Nina Safdie's maamoul cookies are made from flour and semolina dough, with a walnut and honey filling, flavored with rosewater and cinnamon. (Photo/Alix Wall)
Nina Safdie's maamoul cookies are made from flour and semolina dough, with a walnut and honey filling, flavored with rosewater and cinnamon. (Photo/Alix Wall)

Sephardic cookies at L’Chaim food and wine fest; KQED goes for Jewish ice cream

Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

Among the Jewish food vendors at Napa’s upcoming L’Chaim Jewish Food and Wine Festival on Aug. 7 will be a Judaica artist who is selling Sephardic cookies that she makes in memory of her mother.

Nina Safdie of San Rafael will be offering baklava, maamoul and ras ajweh. “All three are traditional Middle Eastern pastries that my mom used to make pretty frequently,” she said.

Baklava, of course, is the phyllo pastry filled with honey and nuts. Maamoul is made from a flour and semolina dough, with a walnut and honey filling, flavored with rosewater and cinnamon. Ras ajweh is another flour and semolina pastry dough cookie with a date, wine and walnut filling.

For the maamoul, Safdie is aided by a tool that belonged to her mother, a small copper instrument she uses to make a pattern in the dough.


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“All of these recipes require a lot of attention and care,” said Safdie. “They take time. All the dishes my family prepared were very laborious, with a lot of preparation. This kind of hospitality was an essential part of my family culture.”

Safdie first connected to the festival as a Judaica artist. When talking to event chair Ellyn Elson, the cookies came up, too. While Safdie does not usually sell her baked goods, she agreed to do so for the festival in her mother’s memory.

Safdie, 65, grew up in San Francisco. Her father, Ralph Safdie, was from Syria, and her mother, Fortuna Safdie, was of Syrian origin but grew up in Cuba. They met in New York and moved to San Francisco where Safdie attended Congregations Chevra Thilim and Beth Sholom; her Uncle Jack led a Sephardic minyan in Beth Sholom’s chapel.

She has fond memories of large family gatherings with the women cooking together and can remember the sense of anticipation and warmth she felt.

“I felt we could celebrate our being mother and daughter by making these pastries together,” she recalled. “It was one of those activities where none of the other things between us were there, as we’re sharing an activity that’s so deeply rooted in our tradition. Now, when I prepare these pastries, it’s like she’s here with me.”

J. is the L’Chaim festival’s official media sponsor.


KQED is putting on an “Ice Cream Social” on July 28, during which some local ice cream makers, including Sydney Arkin of Bad Walter’s, will share how they incorporate their culture into their flavors. In January this column featured Arkin, whose flavors have included Rolling in Gelt (chocolate with chocolate-covered potato chips and olive oil); Sufganiyot, using Donut Savant’s sufganiyot doughnut, jam and a glaze swirl for Hanukkah; and Elijah’s Munchies for Passover (combining sweet ice cream, matzah crack, macaroons, and wine and berry jam swirl).

The in-person event is $20 (other ice cream makers and their flavors will be featured, with tastes for all of them) or free for the livestream. Register at kqed.org/event/2364.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."