Something sweet and savory for Tu Bishvat

The best known Tu Bishvat custom is serving dried fruits and nuts and using them in baking.

Trail mix oatmeal cookies (photo credit: MIRIAM PASCAL)
Trail mix oatmeal cookies
(photo credit: MIRIAM PASCAL)
For Tu Bishvat, the New Year for Trees, the family of Miriam Pascal, the author of the recently published cookbook Something Sweet, enjoys traditions that recall those of Rosh Hashana. There are exotic fruits on their tables, and a variety of familiar ones. In addition, the seven species of the Land of Israel are included in their meals.
The best known Tu Bishvat custom is serving dried fruits and nuts and using them in baking. The reason is that in the past there was not much fresh fruit available for this late winter holiday.
You might want to serve dried fruit and nuts on a platter, and alternate them with fresh from the oven cookies, cake slices or other home-baked sweet treats. Other good choices are whole dates stuffed with walnuts or pecans, or chocolate-dipped dried fruit such as apricots, figs, dates or prunes.
Pascal, the author of the blog Overtime Cook, has a busy schedule and therefore she makes sweets that don’t take much time. To add fruit and nuts to her oatmeal cookies, she simply buys trail mix made of a combination of dried fruit, nuts and sometimes candy, and stirs it into the cookie dough. (See recipe.)
From a similar dough that she flavors with cinnamon, she makes oatmeal cookie wedges studded with dried cranberries. She bakes the cookie dough in round cake pans and cuts the “cakes” in wedges. Sometimes she dips the pointed end of each wedge in melted chocolate.
For healthier oatmeal raisin cookies, she combines toasted oatmeal with white whole-wheat flour, and uses agave syrup as the sweetener and vegetable oil as the fat instead of butter or margarine. She also adds a “secret ingredient” – a purée of canned white beans.
It’s easy to adapt your favorite cookie recipes for Tu Bishvat. If you have a chocolate-chip cookie recipe you like, you can substitute raisins, dried cranberries, dried cherries or chopped dried apricots for all or part of the chocolate chips. If brownies are popular in your family, you can stir chopped dried fruit and nuts into the brownie batter. For pretty cookies, choose fruit of contrasting colors to add to the batter – dried apricots or dried pears for chocolate cookies, or raisins, diced dates or diced prunes for light-colored cookies.
Instead of cutting dried fruit in pieces, you can cook and puree it to give desserts a concentrated fruit flavor. This is the technique used to make apricot bar cookies called apricot delights in Divine Kosher Cuisine: Catering to Family and Friends by Risé Routenberg and Barbara Wasser. The cookies are baked from a simple butter- sugar-flour crust and a topping of sweetened dried apricot purée and walnuts. (See recipe.)
For those who prefer savory treats, an irresistible one is glazed nuts. There are many ways to prepare them – choose one kind of nut or a mixture. Pascal uses almonds, cashews, pecans and walnuts to make her sweet-and-spicy roasted nuts. (See recipe.) Flavor the nuts with sweet spices like cinnamon or hot spices like cayenne pepper, or some of each. Add an egg white to enable the flavorings to adhere. As you bake the nuts, they become glazed and toasted at the same time.
Chocolate lovers will be glad to know how easy it is to make chocolate bark studded with fruit and nuts. All you do is spread melted chocolate on parchment paper, sprinkle it with dried fruit and roasted nuts, and when the chocolate sets, break it into pieces. Pascal makes her fruit and nut bark with semisweet chocolate, raisins and roasted salted nuts. (See recipe.) Other variations she likes are white chocolate bark with Rice Krispies cereal and a sprinkling of coarse sea salt, and “s’mores bark” with semisweet chocolate, crushed graham crackers and mini marshmallows.
If you make chocolate bark, you might want to bring out a plate of it after you have served the platter of dried fruits and nuts, so that people will eat these traditional Tu Bishvat treats first. Otherwise, once your friends taste the chocolates, they might finish them quickly and clamor for more.
Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning book, Chocolate Sensations.
“These cookies are crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside,” wrote Miriam Pascal in Something Sweet. “Add the various textures of the nuts, fruit (and candy!) in the trail mix, and you’re in for a real treat.”
To save time, you can use your favorite purchased trail mix in these cookies; or create your own by combining your choice of nuts, raisins and, if you like, candies, Pascal advises. You can freeze these cookies in an airtight container or in a bag.
