Parisian treats for Purim

Nuts, seeds and legumes are customary elements on the Purim menu to honor Queen Esther.

Nuts, seeds and legumes are customary elements on the Purim menu to honor Queen Esther, who was said to have followed a vegetarian diet in the King’s palace to avoid eating unkosher meat. This is the primary reason given for eating poppy seed-filled hamantashen on the holiday – besides the obvious one, being delicious!
Many sweet pastries that I learned to prepare in Paris make ideal Purim party treats.
For an easy way to enjoy poppy seeds for Purim, I like them as a topping for buttery French sables, or crumbly “sand cookies.”
When it comes to enhancing cookies, nuts are even more popular in France than seeds, and almonds are especially prized for their sweet, delicate flavor. Almond florentines are perfect for Purim, as these delightful treats make a colorful, festive element for the holiday gift basket of sweets (mishloah manot). Composed mostly of sliced almonds in a shiny honey glaze, these candy-like cookies are accented with candied fruit and frosted with dark chocolate. 
A more subtly flavored but equally luscious almond treat is the visitandine, or almond brown butter petit four. More a miniature cake than a cookie, it has the richness of a pound cake with a unique flavor due to brown butter and a generous proportion of almonds. Made from only five ingredients and baked in small molds like cupcakes, cakelike visitandines are ideal for a Purim feast or for mishloah manot.  
Holiday gift packages with homemade treats of different textures, colors and flavors are a special Purim pleasure. You might like to combine hamantashen with poppyseed cookies, fruity chocolate almond florentines and delicate almond brown butter petits fours for a delicious Purim à la parisienne.
These cookies are made from French butter cookie dough. You can make the dough up to 3 days ahead and keep it wrapped in the refrigerator; or you can keep the shaped cookies, covered, overnight in the refrigerator.
125 gr. (1⁄2 cup plus 1 tsp.) unsalted butter, cold
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1⁄2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
grated zest of 1 orange or 1 lemon
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 to 2 Tbsp. orange juice or water (optional)
2 to 3 Tbsp. poppy seeds
To make cookie dough in a food processor: Cut butter in small cubes. Combine egg, egg yolk, sugar, salt, grated zest and butter in food processor. Mix using 10 on/off turns; then process 5 seconds. Small pieces of butter will remain. Add flour and process about 2 seconds; scrape down with rubber spatula and process a few seconds or until dough begins to form sticky crumbs but does not form a ball. If crumbs are dry, add juice. Wrap dough in plastic wrap, press into a ball, then flatten into a disc.
To make dough by hand: Sift flour onto a work surface and make a well in center. Put egg, egg yolks, salt, sugar, and grated orange rind in well and mix briefly, using your fingers. Cut butter in about 10 pieces and pound to soften them slightly. Separate butter again in pieces and add them to well. Using your fingers, mix and crush ingredients in center of well until mixed but still not smooth. Draw in flour and crumble ingredients through your fingers, raising them in air, until dough begins to come together. Blend dough by pushing portions of it away from you and smearing it on work surface, then gathering it together again. Repeat twice more until dough is nearly smooth. Press it into a ball and dust it with flour. Wrap in plastic wrap.
Refrigerate dough at least 4 hours. Lightly butter 2 baking sheets. Roll out half the dough on a cool, lightly floured surface until 6 mm. thick. Using a 6- to 7.5-cm. cutter, cut dough in circles. Sprinkle each with 1⁄8 to 1⁄4 teaspoon poppy seeds, according to your taste. Press to make seeds adhere to dough and transfer cookies to baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough. Press trimmings gently together and chill them. Roll them out, cut more circles and make more poppy seed cookies. Refrigerate cookies for 30 minutes or chill them in the freezer for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 190ºC. Bake cookies 8 to 9 minutes or until they are very light brown at edges. Transfer carefully to racks to cool.
Makes about 20 cookies.
