The holiday season is sort of a strange time for me. Like many American Jews, I grew up celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah. When I decided to firmly embrace my Jewish side, I felt like I had to give up Christmas and some of the secular joys of the holiday season. To complicate matters, Christmas reminds me terribly of my mother who passed away when I was sixteen, and so while it is a connection to her, it is a bittersweet memory.
My mom really got into holidays – all holidays – whether it was Halloween, Thanksgiving or Christmas, she was ready with some tacky earrings, decorative salt shakers and surely an ugly sweater or two as well. She loved Christmas music, and from early December through New Year’s we would be subjected to a rotation of possibly the two worst Christmas albums ever made: Johnny Matthis and Amy Grant. I cringe just thinking about those CDs of hers.
Nevertheless, the season is bittersweet as I balance my desire to connect to these memories of my mother, participate in some kind of festive activities while maintaining the strong Jewish identity of my family. I admittedly tread a fine line: baking holiday cookies every year for my husband’s office, (though not in red or green or Santa shapes) listening to The Nutcracker with my daughter and combining the flavors of chocolate and peppermint in various forms to pay homage to the season. After all, should Christians really get to drink all the skinny peppermint mochas at Starbucks!?
Two years ago I started making a chocolate peppermint bundt cake that my husband and I absolutely adored. And while I have been whipping up lots of batches of peppermint hot cocoa for my little one, I wanted to take these flavors to the next level by adding them to, what else: challah.
What makes this challah so special is not only the deep dark chocolate dough, or the melty,chocolate chips inside, but also the super gooey marshmallows dotting the top. When my daughter spotted the finished product her eyes lit up and she wanted to break into the chocolaty masterpiece right away. Who am I to say no, especially when it makes for such an adorable picture. And yes, she is wearing her ballet costume because she had been practicing her Nutcracker dance moves.
It may not be overtly Christmas-y, nor is it exactly what I did with my mother. But somehow creating something new, that touches upon the joy and spirit of the holiday season, brings me comfort, connects me to my past and allows me to create new memories for my family.
1 ½ Tbsp dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 ½ cups lukewarm water
4 ½-5 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup + 2 Tbsp Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp peppermint extract
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
¼ cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
½ cup chopped peppermint bark or chocolate-mint candies, plus extra
Thick sea salt
In a small bowl, place yeast, 1 tsp sugar and lukewarm water. Allow to sit around 10 minutes, until it becomes foamy on top.
In a large bowl or stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix together 1 ½ cups flour, cocoa powder, salt and sugar. After the water-yeast mixture has become foamy, add to flour mixture along with oil, vanilla and peppermint extract. Mix thoroughly.
Add another 1 cup of flour and eggs + egg yolk and mix until smooth. Switch to the dough hook attachment if you are using a stand mixer. Add chocolate chips and peppermint bark (or other mint candies).
Add another 1 ½- 2 cups of mixed flour, mixing thoroughly and then remove from bowl and place on a floured surface. Knead remaining ½ cup flour into dough, continuing to knead for around 5 minutes (or however long your hands will last).
Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with damp towel. Allow to rise at least around 3 hours, punching down at least once if possible.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Braid challah into desired shape. Allow challah to rise another 45-60 minutes, or until you can see the size has grown and challah seems light. This step is very important to ensure a light and fluffy challah.
In a small bowl beat 2 egg yolks with 1 tsp water. Brush egg wash liberally over challah. Sprinkle with additional chopped peppermint bark (or other mint candies) and thick sea salt.
If making one large challah, bake around 27-28 minutes; if making two smaller challahs, bake 24-26 minutes.
When you have around 7-9 minutes left of baking time, working quickly, remove challahs from oven and place marshmallows on top. Finish baking.
Note: if you place marshmallows on top the entire baking time, they will become too melted and run all over the place.
This time of year can be strange for Jews, and Christmas parties can exacerbate the weirdness. Many a Jew has gone to a Christmas party wondering: Is it okay if I eat Christmas cookies? Is it okay if I make them? Do they have to be in the shapes of Jewish stars and dreidels?
For me, the Christmas cookie tradition has never posed much of a problem. I grew up making traditional Christmas cookies like gingerbread men with my mom, who wasn’t Jewish, and I love spending weekends making batch after batch of holiday cookies for my husband’s office and other loved ones. The concept that food is love transcends ethnicity or religion, and so I relish this time of the year to show my affections through the universal language of COOKIES.
Holiday cookies don’t have to be overtly for “Christmas” in fact my fellow food-loving writer Tamar Fox suggests a Hanukkah Sugar Cookie, with a special Austrian twist, perfect for a Jewish celebration or for other holiday treats.
