Sukkot, one of the happiest of all Jewish festivals, is a home-centered holiday that actually takes place outside of the home. The festival’s main symbol is the decorated sukkah, a temporary outdoor booth or hut, where Jewish law requires Jews sleep and eat all their meals for eight days. Families often invite friends and neighbors into their sukkah to share a festive snack or join the family for a meal during the week.
Last year we were surprised to receive an invitation from our synagogue for a Sukkot celebration in our neighborhood. Since membership at Stephen S. Wise is spread out over a large geographic area, it was a great way to get together with families who live only a few blocks away.
It was sunset when everyone arrived at the home of Wendy and Barry Levin. Guests arrived on foot, some with little ones in strollers, or by car, and gathered in a sukkah that was large enough to hold almost 100 people.
The Levins built the lattice-wood sukkah on their tennis court, and the roof was covered with palm branches and vines, with fruit and holiday cards hanging from above. Rabbi Eli Herscher greeted everyone and discussed the relevance of the sukkah as well as the meaning of the holiday. Singing and dancing followed, and then the guests were invited to partake in an overwhelming selection of desserts: mini mixed fruit tarts, chocolate dipped strawberries, cookies, assorted brownies, large platters of fresh fruit and a selection of gourmet cheeses.
One of the many desserts Wendy served were lemon tarts — a perfect choice because the lemon is the modern-day counterpart of the etrog, or citron, an important symbol that is used in the ceremony observing Sukkot.
Plan a Sukkot event in your neighborhood and serve a large assortment of lemon desserts: homemade Lemon Mousse Slices With Chocolate Glaze, which can be prepared in advance and stored in your freezer, or Lemon-Chocolate Tartlets, featuring a rich chocolate layer between the tangy lemon filling and the flaky pastry.
If you want a lighter dessert, serve platters of Frosted Lemon Cookies. And in the same theme, I am sharing my favorite recipe for Lemon Pound Cake, which you can make as gifts for drop-in friends during the eight days of Sukkot.
Frosted Lemon Cookies
1 cup unsalted butter or nondairy margarine
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Grated peel of 1 lemon
1 cup toasted ground walnuts or pecans
Lemon Icing (recipe follows)
Preheat the oven to 300 F.
In the bowl of electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together until well blended. Add flour and beat until crumbly and moist. Add lemon juice and peel. Blend in nuts.
Transfer dough to a floured surface and knead with your hands into a smooth ball. Pinch off and roll the dough into 1-inch balls. Press each ball into a flat disc and arrange 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet or a silicon baking mat. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the bottoms are golden brown.
Cool and frost with Lemon Icing.
Makes 5 to 6 dozen cookies.
1 1/8 cups powdered sugar
1 egg white, unbeaten
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon vanilla
In bowl of electric mixer, combine sugar, egg white, lemon juice and vanilla. Beat at low speed until sugar is dissolved. Then beat at high speed until mixture is light and fluffy. Cover with damp towel until ready to use.
Lemon Mousse SlicesWith Chocolate Glaze
8 egg yolks
2 cups sugar
2 cups lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons grated lemon peel
1 package (.25 ounce) unflavored gelatin
3 cups whipped cream
Chocolate-Apricot Glaze (recipe follows)
In a small mixing bowl, beat egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy, about 10 to 15 minutes.
In a small saucepan, over low heat, warm lemon juice and peel; add gelatin, stir until it dissolves and cool to room temperature.
Place mixing bowl with egg mixture over larger bowl filled with ice; add lemon juice mixture and beat until cool, just before gelatin sets. Fold in whipped cream. Line a 6-by-10-inch loaf pan with a large sheet of plastic wrap. Spoon in lemon mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and foil and freeze until serving time.
Just before serving, remove pan from freezer and unmold mousse onto chilled platter, peeling away plastic wrap. Frost with a thin layer of Chocolate-Apricot Glaze. Slice and serve with additional glaze.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
1 cup apricot jam
6 ounces cocoa powder
3 ounces crème de cacao
In a medium saucepan, combine the jam, cocoa powder and crème de cacao; bring the mixture to a boil, stirring continuously. Place in a processor and blend until smooth. Strain and cool to room temperature.
Sukkot Lemon Pound Cake
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter or nondairy margarine
1/2 cup ground almonds
1 cup unsalted butter or nondairy margarine, room temperature
1 2/3 cups sugar
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons grated lemon peel
2 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar and grated lemon peel for garnish
Preheat oven to 325 F.
Brush bottom and sides of one (9-by-5-inch) loaf pan or two (3-by-5-inch) loaf pans with melted butter, dust with almonds, and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter until soft and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and beat until light and creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in lemon juice and peel.
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt and gradually stir into the butter mixture. Blend well.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan or pans and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes for one large cake or 1 hour for two small cakes, or until golden brown (a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean when done).
Cool in pan on a wire rack. Slide knife around sides to loosen. Tip cake out of pan, set upright on rack and cool completely.
Just before serving, sprinkle with powdered sugar and grated lemon peel.
Makes one large loaf or two small loves.
6 (4-inch) baked tart shells (recipe follows)
1 cup melted semisweet chocolate
4 eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
grated peel of 2 lemons
1/4 cup unsalted butter or nondairy margarine
1/3 cup powdered sugar
Prepare the tartlets shells. Brush a layer of melted chocolate over cooled tart shells. Set aside.
Beat egg yolks in top of double boiler over simmering water. Add sugar in a slow stream, beating until smooth and light in color. Slowly add lemon juice and peel, beating until mixture begins to thicken.
Add butter or margarine in pieces, beating after each addition to blend (mixture will thicken in about 5 to 10 minutes). Pour into heatproof bowl and cool.
Pour into chocolate-lined tartlets, starting in center, allowing mixture to spread. Smooth with spatula. Refrigerate.
Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Add powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue beating until stiff and glossy. Spoon into a pastry bag with decorating tip and pipe onto lemon filling. Place under broiler and broil until golden brown or use a dessert torch.
Makes 6 to 8 tartlets.
Sweet Pastry Crust for Tartlets
I always make extra tartlets, wrap them in plastic wrap and aluminum foil and store in my freezer.
1 1/2 cups flour
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter or nondairy margarine
3 tablespoons cold water
In bowl of electric mixer, combine flour, salt and sugar. Blend in butter or margarine until mixture is crumbly. Add cold water and blend until dough begins to come together (do not over-mix). Knead dough into smooth ball, wrap in wax paper and chill for 10 minutes.
To assemble tartlets: For six 4-inch tartlets, roll out dough on two large sheets of floured wax paper. Using an upside-down tartlet tin as a guide, use the point of a sharp knife to cut around the tin, allowing 1 to 2 inches for overlap. Place the disk of dough gently into the tartlet pan and up the sides. Using a rolling pin, roll over the top, cutting away the excess dough. Repeat with the remaining dough. (At this point the tartlets can be individually covered with plastic wrap and foil and stored in a refrigerator or freezer.)
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Bring the tartlets to room temperature. Spread a light coating of margarine on a small sheet of waxed paper and place it, coated side down, inside of each tartlet, overlapping around the outside. Fill the center of the waxed-paper-lined tartlets with uncooked rice or baker’s jewels. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the sides of the pastry begin to brown. Carefully remove the waxed paper with the rice and continue baking until the bottom of the pastry is lightly brown. Remove from the oven and cool.
Makes 6 to 8 tartlets.
Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (Morrow, 1988) and “The International Deli Cookbook (Chronicle, 1994). “It’s All Good With Chef Judy Zeidler” appears on Jewish Life Television. Her Web site is judyzeidler.com.