Chanukah Specialties: Delicious Spins on Tradition

Tradition, tradition! For most people I know, the quintessential Chanukah dish is potato latkes. Daniella Silver, my creative co-author for our new cookbook, Simple Elegance (ArtScroll) has created a winning selection of terrific toppings for her Classic Potato Latkes that are truly top-notch. And since Chanukah always includes dishes made with cheese and olive oil, Daniella’s recipe for Harvest Squash With Pecans & Feta fits the bill! Simple Elegance at its finest.

Chanukah desserts feature even more cheese, along with chocolate, in a variety of shapes and sizes. Small bites are always a good choice—then you can sample a little bit of everything! Daphna Rabinovitch’s mouth-watering rugelach, with a selection of six fabulous fillings, are sure to satisfy the palates of your most discriminating guests. Her Peek-A-Boo Chocolate Cupcakes combine cream cheese and chocolate—a winning combination. These make a fun treat for kids, big and small—and their parents as well! If you’re looking for the perfect pareve chocolate cake, Daphna’s show-stopping Dairy-Free Chocolate Coconut Cake is a wonderful way to create a scrumptious spin on your usual pareve chocolate cake. These creative new spins on tradition will be winners on your Chanukah table! 

latkesDaniella’s Classic Potato Latkes with Assorted Toppings
Adapted from Simple Elegance (ArtScroll)
Yields about 2 dozen 

You really can’t go wrong with classic potato latkes. I’ve added four unique toppings to serve alongside, each with its own flavor, but they’re all beautiful when presented together on a platter. Make a different topping every night and delight your guests!

6 large potatoes (preferably Idaho/russet), peeled and cut
into chunks
1 large onion, cut into chunks
2 eggs
1/4 cup potato starch
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
Grapeseed oil, for frying 

Preheat oven to 250°F (120°C). Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a food processor fitted with the shredding disk, shred potatoes and onion, using medium pressure. Transfer vegetables to a large colander set in the sink or over a large bowl; press firmly to drain excess liquid.

Place drained veggies into a large bowl. Add eggs, potato starch, baking powder, salt and pepper. Mix well.

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, drop large spoonfuls of batter into hot oil to form pancakes, flattening them slightly with the back of the spoon. Do not crowd the skillet. Fry for 3-4 minutes per side, or until crisp and golden.

Drain well on paper towels. Transfer to prepared baking sheet; place into oven to keep warm.

Norene’s Notes:
Freeze with Ease: Arrange latkes in a single layer on a baking sheet; freeze until firm. Transfer to resealable plastic bags, press out all air, and freeze. To reheat, place frozen latkes onto a large baking sheet. Bake, uncovered, at 400°F (204°C) for 12-15 minutes, until hot and crisp.

Toppings (Yields 4-6 servings) 

Sour Cream with Pomegranate or Lox
1 cup sour cream (regular or low fat)
1 Tbsp lemon juice, preferably fresh
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or dill*
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds, for garnish or 1/4 lb (125g) fresh smoked salmon, thinly sliced
* Must be checked for bugs. See oukosher.org/ou-guide-to-checking-produce-and-more/ for information on how to check herbs.

Norene’s Notes:
For a dairy-free version, use Tofutti sour cream instead of sour cream. For a lighter version, use plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. 

Avocado Topping
1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
1/4 cup minced red onion
1 tomato, diced
1 Tbsp lime juice, preferably fresh
1 tsp kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Norene’s Notes:
Place plastic wrap directly onto mixture to prevent it from darkening. Right before serving, top latkes with avocado mixture.

Deli Topping
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp honey
1/2 lb (250g) deli meat, diced (e.g., corned beef, salami, turkey
or pastrami)
3 Israeli pickles, diced

Norene’s Notes:
For a pretty presentation, spoon desired toppings into small serving bowls and center on a round large platter. Surround with overlapping layers of latkes.

