Perform Purim mitzvah &mdash Give the gift of food

My daughter Ruby recently received an Easy-Bake oven and has been busily baking 4-inch cakes with a 100-watt light bulb. Although she doesn’t like the way her finished products look or taste, she does take tremendous pride and joy in the “baking” process. I also believe that Ruby enjoys preparing small treats for her older brother and his friends.

At Purim, we are all encouraged to perform the mitzvah of creating and giving baked treats, known as mishloah manot. These gifts of food or beverages that are ready to be consumed remind us of the love that Mordechai and Esther inspired among all Jews. It is believed that when there is unity among our people, even the wrongdoers will become righteous. The mitzvah of mishloach manot can only be fulfilled with food, not money or clothes, and at least two different items should be included in the gift.

Meyer Lemon Bars | Makes 16 bars

For the crust:
8 oz. unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups flour

For the topping:
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
zest of 1 Meyer lemon
1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice
1 cup sugar
2 Tbs. flour

Cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the flour. Press this into an 8-inch square pan. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven

Beat together the eggs, egg yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar and flour. Pour over the crust and return to oven, and bake for 20 more minutes, until just firm. Cool and cut into squares.

Sydney’s Favorite Almond Cake | Serves 8-10

4 oz. unsalted butter
7 oz. almond paste
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 Tbs. vanilla extract
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
powdered sugar for garnish

Cream together the butter, almond paste and sugar. Beat in the eggs and vanilla.

Combine the flour and baking powder, and sift it into the egg mixture. Beat only until combined — about 30 seconds.

Pour into an 8-inch round cake pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 35 minutes. Remove from oven, let stand 5 minutes and invert onto a cooling rack. Allow the cake to cool and sprinkle with powdered sugar through a sieve.

Hamantaschen | Makes about 24

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Poppy Seed Filling

In a mixer or food processor, cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and mix well. Stir in the flour and baking powder and mix until the dough holds together. Flatten the dough and chill for a few hours, or overnight.

Remove 1/3 of the dough from refrigerator and roll out on a lightly floured board about 1/8-inch thick. Cut 2-3-inch circles. Place a spoonful of filling in the center, then fold into triangle shapes, pinching together the corners and letting some of the filling show.

Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 15 minutes.

Poppy Seed Filling

5 oz. poppy seeds, about 1 cup (buy in bulk; they’re much cheaper)
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbs. raisins
2 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon

Grind the poppy seeds in a spice grinder or blender. Put them in a small pan with the remaining ingredients. Simmer over medium heat, stirring often, for 15 minutes, until the mixture is very thick. May be chilled for several days.

Rebecca Ets-Hokin is a Bay Area cooking teacher and food professional. Her columns alternate with those of Louise Fiszer. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to [email protected].