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Hanukkah treats: Four cookies for eight nights

Thursday, December 11, 2003

By Miriam Rubin

Hanukkah, meaning dedication in Hebrew, is known as the Jewish Festival of Lights. The eight-day holiday begins just after sundown Dec. 19.

Short on time?

If you're pressed for time or not in a baking mood, here's a mail-order source for delicious Hanukkah baked treats. Zingerman's bakehouse is featuring a Rugelach and Mandelbread gift box. A half-pound of each goodie (combined) is $35 without shipping; a full pound is $60. You can also order Bubbe's gift box which includes a buckwheat honeycake, rugelach, mandelbread, a tin of macaroons and hand-made hamentaschen; $80, without shipping. To order, call 888-636-8162 or visit


To explain Hanukkah briefly: The great Jewish temple in Jerusalem was desecrated and defiled by Greek-Syrian oppressors. A Jewish warrior, Judah Maccabee, led a small guerilla army into battle. They were victorious and won back the temple. Defiled and burned, the temple had only enough consecrated oil to keep the menorah alight for one day. Thus the miracle of Hanukkah -- the oil lasted and the flames continued to burn for eight days, until more oil could be consecrated.

During Hanukkah, to commemorate the miracle, upon the appearance of stars in the sky, one candle is lighted for each of the eight nights. The candles are placed in a menorah, which has nine holders, one of which is set higher or off to a side. This holds the shammas, or helper, the candle that is lighted first and then used to light the other candles.

According to Claudia Roden in "The Book of Jewish Food," "The miracle of the oil is [also] remembered in the kitchen with the abundant quantities [of olive oil] used to deep-fry the traditional Hanukkah treats. The Askenazim eat potato latkes. In Israel they make soufganioth or ponchkes (jam-filled doughnuts). The Sephardim eat fritters in syrup; Italians eat chicken pieces dipped in batter and deep-fried."

So why cookies? Cookies are not what one first thinks of as traditional for Hanukkah except for rugelach (there are many spellings). But cookies are traditional at this time of year, so they are an appropriate and welcome gift to bring to a Hanukkah party or to serve to guests.

And which cookies? We asked several of our food-loving friends if they had a Hanukkah cookie in their memories.

Wendy Saul, a high school teacher in Greene County, fondly remembers her family's traditions in Mt. Lebanon. "We always had a huge family Hanukkah party. We made a rich rolled-out sugar-cookie dough. My mother, Ruth Saul, now 84, had a set of Hanukkah cookie cutters, which my sister Lynn Saul now keeps. We cut out the cookies and decorated them with colored sugar icing and decorating candies. We made tons of these cookies."

Wendy's favorite cutter was the Lion of Judah, a Jewish symbol. An intricate cutter, it produced a cookie with detailed lines, requiring very tricky decorating, which, as Wendy remembers, always got covered up anyway with colored icing.

Patricia Cobe, food editor of Restaurant Business magazine and editor of "The Kosher Gourmet," recalled making Hanukkah cookies for her now-grown sons. From sugar-cookie dough she would cut holiday shapes, such as dreidels, menorahs and Jewish stars.

Most of us already have a favorite sugar cookie recipe. Hanukkah cutters are available in Judaica shops or perhaps through Western Pennsylvania temples.

As the Saul and Cobe families attest, cutting and decorating cookies is a project that is beloved and becomes part of precious memories. Our intention is to add a few more cookies to the repertoire.

To discover these, we pored through books looking for cookies with a Jewish heritage or theme or for cookies that featured an ingredient common to Jewish-style baking, such as poppy seeds. With these thoughts in mind, we present our recipes. A little different, maybe. A new tradition, perhaps. But definitely delicious.

A few wise words by Molly Goldberg from her classic, "The Molly Goldberg Jewish Cookbook": "No matter what Mr. Webster says about the meaning of the word 'holiday,' his dictionary can't ever tell you what it really is. Words are not enough to describe a feeling, and for my family to come together to celebrate a holiday is an occasion, a bigger occasion than Mr. Webster even dreamed about in his dictionary."


These cookies resemble gelt, the money given to children as Hanukkah gifts. Often gelt is of the chocolate variety, wrapped in gold foil. These cookies are much more delicious and look festive wrapped in silver, gold or blue foil. They freeze well, but wrap them in foil once thawed.

  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup coarse or regular granulated sugar

In medium bowl, whisk together cocoa, flour and salt.

Beat butter and brown sugar with electric mixer at medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add egg; beat until well-blended. Add flour mixture and mix at low speed until ingredients are just blended, scraping down bowl.