Harvest Squash With Pecans & Feta. Food photography: Andrea Gibson, Food styling: Abraham Wornovitsky

Harvest Squash With Pecans & Feta. Food photography: Andrea Gibson, Food styling: Abraham Wornovitsky

Daniella’s Harvest Squash with Pecans & Feta
Adapted from Simply Spectacular (ArtScroll)
Yields 6-8 servings

This simple roasted squash dish is divine. As the sugars in the squash begin to caramelize, the oils in the warm pecans and salty feta cheese become perfect flavor counterpoints. Great for Chanukah!

1 butternut squash (about 3 lb/1.4 kg), peeled and cut into
1-inch chunks
1 1/2 cups pecan halves
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
3-4 Tbsp pure maple syrup
1 cup crumbled feta cheese 

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Spread squash and pecans on prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and maple syrup; toss to combine.

Bake, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 35-40 minutes, or until squash is tender-crisp and pecans are a deep amber color.

Transfer to a serving platter; sprinkle with feta cheese. Serve immediately. Do not freeze.

Norene’s Note:
Microwave Magic: For easier cutting, slash squash in several places with a sharp knife. Place on a paper towel or plate; microwave on high for 5 minutes. Cool slightly. Cut squash in half at the neck, making two pieces: a round ball and an elongated piece. Cut the round bottom part in half; use an ice cream scoop to scoop out and discard seeds and stringy fibers. Peel both halves of the squash and cut it into chunks. 

Peek-A-Boo Chocolate Cupcakes. Food photography: David Scott, Food styling: Olga Truchan

Peek-A-Boo Chocolate Cupcakes. Food photography: David Scott, Food styling: Olga Truchan

Daphna’s Peek-A-Boo Chocolate Cupcakes
Adapted from The Baker in Me (Whitecap)
Yields 18 cupcakes 

The deep and delightful chocolaty flavor of these cupcakes comes from the fact that very warm water is the main liquid in this recipe. The warm water intensifies the flavor of the cocoa powder, allowing it to swell and release all of its essential properties.

Cream Cheese Filling
8 oz (250g) block cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
Pinch of salt 
Cupcakes
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted
2 tsp baking soda
2 cups warm water
2/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
2 Tbsp white vinegar
1 Tbsp vanilla
1/3 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Lightly grease 2 muffin tins so that you have enough for 18 cupcakes. Line with paper muffin cups.

Cream Cheese Filling: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using a hand-held mixer, beat the cream cheese until fluffy, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the sugar; beat until smooth, 2–3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the egg and the salt, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed to make sure the filling is as smooth as possible, but not liquid; set aside.

Cupcakes: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder and baking soda until the dry ingredients are thoroughly combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together the water, oil, vinegar and vanilla. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Whisk in the wet ingredients until a smooth batter is formed.

Evenly divide the cupcake batter among 18 muffin cups, filling each three-quarters full. Evenly spoon the cream cheese filling over the cupcakes. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the cream cheese filling.

Bake in the center of the preheated oven until the top of the cake springs back when lightly pressed, about 20 minutes. Cool the cupcakes in the pans on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes. Remove cupcakes to the wire rack to cool completely.

Daphna’s Dairy-Free Chocolate Coconut Milk Cake
Adapted from The Baker in Me (Whitecap)
Yields 1 cake

I urge you to try this incredibly moist chocolate cake that just happens to use coconut milk, making it an exceptionally delicious pareve cake.

Cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup coconut milk (not light)
3/4 cup water
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla
Frosting:
12 oz (360g) semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 cups non-dairy whip or whipping cream, cold, divided
2 Tbsp light corn syrup

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Lightly grease the bottoms and sides of two 9-inch (23 cm) metal cake pans. Line the bottoms with a circle of parchment paper.

Cake: Whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl, until the dry ingredients are thoroughly combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil, coconut milk, water, eggs, and vanilla. Pour the coconut milk–oil mixture over the flour mixture; whisk gently until thoroughly combined. Divide the batter evenly between the 2 prepared pans.

Bake in the center of the preheated oven until the top of the cake springs back when lightly pressed, 25–30 minutes.

