A Date with a Purim Destiny and The Rolled Up Sweetness of Fijuelas – Jewish Journal

Posted By on March 14, 2022

Sharon! Your grandmothers cookies!! was the excited direct message from our friend Ruth when she saw our Instagram post about the upcoming Sephardic Spice Girls Iraqi Master Bake Class.

In those few words, she telegraphed so much. You see, my grandmother Nana Aziza made the most incomparable, most delectably tasty baba tamar. Baba tamar are the best treat youve probably never hada thin four inch round cookie made with a crispy, unsweetened dough and a soft, chewy date filling. About 30 years ago, Ruth and her husband Todd were initiated into the fan club of my grandmothers delicious baking.

In our family, my grandmothers baba tamar were highly prized (and jealously guarded). On baking days, she would start early. She would proof the yeast and mix it with the flour, oil and water. She would knead the dough until it was a wonderfully soft, stretchy texture. She would cover it with a muslin cloth and let it rest, like a precious baby. She would soften the pitted date paste with a bit of oil and in her own untraditional take on the recipe, she would add crushed walnuts.

Watching her oiled hands work the dough and dates was like watching a magician at work.

Watching her oiled hands work the dough and dates was like watching a magician at work. Roll the dough into balls. Roll the date mixture into balls. Press the dates into the middle of the dough and make it disappear. Take the wooden rolling pin and flatten the dough into a perfectly round cookie with no date filling breaking through the thin crust of the cookie. Turn the end of the rolling pin and make four indentations in the center. Brush with the egg wash and sprinkle sesame seeds on top.

Then the cookies would be lined up on baking sheets and placed in a warm oven. The cookies had to be watched with a hawkish eye too little time in the oven would result in a pale doughy cookie, too long and theyll have the texture of a hard brick.

My grandmother would pack the cookies in brown paper bags to give to her children and grandchildren. The rest would be stored in a big airtight container to serve to guests with a cup of her cardamom scented mint tea.

Every year before Purim, there is a community bake at Kahal Joseph, with grandmothers teaching their children and grandchildren how to make traditional Iraqi pastries cheese sambusak (dough pockets stuffed with feta cheese), malfouf (flaky filo pastry cigars filled with crushed walnuts), crispy almond macaroons and, of course, baba tamar.

This year, Rachel and I were determined to do a Purim baking class to empower women (and ourselves) to make these seemingly complicated recipes. Two weeks ago, we had a Sephardic Spice Girls Master Bake at Kahal Joseph. Yvette Dabby, the President of Kahal Joseph, her sister Rosie Nissan, Orly Kattan and other volunteers made a massive amount of dough, date filling and cheese filling to facilitate the Bake.

Yvette, who left Iraq in 1971 with her husband Joe and a degree in architecture, explained that in Baghdad, all the women would gather together to bake for Purim. They would arrange the treats on silver trays and give them as Mishloach Manot.

The evening was a huge success with over sixty women (and a few intrepid gentlemen) happily learning to make baba tamar and cheese sambusak.

Rachel and I saved a dozen baba tamar for Ruth. Sharon

Date Filling2 cups pitted dates1/4 cup olive oil3 tablespoons water1/4 cup crushed walnuts

In a frying pan, over very low heat, combine dates and olive oil. Stir for 5 minutes until the date mixture is soft. Add water and walnuts and stir until it becomes a smooth paste.

Set aside to cool.

Garnish3 eggs1 tablespoon honey1 tablespoon water1/2 cup sesame seeds

In a small bowl, beat together the eggs, honey and water. Set aside.

Photo by Alexandra Gomperts

Lately, I have been nostalgic for fijuelas, the fried crispy delicate sweet treat that my mother made every Purim. My mother would prepare the light dough and stand in front of the stove, quickly frying batch after batch of perfectly uniform strips of dough into rolled fijuelas. Then she would dip them into a lemon-scented sugar honey syrup. While they go by many different namesfijuelas, fazuelas, hojuelosthey are an iconic pastry common to the cuisines of Sephardic Jews from Spain to North Africa, from Italy to Argentina.

