A Jewish-Italian take on Purim sweets

Purim revellers in costume, from a print originally in Leusden, Philologus Hebræo-Mixtus, 1657. Taken from the 1901-1906 Jewish Encyclopedia,

A 1657 print of Purim revellers in costume is from the 1901-1906 Jewish Encyclopedia. / Photo via Wikicommons

Purim is a little like the Halloween of Jewish communities, but with better food.

Like the October revels, there are masks and costumes. At the spring festival, however, there is also good food and wine. Purim 2014 is March 15-16.

In the holiday’s festivities and food, I find some delightful intersections of my adopted Jewish culture and inherited Italian one.

Purim’s custom of children (and even many adults) dressing up in costumes and masks to boisterously perform the Purim story appears to be inspired by Italy’s Renaissance-era commedia dell’arte traditions of comic costumed performances.

The story of Purim comes from the biblical story of Esther, a beautiful Persian woman who was taken to become part of the king’s harem. Her cousin Mordecai told her not to let on that she was Jewish.

The villain of the story is Haman, an advisor to the king. He hated Mordecai, who refused to bow down to him, and planned to exterminate the Jewish people. Esther told the king of the plot, the Jews were saved and Haman was hanged. Purim is, therefore, one of the most joyous of Jewish holidays.

The most recognizable Purim treat in the United States is hamantaschen, a triangular-shaped filled cookie, which I usually opt to fill with Italian Nutella. Hamantaschen is Yiddish for Haman’s pockets.

But there are also established Italian-Jewish traditions for Purim from Italy’s Jewish community. I was especially drawn to the pastry turnovers called buricche, which are most often savory and are close cousins to the boreka so popular in modern Israel.

This year, I decided to create a special sweet version of these turnovers. I turned to the biblically important figs, simmered them with a little cognac (given the holiday’s blessing on drinking wine), added Italian creaminess with mascarpone, and inserted a little chocolate surprise in honor of the Purim story’s secrets and surprises. Rich and decadent, my buricche embrace for me Jewish, Italian and Purim traditions in one sweet little self-contained package.

Marcia Friedman

Marcia Friedman is a writer, editor, photographer, home cook and recipe developer. She’s savored delving into both Jewish and Italian culinary traditions in creating the cookbook “Meatballs and Matzah Balls: Recipes and Reflections from a Jewish and Italian Life.” She continues writing about the intersection of Jewish and Italian food and life at her blog Meatballs and Matzahballs

Makes 12 pastries

Buricche (Puff Pastry Turnovers)

When it’s decadence you’re after, look no further than these puff pastry turnovers filled with naturally sweet fruit and rich mascarpone. Riffing on the traditional Jewish-Italian buricche for the holiday of Purim, these pastries feature figs simmered in cognac as well as spices and, well, what could be more decadent than a melted bite of chocolate right in the middle? The cooking liquid from the figs spiked with a little more cognac makes a fine glaze on these pastries. You can, of course, omit the chocolate and glaze if you want to tone it down a notch. No matter what, best served warm. Recipe comes courtesy of Marcia Friedman, author of "Meatballs and Matzah Balls: Recipes and Reflections from a Jewish and Italian Life" and who blogs at http://meatballsandmatzahballs.com/.

Ingredients

  • Pastries

  • 1 ready-to-bake sheet puff pastry (such as Pepperidge Farm brand, which is kosher pareve)
  • ¾ cup chopped dried golden figs (preferably Turkish or natural with no preservatives)
  • ¼ cup cognac or brandy
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 1/8 teaspoon grated fresh nutmeg
  • ½ cup mascarpone
  • ½ teaspoon cornstarch
  • 12 small pieces good-quality dark chocolate (optional)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

  • Glaze

  • ½ tablespoon cognac or brandy
  • ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

Start puff pastry thawing according to the package directions. Preheat the oven to 400 F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the figs, cognac or brandy, honey, cinnamon stick halves and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Remove and discard cinnamon stick halves.

In a small bowl, combine the mascarpone and cornstarch. Stir in the figs, leaving any liquid behind in the pan and setting it aside.

Unfold the puff pastry dough on a lightly floured surface, and roll to a 14-by-10-inch rectangle. Cut into 12 squares.

Place a scant 1 tablespoonful of filling in the middle of each square, and, if using chocolate, lightly press one chocolate piece into the middle of the filling. Brush the edges of the square with the beaten egg, and fold the dough over the filling to make a triangle. Pinch ends firmly and use the tines of a fork to crimp the edges to seal. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Lightly brush the pastry tops with beaten egg.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until golden brown. Remove to a wire rack to cool slightly. While the pastries bake, make the glaze by adding the cognac and vanilla to the remaining fig mixture juices in the pan. Stir to combine. Place the confectioners’ sugar in a small bowl and stir in the liquid slowly, just until the mixture becomes smooth enough to drizzle. If more liquid is needed, mix in water a few drops at a time.

When the pastries have cooled slightly, lightly drizzle the glaze over the top and serve them warm. The filling stays very hot for awhile, so be careful.

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