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The Sweetest Day

March 04, 1998|JUDY ZEIDLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Chronicle Books will publish Judy Zeidler's newest cookbook, "Master Chefs Cook Kosher," later this year

What makes Purim so special?

Maybe it's the heroic story of Queen Esther and the tradition of children dressing up in costume and re-creating the Purim story. Or maybe it's the sweet cookies her story inspired.

According to legend, Queen Esther was a vegetarian who ate mostly fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds to avoid eating nonkosher foods. In her honor, many families include beans, chickpeas, dried fruits, nuts and poppy seeds in their Purim menus. This is why many families finish their Purim dinners with poppy seed pastries, especially the traditional hamantaschen.

My first hamantaschen recipe was my mother's. Instead of being made from the traditional yeast pastry found in most Jewish bakeries, hers was made from cookie dough. And though she filled hamantaschen with poppy seeds, she also made some each year with a filling of homemade strawberry jam.

Over the years, however, I developed my own way with hamantaschen. One year, I added chocolate and poppy seeds to the cookie dough and filled it with a mixture of melted chocolate and chopped nuts. I've also combined fresh vegetables with nuts and raisins to make hamantaschen fillings, including a sweet eggplant marmalade. And once I made a 12-inch, family-sized hamantasch from a yeasted dough.

This year I am making a Sephardic-style Purim delicacy--flaky filo hamantaschen filled with poppy seeds and sweetened with honey syrup, similar to baklava. I also developed a Purim linzer torte filled with prune jam (lekvar) and served with ice cream.

Purim seed cookies--the thinnest, crispest cookies imaginable--are adapted from a recipe given to me by a friend, Bernie Bubman, who brought it back from France during a recent cooking-school trip.

You can prepare the dough and fillings for these recipes in advance, store them in the refrigerator or freezer, and bake them when convenient.

Don't forget the traditional Purim custom of taking gifts of food (shalach manos) to neighbors. I always bake extra cookies, pack them in colorful boxes and baskets, and give them to family and friends.

PURIM LINZER TORTE

Flour

2 cups finely ground almonds

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, cut in small pieces

2 egg yolks

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 (17-ounce) jar lekvar (prune jam)

1 egg white, slightly beaten

Blend 1 cup flour, almonds, 1/2 cup sugar, cinnamon and butter with electric mixer until fine crumbs form. Add egg yolks and almond extract and mix well. Place on pastry board and knead, adding additional flour as needed, until no longer sticky.

Flour hands and fingertips and press 2/3 dough over bottom and up sides of ungreased 11-inch tart pan with scalloped edges and removable bottom. Spread evenly with lekvar.

Pipe remaining dough from pastry bag fitted with 1/8- to 1/4-inch tip across filling in 10 to 12 alternating strips 1 inch apart in lattice design. Or alternately transfer remaining dough to floured board and knead into ball. Chill 30 minutes for easier handling. Pinch off 10 to 12 egg-size pieces of dough and roll between well-floured palms to make strips about 1/4 inch in diameter and 8 to 11 inches long. Place rolled strips on floured baking sheet and chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Lightly press ends of dough strips to pastry edge to seal. Brush with egg white and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Bake at 325 degrees on lower rack of oven until golden brown, about 1 hour. Place on rack and cool before removing ring.

12 servings. Each serving:

411 calories; 14 mg sodium; 87 mg cholesterol; 19 grams fat; 56 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams protein; 0.81 gram fiber.

FILO HAMANTASCHEN

SUGAR SYRUP

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon honey

HAMANTASCHEN

1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, melted

1/4 cup oil

1 (1-pound) package filo dough

2 cups ground walnuts, almonds or filberts

2 (8-ounce) cans poppy seed filling

SUGAR SYRUP

Bring sugar, water and lemon juice to boil over medium-high heat and stir until sugar dissolves. Cook at slow boil 5 minutes. Stir in honey. Keep warm.

HAMANTASCHEN

Combine butter and oil in saucepan.

Place sheets of filo dough on damp towel on counter and keep covered with wax paper while working with individual filo sheets.

Put 1 sheet filo dough on another piece of wax paper and cut lengthwise into 4 equal strips. Brush with butter mixture. Sprinkle with ground nuts. Place 1 teaspoon poppy seed filling 1 inch from 1 narrow edge. Fold 1 corner over filling. Fold filo, flag fashion, making triangle, then fold angle over again and again until whole strip is folded. Repeat with remaining filo and filling.

Place each hamantasch on foil-lined buttered baking sheets and brush with melted butter.

Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown and crisp, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and spoon sugar syrup over each hamantasch. Cool on rack.

About 5 dozen. Each hamantasch:

131 calories; 42 mg sodium; 8 mg cholesterol; 7 grams fat; 15 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.89 gram fiber.

PURIM SEED COOKIES (LOW-FAT COOKING)

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