New Twists on Old Traditions

Purim Hamantaschen Gluten Free Elderberry Syrup Traditional Biscuit Recipe

Happy Purim to you! The sun has gone down and the festival can officially begin, but actually we have spent the afternoon frolicking in a celebration that my husband has declared is a Renegade Purim.

We held a “Purim Picnic Party” in a local park and took a huge basket of costumes, a suitcase full of instruments and rattles, and invited a bunch of kids to come and dress up and make noise with us. There are very few photos of the fun we had because we were having too much fun.

Purim New Traditions Cultural Experience Jewish Celebration Children Holiday Kids

I gather that this is a key purpose of the festival: making merry and having a great time. The other key purpose seems to be making and eating Hamantaschen, which are fruit-filled biscuits shaped to look like the ears of the villain of the Purim story.

And just as I went a bit left-of-centre with the mode of celebration, I also struggled to stick with the traditional recipes that were given to me for the biscuits. I ended up making two batches and started them off the same way; by using equal parts room-temperature butter and cream cheese, to create a lovely texture for the biscuit base.

Purim Hamantashen Gluten Free Traditional Jewish Cookie Biscuit Recipe

To one bowl I added plain flour and to the other I added dessicated coconut and LSA mix (which is made from Linseed, Soy and Almond meal). I combined them both well until I had a firm dough, which I put into the fridge for half an hour.

While the dough became stiff, I combined dates, sultanas, prunes and dried apricots with hot water on the stovetop until it was syrupy. This became the filling for my first batch of biscuits.

Purim Hamantash Gluten Free Elderberry Jam Traditional Cookie Biscuit Recipe

I decided to fill my gluten-free batch with the sticky jam that I made a few months ago with the elderberries from the tree in our backyard. I hadn’t strained the berries so it wasn’t suitable for cordial and it didn’t seem quite right for spreading on toast (it was a very simple recipe with just the berries, sugar and lemon, a bit like this).

Purim Hamantaschen Gluten Free Elderberry Jam Syrup Traditional Cookie Recipe

It turns out that it takes practice to take the step from elegant pastry rounds to excellent Hamantaschen triangles. I never really mastered it and then I ran out of time to get to our picnic. My attempts at gluten-free biscuits looked like puddles when I pulled them out of the oven, so I abandoned them on the stove stop and rushed out the door.

How incredible and wonderful, then, that two other attendees had gone to the trouble to make and bring their own, including another gluten-free version (seen at left in the picture below; the recipe sounds a bit like this one from Friendly Little Kitchen).

Mine are the ones at bottom right that are not triangles at all.

Purim New Traditions Cultural Jewish Hamantaschen Healthy Sugar Free Celebration Children Kids

We told noisy stories, held a noisy parade and played noisy games. Then nobody wanted to come home.

Purim Cultural Jewish Celebration Costume Tradition Cookie Biscuit Recipe

When I finally arrived back in the kitchen, I looked again at those gluten-free puddles and they had come good upon cooling. They were a little bit rustic, perhaps, but recognisable triangles (see the photo at the very top of this post).

And to be fair, all my Hamantaschen — of whatever shape — were actually really delicious.

So I think we were happy to be renegades with our celebration of Purim. Our festivities were a bit “unorthodox” to say the least, and our biscuits were non-traditional.

But this was a fantastic opportunity to connect with other families in our area, in a really fun way that held meaning for us.

Purim New Traditions Cultural Experience Jewish Celebration Children Many Cha Cha


Travel on the Page: “La Vie Est Belle” by Henrietta Heald

La Vie Est Belle Henrietta Heald Travel at Home

Books have the magical power to transport us almost anywhere and while it goes without saying that words are vehicles for the imagination, beautiful photographs can give our hearts a lift too. In particular, I adore cook books written about regional cuisines because they often contain more than just pictures of food on a plate.

Certainly, I should be learning a few culinary skills from these books, but I am most often guilty of just browsing and dreaming of eating in faraway places. A book that doesn’t focus entirely on the food, but explores various ways of experiencing another culture — including its cuisine — seems like a fantastic idea to me.

A lovely book by Henrietta Heald, La Vie Est Belle, does just that. Filled with photographs of light-washed farms, Parisian pied-à-terres, and country “brocante” stalls, the book reinforces a Francophile’s dreams while providing recipes, stories and travel tips. With information about traditions and insights into French culture and habits, La Vie Est Belle is a travel-at-home experience to keep on your bookshelf.

The mouth-watering photograps of ‘tarte tatin’ in the pages inspired me to make a cheat’s version of this classic French dessert. (By the way, did you know that you can still stay or eat at the Hotel Tatin where the famous upside-down cake was accidentally created in the 1880s by the Tatin sisters?)

Tarte Tatin Apple Easy Cheats La Vie Est Belle Travel

I simply peeled and sliced some apples, then cooked them in a shallow pan with butter and brown sugar until the whole lot caramelised in the most delectable and fragrant way. I spooned this mixture into some pre-prepared (read: shop-bought) pastry that I had placed into small metal baking dishes then baked the tarts for about 20 minutes. Note: if you try this you should definitely learn from my mistake and line the dishes with baking paper; the whole thing becomes very sticky.

