Sunday, April 27, 2008

Happy (2nd) Easter!

I bet you thought we were done with Passover and Easter last month? Well, that's true, if you celebrate with the traditional Protestant holiday calendar. But of course, for our Jewish friends, Passover was last week and ended yesterday. As a special treat for my friend, Rosanne, in Miami, in celebration of Passover AND her 60th birthday, I sent a little care package down south. In it was a batch of super-fabulous Matzoh Toffee: matzoh crackers on the bottom baked with a coating of brown sugar toffee, topped with chocolate, and sliced almonds. YUM! Of course, to make it appropriate for Passover, I would have to use margarine instead of butter, but....eww! And Rosanne doesn't follow the strict dietary laws anyway, so I wantonly used butter and warned her not to share with anyone eating only pareve foods (no meat or dairy) during Passover.

Matzoh Toffee
(Source: Marcy Goldman of Better Baking, via
David Lebovitz)

4 to 6 sheets unsalted matzohs (I used lightly salted ones and skipped the sea salt below)
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup firmly-packed light brown sugar
big pinch of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I prefer Guittard bittersweet--up to 1 1/2 cups)
1 cup toasted sliced almonds (or nut of your choice)

1. Line a rimmed baking sheet (approximately 11 x 17", 28 x 42cm) completely with foil, making sure the foil goes up and over the edges. Cover the foil with a sheet of parchment paper.
Preheat the oven to 375F (190C).
2. Line the bottom of the sheet with matzoh, breaking extra pieces as necessary to fill in any spaces.
3. In a 3-4 quart (3-4l) heavy duty saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together, and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the butter is melted and the mixture is beginning to boil. Boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, add the salt and vanilla, and pour over matzoh, spreading with a heatproof spatula.
4. Put the pan in the oven and reduce the heat to 350F degrees. Bake for 15 minutes. As it bakes, it will bubble up but make sure it's not burning every once in a while. If it is in spots, remove from oven and reduce the heat to 325F, then replace the pan.
5. Remove from oven and immediately cover with chocolate chips. Let stand 5 minutes, then spread with an offset spatula.
6. If you wish, sprinkle with toasted almonds (or another favorite nut, toasted and coarsely-chopped), a sprinkle of flaky sea salt, or roasted cocoa nibs.

Let cool completely, the break into pieces and store in an airtight container until ready to serve. It should keep well for about one week (if it lasts that long!).

Then right after the Jewish Passover concludes, it's Easter in the many Orthodox churches. My friend Janice, of Middle Eastern descent (Syrian, I believe), celebrates Orthodox Easter, and every year, she invites all of her friends and family over for a huge, Mediterranean potluck that is truly over the top and to die for! There's always WAY too much food, and she never lets anyone leave empty-handed. Nevertheless, I decided to take a contribution to the party this year. A quick Google search revealed that one traditional dish served for Pascha (Easter) is a soft cheese spread normally made from draining farmer's cheese overnight, then mixing in various tasty additions before chilling it in a pyramid-shaped mold. The cheese is then eaten with Pascha bread, usually something eggy and sweet along the lines of challah or other rich Easter breads. However, since I decided two hours before I left for the party to make something, I used a simpler, cream cheese-based recipe that I found online. And because I abhor raisins, my twist was to make a version with dried cherries and almonds. It was pretty yummy, if I do say so myself. However, our dear host Janice was unfamiliar with it. Another friend of ours in attendance, Marta, who has a Ukranian background if memory serves, did recognize it from her childhood. So I'm guessing it's more an Eastern European tradition and not Mediterranean. Nevertheless, we were quite happy to eat it on top of mini-pitas, which made for an interesting and delicious intersection of culinary cultures!

Cream Cheese Paskha
(Source: adapted from Food for Paradise via
Elizabeth's Vegetarian Kitchen)

1 pound softened cream cheese
1 1/2 sticks softened butter
2/3 cup sour cream
2/3 cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla (I also added a dash of almond extract)
golden raisins (optional--I used dried sour cherries instead)
slivered almonds (optional--I used toasted/sliced/blanched almonds)

Cream the cheese, butter, and sour cream until very smooth. Add sugar and vanilla. Next stir in the raisins and almonds in desired quantities (I halved the whole recipe, and I probably used at least a half cup each of the cherries and almonds). Chill well to firm the mixture. Spoon into bowls and decorate the top as desired. This will keep for about a week, covered, in the fridge. It is delicious as a spread on Pascha bread or bagels.

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