Makes about 42 cookies
■ 1 cup oil
■ ¾ cup white sugar
■ ¾ cup brown sugar
■ 2 eggs
■ 1 tsp. baking soda
■ 1 tsp. vanilla extract
■ ½ tsp. salt
■ 2 cups flour
■ 1½ cups old-fashioned rolled oats
■ 2 cups trail mix
Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, on medium speed, beat together oil and sugars until smooth. Add eggs, baking soda, vanilla and salt. Beat to combine.
Reduce mixer speed to low; add flour and oats. Mix until dough is combined and smooth. Stir in the trail mix until evenly distributed.
Use a medium cookie scoop (or a heaping tablespoon) to drop dough onto prepared baking sheets. These cookies spread quite a bit, so leave about 5 cm. (a couple of inches) between them.
Bake the cookies for 10 to 11 minutes, until the tops are set and light golden. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool.
“Bark is one of my favorite desserts to make,” wrote Pascal. “It looks elegant enough for sweet shops and chocolatiers to charge” a high price, “but it’s ridiculously easy to make – and it’s so versatile.... In addition to being a delicious candy... on its own, shards of bark make great decorations for cupcakes, layer cakes, mousse cups and other desserts.”
She recommends using the toppings of your choice. In addition to dried fruit and nuts, some that she likes include cereal, pretzels, popcorn and potato chips.
Chocolate bark keeps in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to a week, and longer in the freezer.
Makes about 900 gr. (2 pounds)
■ 425 gr. (15 ounces) semisweet chocolate, melted
■ ¾ cup raisins, dried cranberries or chopped dried fruit of your choice
■ ¾ cup mixed roasted, salted nuts
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Use a rubber or offset spatula to spread the melted chocolate in a thin layer over the parchment paper. It should cover most of the baking sheet.
Sprinkle toppings over chocolate, distributing them evenly.
Allow chocolate to set completely; break hardened bark into pieces.
“There’s something extra-tempting about these slightly sticky, slightly sweet, faintly spicy, and completely irresistible nuts,” wrote Pascal. “If you’ve never roasted nuts, try this easy recipe and you’ll find out what you’ve been missing!” She notes that the small amount of cayenne pepper imparts only a hint of heat, but if you don’t like hot pepper, she suggests using only a pinch of cayenne or omitting it. You can keep these nuts in an airtight container for up to one week.
Makes 4 cups
■ 1 egg white
■ ¼ cup pure maple syrup or honey
■ 2 Tbsp. oil
■ 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
■ 2 tsp. salt
■ 1½ tsp. cinnamon
■ ½ tsp. ground ginger
■ ¼ tsp. ground cayenne pepper
■ 1 cup raw almonds
■ 1 cup raw cashews
■ 1 cup raw pecans
■ 1 cup raw walnuts
Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together egg white, maple syrup, oil, sugar, salt and spices until smooth. Add nuts; toss until all are evenly coated.
Spread nut mixture on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 8 minutes; then stir and bake for an additional 8 minutes.
Nuts will be soft when they come out of the oven, but firm up as they cool. Cool completely before serving.
These cookie bars combine sweet apricots with lemon juice and zest and crunchy walnuts. They look somewhat like lemon bars but their topping has an orange-brown hue. The bars are one of the signature desserts in Divine Kosher Cuisine: Catering to Family and Friends by Risé Routenberg and Barbara Wasser, a collection of favorite recipes from Congregation Agudat Achim in Niskayuna, New York. Choose butter to make them dairy, or margarine to make them parve.
Makes 36 bars
■ 110 gr. (4 ounces or ½ cup) butter or margarine
■ 1 cup flour
■ 1 cup sugar
■ ¾ cup dried apricots
■ 2 large eggs
■ 1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
■ ¹⁄3 cup flour
■ ½ tsp. baking powder
■ ¼ tsp. salt
■ 2½ tsp. finely grated fresh lemon zest
■ 2½ Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
■ ½ cup chopped walnuts
Crust: Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F). Grease a 23-cm (9-inch) square pan.
Melt butter and transfer to a bowl. Stir in flour and sugar until well blended. Press dough in greased pan in an even layer. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Leave oven on.
Meanwhile, making topping: Cover apricots with water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain and cool.
Puree apricots in a food processor.
Beat eggs in a medium bowl at medium speed of electric mixer. Add sugar and beat until blended.
In another bowl mix flour with baking powder and salt. Add to egg and sugar mixture. Stir in lemon zest and juice. Fold in nuts and apricot purée.
Pour filling into baked crust. Bake for 35 minutes or until set. Cool for 10 minutes.
Run knife around edges to loosen bars from pan. Chill thoroughly before cutting into squares.