So easy and utterly delicious. Probably scandalous.

Tarte Tatin Apple Easy Recipe Many Cha Cha Travel at Home

From Pamplemousse To Tap Taps in Haïti

My parents have a funny little tree that produces funny little citrus fruits that we’ve never formally identified. One day I decided to investigate further and I found myself in Haiti.

Not really, of course. But those squat, round fruit with the pithy yellow skin and tart flesh reminded me of images I found online of Haitian chadeques or pamplemousse. Pamplemousse! A marvellous word (pronounced pomp- le- moose), it’s simply French for grapefruit, which is used in the Caribbean nation to make a distinctive gloopy jam.

Since the fruit on my folks’ tree is not great for eating, I decided to try a version of the jam using this traditional recipe as inspiration. I am a huge fan of marmalade but the addition of almond essence and anise seemed so outside my experience; I was very curious to try this tropicana-style spread.

I chose to add lemons and limes for a very zingy brew, and I made two batches of jam. I left one batch with all the solids remaining in the jam (as per the traditional method), while I strained the second lot. 

This second, syrupy concoction spent a few months in a jar until today, when I was inspired to drizzle it over a cake. Using the most basic cake recipe possible, I simply used quantities as they appeared in my cupboards (about 2 cups self raising flour, 2 cups sugar, 200g butter and 3 eggs), all mixed together and then baked in a moderate oven. For in-depth analysis and tips for the best possible drizzle cake, see here; you can probably do much better than mine.

My cake is slightly over cooked and here is why: while it was in the oven I did some reading about Haiti. This small country is a fascinating place and even its location was thought-provoking to me.

Did you know that Haiti is the only nation in the world to have been founded by slaves after a revolution? Its culture is made up of French, Spanish and African influences (I have looked at some culture and baking from this region before). Christopher Columbus wrecked his ship on rocks there on Christmas Day, 1492, thinking it was India. Haiti is mountainous and populous, and hasn’t recovered from the history-making earthquake of 2010 that killed many and left many more vulnerable to cholera. Its politicians are amongst the most corrupt in the world, its citizens amongst the most poor (only about 12.5% have regular access to electricity). Yet Haiti is also nestled in the clutch of islands known to be the preferred holiday destination for the world’s rich and famous, see: Mustique, Saint Barths and Barbados.

It also has one of the most vivacious transport services I have come across: converted trucks and decorated buses called Tap Taps (because that’s how you let the driver know you want to get off). Check out the website of photographer, Jan Sochor, for a sensational series of Tap Tap photos.

Meanwhile, my children wouldn’t let me drizzle the Pamplemousse Syrup onto the cake because “I only like sauce on sausages” so I had plenty of citrus drizzle to spare. I was pleased with those unusual Caribbean flavours and I can imagine that sweet grapefruit jam would be a welcome treat in Haiti. 

Most of all I was thrilled that my parents’ funny little fruit tree could take me on an imaginary journey and help me learn some new things about a place so far away.

The Quirks of Quark and Pretzels

Brezel Catherine of Cleves Morgan Library Museum Pretzels Brezels

Thinking about Germany the other day, I headed down a trail of research as twisted and twirly as a knotted pastry. I learned a bit about European dairy products, something of the history of pretzels and not much at all about physics.

Nope, it wasn’t that the start of October reminded me of Oktoberfest, that seems so obvious. (Plus, while I like beer and have consumed plenty of it, something about the phrase “the biggest beer festival in the world” just sounds messy).

Instead, Germany came to my mind because I happened to be seeking a quick snack and stumbled upon The Brezel Bäckerei. They serve all sorts of German delights, including some fat salty “brezels” (aka pretzels) which come in a cigar shape, rather than the traditional knot. In addition to the pretzels, which are very popular in our house, I scored a portion of poppy seed and quark cake that can only be described as a slab. It was a creamy, indulgent treat and I wondered: what on earth is ‘quark’?

Brezel Backerei Quark Poppyseed German Cake Hobart

Quark, it turns out, is an unfermented cream cheese, sort of like crème freche or ricotta, which is obviously ideal for desserts. It is unrelated to the building block of universal matter which physicists call by the same name.

And pretzels have been around for hundreds of years, having originally been a reward offered by monks to Sunday-school students who turned in their homework. Apparently it’s the holes that are symbolically relevant in the traditional shape: they represent the Christian holy trinity.

Since Oktoberfest is wrapping up in Munich today, if you do choose to indulge in much beer I recommend some plump salty pretzels as an accompaniment. You can be sure that even if the beer leads to bad things, that the pretzels will be good (in the godly sense) as well as tasty.

Brezel Pretzel Quark Poppyseed German Cake

(The image at top can be found at the Morgan Library and Museum).

Magical Banana? Creole Cake?

