue of mulled pomegranate juice.

APPLE PIE WITH PHYLLO DOUGH CRUST

For those who are afraid to attempt pie crust dough, this pie’s flaky crust is easy to finesse.

Filling:

4 baking apples, such as Gala, Pink Lady or Cortland
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. flour
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
Dash of salt

Cut apples into wedges. Peel and core wedges. Cut wedges into thin slices. Place slices into a large bowl and add the remaining filling ingredients. With a wooden spoon, gently stir apples until all ingredients are well incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and reserve at room temperature.

Crust equipment:

2 30 x 40 cm. pieces of parchment paper
1 25-cm. deep-dish pie pan
1 soft-bristled basting brush

Crust ingredients:

8 Tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more to grease the pan
12 pieces of phyllo dough (use the packaged variety but, if frozen, defrost it first)
Vanilla ice cream (optional)

Crust preparation:

In a small saucepan on a low flame, melt 8 Tbsp. butter. Using the additional butter, coat the pie pan and reserve.

Place the sheets of phyllo dough on a piece of parchment paper. Cover them with plastic wrap. Then cover the plastic wrap with a clean, damp kitchen towel.

Lift one sheet of phyllo dough and place it on the second piece of parchment paper. Cover the pile of phyllo dough with the plastic wrap and towel each time you remove a sheet of dough.

Using the basting brush, spread butter over the surface of the first sheet of phyllo dough. Using the instructions above, remove another sheet of phyllo dough and place it over the buttered phyllo dough. Brush the second sheet with butter. When you’ve piled up and buttered four pieces of dough, gently lift the pile off the parchment and place it inside the pie pan. Because the dough will extend beyond the edge of the pie pan, drape it evenly on both sides. This first pile of dough will not cover the entire bottom of the pan.

Repeat this brushing with butter procedure until you’ve made a second pile of four sheets of dough. Lift this pile off the parchment paper and place it at right angles to the first pile of sheets inside the pie pan.

Repeat this brushing with butter procedure until you’ve made a third pile of four sheets of phyllo dough. Lift this pile off the parchment paper and place it on a diagonal to the other two piles of phyllo inside the pie pan. You will have covered the entire surface of the pie pan.

Preheat oven to 175º. Spoon the apple mixture evenly inside the pie pan. Fold over the phyllo dough that’s draped beyond the pie pan onto the apples. The folded dough will not cover the entire surface of thapples. Brush the folded dough surface generously with melted butter.

Place pie inside oven and bake for 50 minutes, or until phyllo dough browns and apples are cooked through. Cool to warm before slicing pie. Serve with vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Makes 8 servings.

PEAR AND PLUM CRISP

This seasonal dessert is a variation on the wildly popular apple crisp.

Fruit ingredients:

No-stick vegetable spray
4 firm but ripe pears
2 plums
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
Dash of salt

Fruit preparation:

Coat a 25-cm. deep-dish pie pan with no-stick spray. Cut pears into wedges. Skin and core the wedges.

Cut plums into wedges. Remove the skin and discard the pits. Cut pear and plum wedges into thin slices. Place wedges in a large mixing bowl. Add remaining fruit ingredients to the pears and plums. Mix gently with a wooden spoon until well incorporated. Spoon fruit into prepared pie pan.

Topping ingredients:
1/2 cup unsalted butter or margarine at room temperature
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

Optional accompaniment:
vanilla ice cream, or coconut or raspberry sorbet

Topping preparation:

Preheat oven to 175º. Place topping ingredients into a medium-sized bowl. With your hands, mix ingredients together until crumbly. Sprinkle on top of pears and plums.

Place pie pan inside oven and bake for 45 minutes, or until topping browns and fruit is heated through. Cool to warm.

Using a serving spoon, place spoonfuls of Pear and Plum Crisp on dessert plates, keeping topping in place. It’s impossible to cut into even pieces. Serve with ice cream or sorbet, if using.

Makes 8 servings

QUARTER POUND LEMON CAKES

Original recipes for pound cake called for a pound each of butter, flour and sugar, which is how this pastry acquired its name. This recipe is smaller in scale. An etrog can be used in place of lemon, if desired.

2 aluminum loaf pans (20 x 9 x 6 cm.)
No-stick vegetable spray

225 g. sweet butter at room temperature (if using margarine, keep it refrigerated)
225 g. sugar, about 1 cup
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. grated lemon peel, or more, if desired
1/4 tsp. lemon extract
225 g. flour, about 1 1/4 cups

Preheat oven to 175º. Generously coat aluminum pans with no-stick spray.

Place butter or margarine in a large mixing bowl and beat it until it turns pale yellow and almost fluffy, about 2 minutes on an electric mixer’s high speed.

Add sugar a little at a time and beat until mixture appears even fluffier. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the lemon juice, lemon peel and lemon extract, mixing until well incorporated.

Mix in the flour a little at a time, scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl a couple of times. Beat until well incorporated.

Pour half of the batter into each prepared pan. Place pans in the oven and bake for 40 minutes, or until tops of cakes are light brown and a tester inserted into the middle of each cake comes out clean. Cool to warm and slice or serve at room temperature. Cake freezes well.

Makes about 10 slices.

MULLED POMEGRANATE JUICE

Representing an abundant harvest, the seeds of pomegranates are difficult to handle. This recipe is an easy way to incorporate this festive fruit into the holiday celebrations.

12 cups pomegranate juice (found at most supermarkets) 12 cinnamon sticks 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves 4 Tbsp. sugar Place the ingredients into a medium-sized saucepan. Cover the pan and simmer on a low flame for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove cinnamon sticks with a slotted spoon and place on a plate. Pour mulled juice into teacups, preferably glass to show off the pomegranate’s glorious color. Place a cinnamon stick into each cup and serve immediately.

Makes 12 servings.


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