These lacy, sliced almond cookies are studded with candied fruits, flavored with honey and glazed with chocolate. By calling them “florentines,” French pastry chefs acknowledge that these cookies probably originated in Florence, Italy. This deliciously rich version is the way I learned to make them in Paris. You can keep florentines in an airtight container up to 1 week in the refrigerator.
1⁄2 cup whipping cream
55 gr. (1⁄4 cup) unsalted butter
1⁄2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. honey
1⁄3 cup diced candied orange peel, finely chopped
1⁄3 cup red candied cherries, rinsed in hot water, drained and chopped
12⁄3 cups sliced almonds
6 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
225 gr. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 175ºC. Butter and flour 2 baking sheets, preferably nonstick, tapping to remove excess flour.
In a heavy medium saucepan mix cream with butter, sugar, honey, candied peel and cherries. Cook over low heat, stirring, until butter melts. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring. Remove from heat; stir in almonds and flour. Drop rounded teaspoons of mixture onto prepared baking sheets, spacing them 7 cm. apart. Flatten each cookie until very thin by pressing it with the bottom of a fork dipped in water.
Bake 5 minutes. Remove from oven. Using a 7.5-cm cookie cutter, pull in any uneven edges of each cookie to give it an even round shape. Bake 4 minutes longer or until edges of cookies are golden brown. Watch carefully – they burn easily; but do not underbake or cookies quickly become sticky. Cool to lukewarm on baking sheet. Remove cookies to a rack with a metal pancake turner.
Melt chocolate in a medium bowl over nearly simmering water. Stir until smooth. Remove from water; cool, stirring often, about 5 minutes or until slightly thickened. Line a tray with foil or waxed paper. Spread chocolate on flat side of each cookie; set on tray.
Refrigerate cookies 5 minutes or until chocolate is thickened but not set. Using a cake-decorating comb or a fork, mark wavy lines on chocolate coating of each cookie. Refrigerate about 10 minutes or until set. To serve, arrange cookies on a platter, alternating some with chocolate facing up, others with chocolate facing down.
Makes about 42 cookies.
Visitandines gain their characteristic flavor from ground almonds and brown butter. In Parisian pastry shops, they are usually baked in boat-shaped or small rectangular molds, which give them a slightly crisp crust. Mini-muffin pans work well, and so do cupcake pans, in which the petits fours come out larger and more cakelike. You can keep them for 1 week in an airtight container, but they are best on the day they are baked.
11⁄3 cups slivered almonds
11⁄4 cups sugar
3⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
8 large egg whites, room temperature
220 gr. butter, preferably unsalted
Generously butter 30 small boat-shaped molds or small square molds (each containing about 2 tablespoons) or 12 non-stick cupcake pans with soft butter. Preheat oven to 200ºC for small molds, or 190ºC for cupcakes.
In a food processor grind almonds with 1⁄4 cup sugar to a fine powder. Transfer to a heavy saucepan. Add remaining sugar. Sift in flour and mix well. Add whites to almond mixture and mix very well, using whisk.
In a small saucepan melt butter over medium-low heat until it starts to brown in dots (look under bubbles) and has nutty smell. This can take 10 minutes or more but should be watched carefully. Pour into a glass measuring cup, for easy pouring.
Heat almond mixture over low heat, whisking constantly, until just warm to touch; be careful because mixture burns easily. Remove from heat. Gradually whisk in melted butter. Transfer to a measuring cup. Let stand 5 minutes, and then stir batter.
Pour enough batter into molds to fill them by about 2⁄3. Set boat molds, small square molds, or tartlet pans on a sturdy baking sheet. Bake small molds about 15 minutes, or cupcakes about 20 minutes, or until top is set and light beige, and edges are golden brown. Unmold immediately onto rack and cool.
Makes 24 to 30 small cakes or 12 cupcakes.
Faye Levy is the author of Fresh from France: Dessert Sensations and, in Hebrew, of Sefer hakinuhim and Sefer ha’ugot, “The book of desserts” and “The book of cakes.”