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By Mari Levine
I’m in the throes of what I’ve dubbed the “Summer of Love.” I’ve hit the age where my Facebook feed is dominated by photos of engagements and newborns, and the only snail mail I get is wedding invitations and baby announcements. In the next three months, I’m slated to go to six weddings—and that’s after I found a way to weasel my way out of three. Oy!
But I’m not complaining! Quite the opposite. I’m actually really looking forward to meeting these new baby-friends and attending these open bars—um, I mean, celebrations of love. In fact, one wedding I’m especially excited for is in just a few weeks, when my dear friend Rachel marries Pascal, a guy she met and fell for while the two were in grad school together at Brandeis. But it’s not quite your typical Brandeis love story: Rachel is American Jewish, and Pascal is Haitian Catholic.
Their wedding will celebrate both of their cultures. They’re going to have some of the Jewish prayers also recited in French. We’re going to dance the hora, then get down to some Carimi (Pascal’s favorite Haitian band). And then there’s my favorite culture clash: the food. In addition to chopped liver, knishes and a latke bar (!), they’ll be offering fried plantains, mango chicken and du riz a pois (rice and beans). And for a familial touch, Rachel’s asked some of her food-minded friends—myself included—to bring a small plate of sweets to add to the dessert table.
The timing is perfect to be thinking about weddings: Judaism’s very own holiday of love, Tu B’av, begins at sundown on July 21. Historically, Tu B’av was a matchmaking day on which unmarried women were paired with spouses. But it’s morphed into a more general day of love. Kind of like a less acknowledged, summertime Valentine’s Day—minus the Hallmark domination. And, like the more popular day in February, Tu B’av is considered a lucky date on which to get engaged and married. Rachel and Pascal’s wedding is only a couple weeks later, so I’m thinking some of that luck will carry over (not that they need it).
While thinking about Tu B’av, I was struck with an idea for my dessert recipe’s base: halvah, the dense, nutty confection popular among Jews all over the world. I love its mellow sweetness and chewy tackiness, which feels a bit like astronaut food (in a good way!). Halvah is great eaten straight from supermarket shelves, but I plan to give it a little flair by dipping it in chocolate and topping it with nuts and sesame seeds. I think I’ve found a cross-cultural recipe that everyone can enjoy.
Chocolate-Coated Halvah with Nuts
Makes about 16 pieces
1. Line a plate with parchment paper. Holding your knife parallel to the cutting board, slice halvah in half height-wise, making two planks. Cut each plank into 8 equal pieces.
2. Heat small, dry pan over medium heat. Add sesame seeds and toast until slightly darkened in color, about 4 minutes. Transfer to small bowl.
3. Heat now-empty pan over medium heat and add almonds. Toast until slightly darkened in color, about 3 minutes. Transfer to small bowl with sesame seeds. Add pistachios and salt to bowl and stir until well-mixed.
4. Using microwave or double-boiler method, melt half of chocolate. Working piece by piece, dip half of halvah pieces in chocolate until fully coated, allow excess to drain off, and transfer to parchment-lined dish.
5. While chocolate is still warm, generously sprinkle nut mixture over tops of chocolate-coated halvah. Repeat chocolate dipping and sprinkling steps with remaining halvah pieces.
6. Transfer plate to refrigerator until chocolate has firmed up. Chocolate-coated halvah can be kept in the refrigerator for one week.
Reprinted with permission from JewishBoston.com. Chosen Eats appears every Thursday on JewishBoston.com.
What better way to celebrate and #ChooseLove on Tu B’Av, the Israeli holiday of love which falls on Friday, July 31, than with an ooey, gooey, molten chocolate cookie? In fact, this recipe is so easy, and the dough will be stored in your freezer so you can easily bake a few any time your chocolate craving strikes!
Although chocolate has always been associated with love and romance (Montezuma was purported to drink 50 glasses of chili-laced chocolate a day to make him passionate) it is really the Theobromide in cocoa (often found in asthma inhalers) coupled with caffeine that makes one feel amorous. And the Aztecs aside, there were many Jews in history resonsible for the production of chocolate as far back as the 1680s when Benjamin d’Acosta De Andrade developed a method to process cocoa beans so that they could be shipped from South America and ultimately transformed into liquid gold or later, in 1847, into the first eating chocolate.
Famous Jewish chocolate artisans included Franz Sacher, a Jewish Viennese apprentice baker who created the now-famous Sachertorte in 1832. Eli Fromenchenko opened the Elite Chocolate Company in Ramat Gan, Israel, in 1933. In 1938, another Viennese Jew, Stephen Klein, immigrated to New York and opened the first kosher chocolate shop–
The following recipe is my modern take on the ubiquitous molten chocolate cake but in cookie form. The taste is fantastic but the real treat is that you make the dough, shape it into balls and then freeze them. When you want to serve them, you can pop the frozen balls onto a cookie sheet and bake them for a mere 6-8 minutes. The result is a rich cookie that is firm on the outside and oozes delicious cinnamon and coffee-scented filling when bitten into. You, and your love, will enjoy these, I promise. Take a photo of your finished product, and show us how you #ChooseLove on Tu B’Av!
Molten Mocha Cinnamon Chocolate Cookies
Yield: About 2 dozen cookies
1. Combine the 10 ounces of chocolate and the butter in a one-quart glass bowl. Microwave this mixture on high for 1 minute. Stir. Microwave for another 30 seconds. Remove, stir until all chocolate is melted and set aside.
2. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
3. Beat eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl until light and lemon colored. Add the espresso, cinnamon and vanilla and beat to combine.
4. Add the chocolate mixture to the mixing bowl and beat until all egg mixture is incorporated.
6. Using a 1 Tablespoon portion scoop or a rounded measuring spoon, place dough onto a parchment- or foil-lined cookie sheet.
7. Freeze dough uncovered until very hard. When frozen, remove individual dough balls to a Ziplock freezer bag and freeze until ready to bake.
8. To bake: Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Place frozen mounds of dough onto a lined cookie sheet and bake for 6-8 minutes (depending on size of the balls) or until the tops of the cookie are firm but very soft to the touch. Cookies will harden a little as they cool.
9. Let cookies cool for 5 minutes if you want them to be hot and gooey; longer if you want them to hold their shape a little better.
Note: Baked cookies may be refrigerated and then re-heated in a microwave for 20 seconds on high. However, cold, baked cookies are like a cross between a cookie and a truffle and quite delicious!
Jewish tradition commemorated romance long before St. Valentine’s Day was established as a means to Christianize and tone down the revelry associated with the Pagan holiday of Lupercalia—a fertility festival. Tu B’Av was originally a minor holiday celebrated in Israel after the second Temple was built in 349 BCE and falls on July 31 this year. According to the Talmud, “the daughters of Jerusalem would go dance in the vineyards and whoever did not have a wife would go there.” The vineyards would be outside the walls of Jerusalem away from the Temple Mount, an expression of joy away from the sadness of destruction.
In modern Israel, the holiday has been resuscitated. Girls dress in white, there is dancing on beaches and in fields, red roses are given and love songs are dedicated on the radio to the paramour’s love. Picnics and outdoor grilling are traditional much like our Fourth of July celebrations. Foods that can be served cold and transported easily are popular as well as simple grilled meats.
Here is a traditional Hungarian Cold Cherry Soup that can easily be transported in a thermos or container, is very simple to make, can be served as a first course or dessert, and is Pink, the color of love! So #ChooseLove by creating your own traditions as the full moon rises over your summer day on Tu B’Av and enjoy the people and activities you love. Snap some fun pictures and share them on our #ChooseLove gallery!
2. Remove 8 cherries for garnish. Set aside. Discard cinnamon sticks and whole cloves.
3. Pass the cherries and liquid through a food mill to puree. Alternatively, blend the mixture in a blender until mixture is fairly smooth. Return pureed soup to the pan. Add the almond extract (if using) and a pinch of salt. Re-heat soup on low heat while you make the Habaras.
4. In a 1 quart bowl, whisk the sour cream, confectioner’s sugar and flour together.
5. Whisk some of the hot soup into the sour cream mixture and then add all of the mixture back into the pot of soup. Simmer soup, whisking constantly, for 3 minutes or until thickened.
6. Cover surface of soup with plastic wrap to prevent a tough skin from forming on the top and chill. When ready to serve, spoon into bowls and garnish with reserved cherries.
If you have the time, a cherry pitter, and an older child you could make this soup with fresh cherries. However, the attention span of most children under the age of 10 will lose interest before all cherries are pitted.
This soup is very easy to make and its flavor can be adjusted to a child’s palate by adding some almond extract and/or a little more sugar if necessary.
Sour cherries (the traditional type for this recipe) are very hard to find. However, the frozen, sweet variety is not that sweet and will adapt in any recipe calling for tart cherries.
Habaras is a traditional mixture that is used for thickening soups. The flour may be eliminated if you can’t eat gluten. Just add a few tablespoons more confectioner’s sugar as it helps thicken the soup because it contains three percent cornstarch.