Creole Cake Banana Upside Down Recipe

Banana Cake (or Banana Bread) is a simple pleasure, really. But I am easily seduced by a fancy title so I was drawn to this “Magical Banana Creole Cake” from the Share Cookbook.

I was interested to investigate its origins but I hadn’t realised that the word “Creole” does not describe a particular place or people but a new, distinct, form of language or culture created from two or more others. In other words, there are creole languages and cultures in a variety of places around the world. Some have become official, such as the Haitian Creole language, which is largely based on French mixed with West African Languages. And others are simply famous, such as the creole cuisine of New Orleans in the United States, which blends European, Native American and African influences.

So the “creole’ in the name of this cake didn’t give any useful clues about where it comes from. What about the “Magical” part? Might that be some kind of Voodoo reference? Perhaps. Voodoo is of course another outcome of mixing cultures, whereby African slaves brought their ritualistic, talisman and amulet based religions to America and threw them into a pot with French Catholicism and other local customs. The most interesting thing I learned while following that line of inquiry was that the classic voodoo doll of popular culture was actually, originally, designed to bring good luck and good health to the “vicitim”!

(Was it a touch of magic and the power of symbols that brought me a double-yolked egg for this recipe? Twins!)

Creole Cake Twin Double Yolk Egg

Talk of creole and voodoo makes me think of a film I enjoyed recently, set in 19th century Jamaica: The Wide Sargasso Sea. I could imagine a character from this film making a rich, syrupy banana cake like this one and enjoying it with a swig of rum. If you like dark, period romances, like Jane Eyre which inspired it, then you would appreciate this film.

Creole Cake Wide Sargasso Sea Jean Rhys

Baking this cake was far from a straightforward experience for me. I was halfway through preparations when I noticed I had baking soda but not baking powder, a key distinction and essential ingredient so I had to dash out to get some. Plus I didn’t know just how long it takes to hand whisk egg whites into “soft peaks”, and I was rushing to be somewhere. Finally, just as I removed the freshly baked product from the oven, all the power in our house shut off, leaving me holding a hot dribbly cake and us with two small children screaming in the darkness. (The workers who came with torches attached to their heads to fix the power each received a hunk of oozy hot cake when the lights came back on).

My verdict on this “Magical Banana Creole Cake” recipe? Well it smelled amazing. It was essentially a banana-turnover or upside down cake with lots of sugar and it tasted good, if sickly sweet.

Frankly I think it was more trouble than it was worth; it made a simple pleasure complicated. And I’m still no wiser about its true cultural origins.

And so if I ever have any spare, over-ripe bananas again, I’ll try not to be lured by a fancy title. I’ll look for the most basic, rustic recipe I can find to create the simple delight of a home-made banana cake.

Creole Magical Banana Cake Recipe Share Cookbook

There’s a Pear in There: French Flaugnard

Pear Flaugnard Clafoutis Almond French Tea Poached

Our generous garden has provided gifts again. The small pair has been enjoying the small pears! I’ve used it as an excuse to learn some French.

Pear Tree Garden Autumn TasmaniaI picked most of our pears a week or two ago because they ripen best off the tree (apparently the grainy texture increases the longer they are left hanging). And inspired by the current Cannes Film Festival, I decided to bake some of them into a clafoutis, which is a French pancakey tart.Pear Pairs Pan Rustic French Flaugnard BakeHowever, it turns out that the word clafoutis refers only to this style of sweet when it’s baked with cherries. (I love how the French are so specific about these things!) When made with any other fruit, the dessert is known as a flaugnard. Pears French Earl Grey Tea Hibiscus Sunflower Rose CottleI extended the theme by first poaching the pairs in some French Earl Grey tea from Cottle on Coventry that features hibiscus, sunflower and rose petals. I used local honey in the batter for some warm sweetness and I added almond for texture. Pears Picked Paper Yellow Ripe

Tea Poached Pear Flaugnard with Almonds

4 or 5 pears, halved and cored

3 teaspoons French Earl Grey tea, brewed for 5 minutes in two cups water

2 Tbsp caster sugar

5g butter, melted

3 eggs

1Tbsp honey

1/2 cup warm milk

1/2 cup plain flour

1/2 cup almond meal

1/4 cup natural, sliced almonds

Icing sugar for dusting

Place the pear halves in a small saucepan with brewed tea and sugar (add water to ensure that the pears are fully immersed). Simmer for 40 minutes.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees, brush melted butter onto baking pan or tart tray (note that batter is very runny, so if you use a pan with a removable base you should line it first).

In a mixing bowl, whisk eggs, add honey and milk, then flour and almond meal. Place pear halves into buttered pan. Pour batter over pears and sprinkle with sliced almonds. Bake on a low shelf in the oven for 20 minutes or so, or until puffy and brown. Dust with icing sugar and serve warm.

It’s an unusual texture and not too sweet (the pears do most of the work in that department).

Bon Appétit!

Pear Tree Garden Backyard Autumn Many Cha Cha Tasmania