Sunday, December 11, 2016

Holiday Soiree: Hanukkah

The Holiday: Hanukkah(Worldwide)
So, it's early to be celebrating Hanukkah, but this year, it falls on the same day as Christmas, and those both fall on a weekend, making it difficult to do anything for this blog project on that weekend. Instead of skipping it this year, I am doing it early. So, Happy Hanukkah, everybody!

For those of you who are not familiar with this holiday, it is a Jewish holiday celebrating a rebellion in 200 BCE of the Jewish people against their oppressors. In this case, it was Antiochus III, of Greek-Syrian origin. It turns out that Antiochus was a jerkass, and made life unlivable for the Jewish people there. They rose up in protest, and what ensued was a seven year series of battles between them and Antiochus III. The famous story about the temple with the oil lasting eight days is a wonderful story, but it is also possibly within the realm of myth/legend. It's a fun story, and probably has some basis in a true historical event that has since been embellished upon.

The Food: Rugelach and Buñuelos/Bimuelos
Because of the traditional story about the temple with the miraculous oil, it is customary to eat fried foods at Hanukkah, and who am I to question tradition?!

Rugelach is a cookie that looks like a crescent roll, but with stuff inside it. It's amazing, if you've never had them before, you should try them out! I don't have a source for this recipe.

3 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1(8oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened(I used the 1/3 reduced-fat kind)
1 cup sugar, divided
2 egg yolks, room temp.
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
2 Tbsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup seedless raspberry or apricot jam
1 cup raisins, divided

1.) Whisk flour and salt in bowl.
2.) Beat butter and cream cheese in mixer bowl until smooth. Beat in 1/2 cup sugar, yolks, and vanilla until combined.
On low speed, beat in flour mixture until dough holds together. Gather dough into a ball and divide into 4 equal pieces; shape each into a 6" disk. Wrap each disk; refrigerate overnight.
3.) Line a sheet pan with foil. Remove dough disks from refrigerator; let stand 10 minutes.
Combine walnuts, remaining sugar and cinnamon in bowl; set aside 1 cup in another bowl for filling. Roll one disk on cutting board between 2 sheets of waxed paper into a 10" circle about 1/8" thick. Remove top sheet, but leave on the bottom sheet.(I only did 1/4th of the dough. I froze the rest for Christmas/Hanukkah Eve with my family. I think replacing the bottom sheet of wax paper is a good idea because this allows you to make the mess of spreading stuff on this and cutting it and rolling it up on something you can just throw away when you're finished. It really cut down on the mess.)
Spread 2 Tbsp. jam evenly onto circle.
Sprinkle evenly with 1/4 cup nut filling. Cut dough into 16 wedges; sprinkle with 1/4 cup raisins over top.(I spread everything on it and then made the cuts, but do what works best for you.)
Tightly roll wedges up from outer edge to form a crescent. Gently toss in remaining nut mixture to coat.(I didn't do this, I sprinkled a little bit on top but didn't toss it in there. It was just so messy I didn't want to do that.) Arrange seam-side down on pan so that sides touch. Repeat process with remaining dough, and jam.
4.) Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake 33-35 minutes(This is what the recipe says, but I found that alarmingly too long. I think I did mine for closer to 25 minutes, but test them at 20 and add time from there,) until golden. Cool in pan 5 minutes; transfer cookies to wire rack.
Makes 5 dozen. I sprinkled powdered sugar on these to make it look festive.

These are amazing!! I used leftover cranberry sauce that I made at Thanksgiving that still needed to be used up. The ones I will make for my family in a couple weeks will have strawberry jam, because that's the kind I have on hand. I have never made dough with cream cheese in it before and I think it's really tasty! The cookies are crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. I hope the dough I froze will work ok when I thaw it out. Because I've never made it before, it's a risk, but it's been my experience that when a dough recipe has the refrigerate step, it can be frozen at that point and thawed out at another time. Time will tell, I suppose! I have a few of these to take to work for my coworkers to try, and I also gave some to my parents and grandparents too.

This was a fun cookie, but there's no frying involved. I have done latkes before and even made apple fritters once for Hanukkah, and needed something new and exciting. You may not know this about me, but I have a fascination with Jewish cuisine. As a history major with a focus on food, it's a match made in Heaven for me! I have never run across a people whose history is so steeped in everything they eat, more than Jewish people. Every dish seems to tell the story of who they are, and their past. So, because of this, I actually have several Jewish cuisine cookbooks, in spite of not being Jewish, myself. I looked through all of them, and found just the right thing in a book called, "A Drizzle of Honey: The Lives and Recipes of Spain's Secret Jews," by David M. Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson.