Another way to update a cookie-classic with some Jewish spirit? Shades of Blue Rainbow Cookies from Nosher contributor Joy Prevor.
Or go totally “non-traditional” with my Salty Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies! My husband loves these, and who doesn’t just love the combination of peanut butter and chocolate.
Here are some of my other favorite cookie and treats recipes that I will be making later this week, Do you bake holiday cookies? Post your favorite recipes below!
Chai-Spiced Cookies from Whole Foods (pictured above)
Cherry-Pistachio Biscotti from King Arthur Flour
Poppy Seed Hanukkah Sugar Cookies from Weelicious
Oreo Cheesecake Brownies from Sweet Pea’s Kitchen
Salted Fudge Brownies from Food and Wine
Traditional Rugelach from Joan Nathan
Oatmeal Cookies with Chocolate Chips and Cherries (pictured below)
Noshers! Here are our Hanukkah gift picks for a happy and healthy holiday around the table.
Quality olive oil is key to all tasty recipes—especially latkes! We love Baja Precious Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($9.99): it’s fragrant, beautiful, and BPA-free. Put that in your menorah and burn it.
What is Hanukkah without gelt? Exactly! Get your gelt on with these Belgian Hanukkah Milk Chocolate Gold Gelt Coins ($21.99).
Do you strive to be a balaboosta? (That’s Yiddish for “perfect homemaker.”) Well, the Balaboosta Cookbook features 140 delicious Mediterranean recipes and will put you well on your way!
Are latkes and knishes ever in your hunger wishes? If so, this “Latkes & Knishes Are My Wishes” ($19.99) is adorable and all black, so you can get it as oil-drenched as you’d like!
This Star of David Bundt Pan ($28.27) makes a festive Hanukkah cake with limited effort!
You can’t be more prepared for serving up latkes this Hanukkah with this Stainless Steel Hanukkah Latke Server ($8.95).
Let’s Nosh! ($6.29) is the perfect book of easy and satisfying Jewish comfort foods, from bagels to latkes and everything in between. Your family will be very pleased with these snacks.
You weren’t just going to line up those naked bottles of wine and call it a party, were you? We didn’t think so. These Happy Hanukkah Wine Charms ($35) look pretty cute around any (glass) neck.
These Hanukkah Menorah Kitchen Towels ($9.40) come in sets of three and will bring some easy festivity to your home (and cleanup!).
We hope this guide makes it easy for you to pick out all the gifts for the nosher in you and your family! Happy Thanksgivukkah 2013 to you!
With St. Patricks Day this weekend, I know I should be posting about green foods, or traditional Irish fare. But somehow I’m in an ‘orange’ sort of mood and was drawn to recipes surely rich in beta-carotene.
This Shaved Carrot and Pear Salad with Curry Dressing is both fresh and beautiful looking – and a totally different kind of salad to serve at your Shabbat meal.
And for another potential ‘orange’ side dish, check out these simple Coconut Roasted Sweet Potatoes. My favorite part of this recipe is the lime zest – a flavor compliment I would never have thought of on my own, but that really packs a punch.
And for an entree with a little orange flare, try this Roast Chicken with Tangerines – a sweet twist on a classic Friday night roast chicken.
Last but not least of course is dessert. I am seeing s’mores everywhere these days, so this recipe for Shabbat S’mores really caught my eye.
Shabbat Shalom and happy cooking!
Happy Tu Bishvat! Today we celebrate the birthday of the trees by eating fruit, nuts, grains, and other things that grow from the ground. Some people like to plant a tree on Tu Bishvat, but personally, I just like to eat cake. For instance, this morning I had a piece of our scandalously delicious Banana Cake for Tu Bishvat. As some people have pointed out, bananas don’t grow on trees, but this cake is also packed with nuts, dates, figs and raisins, and I added some chocolate to my version, too. I cannot stress enough how unbelievably good this is. Definitely the best Tu Bishvat dish I’ve ever made.
But if you’re still looking, we have a lemon lavender cake I can recommend, and a lemon and almond semolina cake that will knock your socks off. Combine any of these with a hot cup of tea and you are guaranteed a sweet and happy Tu Bishvat.
Perhaps you’re one of the lucky people who went to a Tu Bishvat seder last night, where you drank delicious wine and sangria, maybe got to eat fruit salad, orange and maple baked tofu, granola, Israeli salad, or persimmon cupcakes, all which are yummy Tu Bishvat foods. There’s still time to make any of these recipes today if you missed them yesterday.
Or if you’re looking for a very low maintenance way to celebrate, how about just stopping by your local grocery and picking up a nice bag of trail mix. As you enjoy the dried fruits and nuts, you can think about all of the great things trees bring to your life. L’chaim! To trees!