Cool the cakes in the pans on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Run a small knife around the edge of the cake pans to loosen the cakes from the pan. Remove the cakes from the pans and cool completely on the wire racks, parchment side down. 

Frosting: In the top of a double boiler set over hot, not boiling water, melt the chocolate. Remove from the heat. Stir in 1 cup of the non-dairy whip and the corn syrup. Set aside momentarily. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or using hand-held beaters, beat the remaining non-dairy whip until peaks form. Replace the whisk attachment with the paddle attachment. Add the chocolate mixture to the mixer. Beat until thoroughly combined and smooth.

Assembly: Remove the parchment paper from the bottom of one of the cake layers. Place directly on a cake plate or a decorating turntable. If the cake has domed significantly, use a serrated knife to even it off. Using a long metal palette knife, spread about 1 heaping cup of the icing over the top of the cake layer. Remove the parchment paper from the second cake layer. Again, if it has crowned significantly, use a serrated knife to even it out. Invert and place on top of the icing, so that what was previously the bottom of the cake is now actually the top. This will ensure that you have a flat, even surface to ice. Ice the sides and top of the cake with the remaining icing. Bring to room temperature before serving.

My Favorite Rugelach. Food photography: David Scott, Food styling: Olga Truchan

My Favorite Rugelach. Food photography: David Scott, Food styling: Olga Truchan

My Favorite Rugelach (Dairy)
Adapted from The Baker in Me (Whitecap)
Yields 4 dozen 

1 cup unsalted butter, softened (8 oz/250g)
8 oz (250g) block cream cheese, softened
3 Tbsp icing sugar
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
2 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten, at room temperature
3 Tbsp coarse sugar (optional)

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using a hand-held mixer, beat the butter with the cream cheese for 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Beat in the sugar; beat for another 2 minutes. Beat in the lemon zest.

Reduce the mixer speed to low. Add the flour and salt and mix just until combined and a dough is formed.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead very lightly into a ball. Cut the ball into quarters; shape each quarter into a ball and flatten into discs. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap; refrigerate for at least 2 hours or for up to 2 days. Let the dough stand at room temperature for 20 minutes before rolling.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients of your chosen filling (see next page), except for the jam or peanut butter.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out one of the discs to a 10-inch (25 cm) or 11-inch (28 cm) circle. Spread 3 Tbsp jam or peanut butter evenly over the surface, to act as glue for the filling ingredients. Sprinkle with one-quarter of the filling. Cut the dough into 12 pie-shaped wedges. Starting from the wide end, roll up each wedge to form a crescent shape. Transfer to the prepared cookie sheets, spacing each one about 2 inches (5 cm) apart. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Brush the egg over 1 tray of rugelach. Sprinkle with coarse sugar, if desired. One sheet at a time, bake in the center of the preheated oven until golden brown, about 20–25 minutes. Cool the cookie sheet on a wire rack for a while. Transfer the rugelach to the wire rack to cool completely.

Repeat with remaining trays of rugelach, cooling the pans slightly before adding unbaked crescents to them.

Fillings

Apricot Walnut Filling
1 1/3 cups finely chopped walnuts
1 cup golden raisins
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup apricot jam

Peach Macadamia Nut Filling
3/4 cup chopped toasted macadamia nuts (or almonds)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup peach jam

Raspberry Chocolate Filling
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup seedless pure raspberry jam

Cherry White Chocolate Filling
1 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
1/2 cup coarsely chopped white chocolate
1/2 cup dried sour cherries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup cherry jam

Peanut Butter, Chocolate and Caramel Filling
1 cup chopped unsalted peanuts
3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup Skor bits
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter

Marmalade and Almond Filling
3/4 cup chopped blanched almonds
1/2 cup currants
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup orange marmalade


Norene Gilletz is the leading author of kosher cookbooks in Canada. Visit her web site at www.gourmania.com or e-mail her at goodfood@gourmania.com.

This article was featured in Jewish Action Winter 2016.