Purim began at sundown last evening, the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar. One of the most festive holidays on the Jewish calendar, Purim celebrates the biblical story of the Jews’ deliverance from Haman, minister to the Persian king. Queen Esther of Persia, a resilient and brave woman, along with her cousin Mordecai, foiled an evil plot, saving the Jewish people from certain doom. I know these facts not because I was paying close attention in Hebrew school, but because hamantaschen and a costume parade coincided with the lesson plan.
The tri-cornered pastries known as hamantaschen are symbolic of the hat worn by Haman. Originally, the pastries were filled with “mohn” or poppy seeds, thick jam, or nuts. The Settlement Cookbook calls yeast-risen sweets Purim Cakes or Haman Pockets. Jennie Grossinger’s The Art of Jewish Cooking offers both yeast-risen and cookie dough recipes under the heading of Hamentaschen. In Joan Nathan’s The Jewish Holiday Kitchen, a recipe for beigli or kindli is included; a yeast risen cookie served at Purim, flavored with wine and filled with rum spiked poppy-seeds, raisins, and figs.
Contemporary versions of the triangular cookie have veered off course from the Hamantaschen road our grandmothers traveled. Bakers have reimagined the simple cookie, zhushing them with unicorns, rainbows, s’mores, and blizzards of sprinkles. I’ll admit old hamantaschen habits die hard; make mine mohn or jammy, please. Currently, I’m pining for the strictly-from-scratch poppy seed version crafted by @beerswithbrahms in Toronto.
Recently, I’ve learned about a totally different Purim sweet; the shikkera babka, which translates to ‘drunken grandma.’ Before you accuse me of blasphemy, let’s take a stroll through the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food.
Within the pages of the food-centric encyclopedia, renowned food historian, the late Rabbi Gil Marks, explores a tipsy babka known as the shikkera babka. An un-filled yeast bread drizzled with a whiskey or rum laced syrup, the pastry closely mirrors both the French savarin and the baba au rhum. Marks goes on to suggest that the shikkera babka might have resembled the Polish babka because of its turban shape.
Fascinated by this new piece of knowledge, I turned to Mrs. Simon Kander and the ladies of the Settlement cookbook, plus Jennie, Joan, and an entire bookshelf dedicated to Jewish baking. Not a single book turned up the babka mentioned in the encyclopedia, but there were more than enough solid babka recipes for inspiration.
My tipsy babka experiment yielded an orange zested yeast bread swirled with dates and hazelnuts, lavishly doused with Cointreau. More of a commitment than a jam stuffed triangular cookie, it was well worth the whole dough megillah of resting, rising, and weaving. For the next one, I’m envisioning a swirl of poppy-seed filling and some dark chocolate.
In celebration of the cooled babka, I paraded around the kitchen with a thick slice, leaving behind a trail of hazelnuts and sticky crumbs. Though my grandmother would have opted for whiskey syrup over Cointreau, I’m fairly certain she would have approved.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm