Tag Archives: Jewish cooking

Celia’s Rugelach

Lovin Spoonful is the name of a band that was popular in the 60s. Years ago, I changed the colors in my crayon box, exchanging the grey skies of a New York winter for the golden-orange welcome mat of San Francisco. I was giddy those first days. “Do You Believe In Magic” was the song playing in my head. Yes, I said. I believe in magic.

I’ve been thinking about my mother-in-law, who died last week. She wasn’t the best cook, but she dished out plenty of spoonfuls of lovin during her almost 92 years. Hers was a quiet presence; she inhabited the spaces between words and the corners of rooms. Her love didn’t need words. While her husband was the exclamation point at the end of a sentence, she was the parenthesis, often containing a meaning within the meaning of what she said. Her observations were always spot on, even when she was struggling with dementia at the end of her life.

Three of her grandchildren spoke at her funeral. Like a Greek chorus, they provided commentary and brought back the spirit that was missing during the last years of her life. Through them you could feel the love that she and her husband passed down. They talked about how their grandmother cared for them when they were sick. Tofutti Cuties in the freezer. Rugelach. Mandel bread. Their grandmother’s selflessness. That in spite of their grandmother’s problems walking, each step she took was a victory over her pain.

It has become a tradition in our family that when a loved one dies, we cook one of their recipes. When my wife’s grandmother died, she made her chicken fricassee. It was the first—and I think, last time—that she cooked this dish. Chicken fricassee will never taste as good as it did that night. The morning after we found out that her mother had died, my wife scanned her mom’s handwritten recipes for rugelach, mandel bread, and chocolate mousse pie and sent them to her sister so that she and one of her daughters could make them. They were waiting for us when our plane landed in New York. Her chocolate mousse pie was a family favorite, even after it was discovered that cool whip was one of the main ingredients. There was always a chocolate mousse pie sitting in her freezer, on the ready should anyone drop by. I’m sure there’s one in her freezer in heaven.

I pick up my mother-in-law’s cookbook and see the creases and stains in the pages of her recipes. A life was lived. Her life mattered.

A lifetime of photographs is scattered across our table. “Do you believe in magic in a young girl’s heart?” I look across at my wife and then at my daughter seated next to her. I do.

Celia's Rugelach


Honey Cinnamon Chanukah Pastry Balls

My wife’s latkes were as good as usual; I lost count after my fifth helping. I just knew that I had a crowd on my plate. In Latke Land, my reality tv show, no one stays on the island. As my wife says, there’s a reason why we only make latkes once a year.

Several years ago at our annual Chanukah party, I was looking for something else to do after peeling 20 lbs. of potatoes. We had 50 people coming over. So, what could I do that would be time consuming, make a big mess, stress out my wife, and use more oil? Sufganiyot or Chanukah doughnuts! I had an injector for the jelly that I was dying to try out. Let’s just say that was the last time I made them.

This year, the protesters were lined up outside our house, “No more oil.” “No more oil.” “No more oil.” I confess. I was the only protestor. But in honor of that one voice, I offer you Chanukah pastry balls, a healthier version of sufganiyot, sweetened with honey and baked, not fried. If the Maccabees are coming for dinner, I’m sure they won’t mind.

Honey Cinnamon Chanukah Pastry Balls (from Faye Levy’s Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home: 200 Recipes for Eating Well on Holidays and Every Day)

For Dough

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

¼ cup whole wheat flour or additional all-purpose flour

½ cup water

1 tablespoon honey

¼ teaspoon salt

3 to 4 tablespoons mild olive oil or vegetable oil

3 large eggs, or 2 eggs plus 1 to 2 egg whites

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1 to 2 tablespoons mild olive oil or vegetable oil

4 to 6 tablespoons honey (for drizzling)

Cinnamon (for sprinkling)

2 to 3 teaspoons chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 400. Oil two baking sheets.

Mix both kinds of flour. Combine water, 1 tablespoon honey, and salt in a small,  heavy saucepan. Add 3 or 4 tablespoons oil (I added 3). Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Add flour mixture immediately and stir quickly with a wooden spoon until mixture is smooth. Set pan over low heat and cook mixture, stirring for about 30 seconds. Let cool for a few minutes.

Add 1 egg and beat it thoroughly into mixture. Beat in second egg until mixture is smooth. In a small bowl beat third egg or egg white with a fork. Gradually beat enough of this egg into the dough until dough becomes very shiny and is soft enough so that when some is lifted, it just falls from the spoon. Stir in lemon zest.

Using 2 teaspoons, or a pastry bag and ½ inch plain tip, shape mounds of dough of about 1 inch diameter, spacing them about 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Pour 1 to 2 tablespoons oil into a small dish. Brush mounds with oil, gently giving them a round shape.

Bake for 30 minutes or until dough is puffed and browned; cracks that form during baking should also be brown. Serve hot or warm.

To serve, put puffs on a platter or divide among plates. Serve drizzled with honey (I only used about 2 tablespoons) and sprinkled with cinnamon and walnuts, if you like.