Did you know there is a group of Jewish people who settled in Spain? They are called Sephardic, and have a long history in the Iberian Peninsula. Once upon a time, the Muslims settled in the Iberian Peninsula, and ended up ruling there for over 800 years. During this time, they brought with them a lot of ingredients and cooking techniques that the region is still known for to this day. Also during this time, Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived together in a sort of peace. When the Christians eventually took over the region, they were less kind and expelled the Jews from the region. To work around this, many of them converted publicly to Christianity, but kept their own beliefs and traditions in their homes. Unfortunately, the Inquisition was at this same time period, and friends and family members were encouraged to turn each other in if they suspected them of heresy. Jewish traditions were considered a heresy. A lot of the recipes from this book come from people who were turned in and tortured by the Church. Many of them were burned at the stake.

This is why food is important. It tells a story after people are long gone and can no longer tell it for themselves. It keeps their history alive. Enjoy it, love it, have fun making, eating, and sharing it, but always be respectful of it. This is not my history, and the people who had to hide it from the world didn't have the luxury of being able to share it with others. So, enjoy the food, remember their history, and share both for them.

Buñuelos/Bimuelos(Found on page270-272 in the paperback copy of the book)
These are also popular in Mexican cuisine. The reason? Because the cultures blended over the years, a lot of what the Jewish people ate ended up being what the larger Christian population ate as well.

1 pkg. dry yeast
1 1/3 cups warm water
3 cups unsifted white flour
2 eggs, well beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil

3 cups honey
1/4 cup water

Olive oil(enough to cover a deep pan to a depth of 1")

Powdered sugar

Mix the dough:
1. Dissolve the yeast in 1/3 cup warm water. Let sit for 10 minutes.
2. Place the flour into a medium bowl. Stir the yeasted water, the beaten eggs, salt, and olive oil into the flour all at once. Gradually add the remaining 1 cup water to make a slightly tacky dough.
 3. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour until doubled in bulk.

Make the syrup:
4. Mix the honey and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a hard boil. Reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 5 minutes and then turn down the heat to its minimum setting so that the syrup remains hot but does not boil again. (I used less honey than it called for. I actually didn't measure it or the water.)

Fry the fritters:
5. In a large deep skillet or saucepan, heat the olive oil to approximately 375 degrees or hot enough for a drop of water to sputter.
6. Dip a tablespoon into the oil to coat it. Dip out a scant teaspoon of the dough and drop it in the boiling oil.

You can fry several buñuelos at one time as long as you do not crowd them in the pan. (I did four at a time.) As they fry, turn them several times until they puff up and become golden in color, about 8 minutes.
 7. Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain them on paper towels.

Serve the fritters:
8. Place the fritters on a plate. Drizzle the hot honey syrup over them and sprinkle them with cinnamon and powdered sugar.

Note: These are best when eaten fresh. In a pinch, or for a crowd, the fritters can be made ahead, and then dipped into the honey syrup just before serving.
Variation: Sephardic cooks would have used olive oil to fry the fritters. We suggest a mixture of 1 3/4 cups vegetable oil and 1/4 cup olive oil.(I used a blend of all the oil I had in the house. Olive oil is a really heavy oil and I didn't want to use too much of it for a dessert.)

In keeping with the story of the temple and the oil lasting for eight days when there was only enough for one day, I had my own Hanukkah miracle! I used up most of my oil to make these, and ended up having just enough to fry the entire amount of dough without having to make an emergency trip to the store to buy more!

So, these were like little pillows from Heaven. They taste like waffles! My apartment smells like a fish fry now! But it was worth it to taste these little nuggets of joy. I drizzled them in all the toppings and then stirred them around. You might need to use a spoon or a fork to do this because that honey is molten, but if you're more seasoned, you can use your fingers like I did. In the restaurant business, the term is "asbestos fingers" to describe when you can touch hot things and not burn yourself. It comes with time and practice and is not for the faint of heart!

Also, be careful with the honey, it's currently on everything, including my water bottle. It's sticky as heck! I have some of these to take to work tomorrow too. Hopefully they'll reheat decently for people to try them out.

Well, hopefully my family will get to try the rugelach in a couple weeks when I see them for Christmas! This was a fun set of recipes. I recommend them both very highly. For those of you who celebrate, I hope you have a most wonderful and joyous Hanukkah this year!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Never mind. Misread. Great article. :D

  3. Really good stuff - both the food and the info. Keep it coming!