Hlne Jawhara Piner, author of Sephardi: Cooking the History, writes that these Sephardic treats are a recipe that dates from the late Spanish Middle Ages. They are first mentioned in a famous story, La Lozano Andaluza. In the 16th century, Andalusian author Francisco Delicado writes about a Jewish woman fleeing the Inquisition. Having found refuge in Rome, she tells another woman that when she lived in Andalusia, she used to prepare hojuelas.

This scholar of food and medieval history says that their characteristic form is undeniably reminiscent of Esthers Megillah. She adds that Christians in Spain still eat this dessert for a special feast called Semana Santa, a holiday that always falls within days of Purim.

I will always remember my mothers kitchen in Morocco, with every surface covered with thin strips of dough ready to fry for fijuelas. Traditionally, the dough was rolled out flat with a rolling pin and cut into long ribbons. But then the pasta machine came to Casablanca. My mother would clip hers to the side of the table, she would put the dough through with one hand, I would crank the handle for her and she would catch the thin strips of dough on the other end.

I will always remember the big Purim Seudahs of my Casablanca childhood.

I will always remember the big Purim Seudahs of my Casablanca childhood. The meal always included letrea, homemade egg noodles flavored with Saffron. Dessert was lots of Moroccan cookies and best of all, freshly fried fijuelas.

When I set out to make my own fijuelas, I was very surprised that twirling the dough to get the scrolled form wasnt as easy as my mother made it look. But the more I practiced, the easier it got and by the end, my fijuelas were pretty enough.

I shared them with my family, bringing a huge smile to all their faces.

Wishing you a happy Purim with a world that is turned right side up.

2 extra-large organic eggs(break eggs open and keep the largesthalf for measuring oil and water)2 eggshells olive oil1 eggshell water1 eggshell orange blossom water (or plainwater)Juice of one lemonA big pinch of kosher salt teaspoon baking powder400g all-purpose flour (approximately 3 cups)

Almibar (Syrup)2 cups sugar1 cup waterI lemon, cut in quarters8 tablespoons honeyPeel of one lemon

In a large bowl, mix eggs, oil, water, orange blossom water, salt, baking powder and lemon juice.

Slowly add the flour and mix well. When the dough comes together and is not sticky, stop adding flour (there may be some unused flour.

Cover the dough with a dish towel and let stand for 20 minutes.

Form the dough into a log and cut into 3 to 4 pieces.

Take a piece of dough and make2 inchwide long, thin strips, using a pasta machine or a rolling pin. Then cut the strips until they are approximately 8 inches long.

In a large anddeep fryingpan, warm oil over low to medium heat.

Pick up one end of the dough strip and insert it between the tones of a fork.

Dip the fork and the dough into the warm oil. As the dough starts to blister, lift up the other end of the dough, slowly feed it into oil and slowly rotate the fork, wrapping the fried dough around the fork.

Once a coiled pastry is formed, remove from the oil and place on paper towel to drain. Continue to process until all the dough strips are fried into coil shapes.

Make the syrup by adding all the ingredients into a small pot. bring to a boil, keep stirring and when the syrup starts to thicken and feel heavy on a spoon, turn it off.

Dip oneFijuelaat a time into the syrup, and cover all sides, place on a serving platter.

Best when eaten same day. Can be kept in a well-sealed container for a few days.

Sharon Gomperts and Rachel Emquies Sheff have been friends since high school. The Sephardic Spice Girls project has grown from their collaboration on events for the Sephardic Educational Center in Jerusalem. Upcoming events include interviewing Chef Shimi Aaron at the WIZO Purim Luncheon and a Sharsheret Passover Cooking Webinar. Follow them on Instagram @sephardicspicegirls and on Facebook at Sephardic Spice SEC Food. Website sephardicspicegirls.com/full-recipes

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A Date with a Purim Destiny and The Rolled Up Sweetness of Fijuelas - Jewish Journal

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