Scrape onto piece of plastic wrap; shape into disk. Wrap and chill at least 1 hour or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 or 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. Put coarse or granulated sugar in flat dish.

On lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Using floured 2-inch round cutter, cut out cookies. Carefully press both sides of each cookie in sugar. Arrange on lined baking sheets, spaced 1/2 inch apart.

Bake until cookies are firm, about 12 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool. Store in airtight container or freeze. Makes about 3 dozen cookies

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living


According to Claudia Roden in "The Book of Jewish Food," mandelbrot means "almond bread." In case you think you are eating the Italian biscotti, she points out the subtle differences: Mandelbrot are "less hard and more cakey than biscotti [yet] they too are traditionally served with sweet wine."

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil, shortening, or melted margarine or butter (we used butter)
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons brandy or water
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup whole unblanched almonds, toasted if you like and coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a large, heavy baking sheet.

In medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt. In large bowl with electric mixer at low speed or with wooden spoon, blend 2/3 cup sugar, oil (or shortening, margarine or butter), eggs, brandy or water and extracts. Add flour mixture and almonds and stir until just blended.

With rubber spatula, spoon and shape mixture on prepared baking sheet into 2 logs, each about 1 inch thick. In cup, mix remaining 2 teaspoons sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over logs.

Bake until firm and lightly browned at edges, 30 to 35 minutes. While still warm, cut logs crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Arrange slices cut side down on same baking sheet, using another heavy baking sheet, if necessary.

Bake 10 to 20 minutes, without turning, until lightly browned. Transfer to wire racks to cool. Store in airtight container or freeze. Makes about 4 dozen cookies

Adapted from "The Kosher Gourmet by the 92nd Street Y Kosher Cooking School" edited by Batia Plotch and Patricia Cobe


The Yiddish word for poppy seeds is mohn. These slice-and-bake cookies couldn't be easier or more delicious. Grating the oranges with a microplane zester makes it fast work.

  • 2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons grated orange zest (about 3 oranges)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups minus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup poppy seeds

Beat butter and orange zest with electric mixer at medium speed until creamy and holding soft peaks. Beat in sugar until well blended.

Beat in egg yolk and vanilla, scraping down bowl. Add flour and poppy seeds, mixing just to blend (dough will be soft and crumbly). Scrape onto sheet of plastic wrap; shape into disk. Wrap and chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Divide dough in fourths. Working with 1 piece at a time, place dough on lightly floured surface. With hands, flatten dough to a thick rectangle. Fold dough over onto itself, packing into a completely solid patty. Starting at center, roll dough with palms into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Place log on baking sheet and freeze at least 30 minutes (or wrap and freeze up to 3 months, until ready to bake). Repeat with remaining dough.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper. With sharp knife, slice logs into 3/8-inch rounds. Arrange on lined baking sheets, spaced 1 inch apart. Bake until firm and lightly and evenly browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool. Store in airtight containers or freeze. Makes 6 to 7 dozen cookies.

Adapted from "Desserts" by Nancy Silverton


In "The World of Jewish Cooking," Gil Marks writes that rugelach, popular at Hanukkah, mean "little twists" in Yiddish. The recipe title's superlative comes from its author, the late Richard Sax, who reminds us that rugelach are best freshly baked. If you'd like to freeze them, shape them but don't add the topping. Freeze until hard on a baking sheet and transfer to a container. To finish, arrange on a baking sheet and defrost briefly in the refrigerator. Top and bake as directed.

Sour Cream Pastry Dough:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 sticks (16 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • Chocolate-Walnut Filling:
  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut up
  • 1/2 ounce unsweetened chocolate, cut up
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Topping:
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, mixed with 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For dough: Place flour, butter, egg yolk and sour cream in large bowl. Beat with electric mixer at low speed until dough just comes together, no longer. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm--overnight (or longer), if possible.

For filling: Place all ingredients in food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer to bowl.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Divide dough in fourths. Roll one piece on lightly floured surface to 9-inch circle, leaving rest refrigerated. Spread 1/4 filling (about 3 tablespoons) over dough; press filling gently into dough.

With sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut circle into 12 neat wedges. Beginning with outside edge, roll wedges up tight toward center and place on ungreased baking sheet, tucking center points underneath, spacing about 1/2-inch apart. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Keep assembled rugelach refrigerated while you work on the remainder.

For topping: Brush rugelach very lightly with butter; sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar.

Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool. Makes 4 dozen.

Adapted from "The Cookie Lover's Cookie Book" by Richard Sax

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