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Tempting New Dishes For the Hanukah Feast

By Marcy Goldman
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, December 1, 1999; Page F01

Latkes, latkes and more latkes, for eight glorious Hanukah nights. Sides of applesauce, sour cream and yogurt. At some point, our favorite uncle (the one neither side will claim) mentions how his grandmother, bless her, would grate her knuckles while shredding the raw potatoes and that is the secret to better potato pancakes. Right.

We all know that part of Hanukah. Oil-fried latkes are the standard symbol of the holiday. But did you know cheese dishes are also symbolic?

According to the Apocrypha, Judith, a Jewish woman of noteworthy valor, requested to dine with the Holofernes, an enemy general. Demure yet seductive, Judith plied the powerful soldier with cheese dishes, the better to bring on thirst, which he in turn quenched with copious goblets of wine. When he passed out, she promptly slew him and thereby averted the disaster that would have been directed toward her people. Judith's valor is said to have inspired Judah the Maccabee and his followers.

In Judith's honor, specialty cheese dishes, such as cheese latkes and blintzes are as welcome and appropriate as potato pancakes, and aptly celebrate the Festival of Light. (Actually, I shared this story recently with my eldest son, who paused and said, "Why don't we celebrate with wine dishes?")

So bring out the menorah and candles. Don't forget the grater, the potatoes and the sour cream. And say "cheese."

Raclette Latkes

(6 to 8 servings)

Potatoes and raclette cheese are a natural duo. Serve this crusty potato pancake with a dollop of plain yogurt and a sprinkling of chives.

6 medium potatoes, peeled

Vegetable oil for frying

3 eggs

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons minced onion

1 cup (4 ounces) shredded raclette cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the potatoes and boil for 10 minutes. Drain the potatoes and rinse with cold water. Set aside to cool.

In a deep-fat fryer, Dutch oven or wok over medium-high heat, add enough oil to reach a depth of at least 2 inches but not more than halfway up the sides. Heat until the oil is 350 degrees (hot but not smoking).

Using a food processor or a grater, shred the potatoes.

In a large bowl, mix together the potatoes, eggs, flour, baking powder, onion, raclette cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

When the oil is hot (a drop of batter will sizzle when added to the oil), carefully drop dollops of batter into the oil (teaspoon-sized for miniature latkes; tablespoon-sized for larger latkes). Be careful not to crowd the pan; you will need to fry them in batches. Fry the latkes, turning once, until they are lightly browned, about 3 minutes total. (Latkes cook very quickly; be careful not to overcook.)

Transfer to paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining batter. Serve immediately or wrap well and freeze. (You may rewarm the latkes in a 250-degree oven until crisp.)

Per serving (based on 8): 205 calories, 8 gm protein, 17 gm carbohydrates, 12 gm fat, 95 mg cholesterol, 4 gm saturated fat, 165 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Cheese-Filled Rugalach

(Makes about 30)

This cross between miniature pastries, blintzes and traditional rugalach pairs wonderfully with tea but could double as a side dish.

For the dough:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter

8 ounces farmer's cheese (may substitute drained cottage cheese or drained ricotta cheese)

2 teaspoons minced lemon zest

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the filling:

8 ounces cream cheese

8 ounces farmer's cheese (may substitute drained cottage cheese or drained ricotta cheese)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

Pinch salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

For the assembly:

2 to 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Confectioners' sugar

For the dough: In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder. Using a pastry blender or 2 knives held crisscross fashion, cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. Blend in the farmer's cheese, lemon zest and juice and vanilla and stir until the mixture forms a soft dough. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 1 to 3 hours or as long as overnight.

For the filling: In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, mix together the cream cheese, farmer's cheese and sugar. Add the egg, salt, vanilla and flour and beat until the mixture is thickened. (You can cover the mixture tightly and refrigerate it overnight.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

To assemble, divide the chilled dough into 2 even portions; roll each portion into a 12-by-9-inch rectangle. Brush each rectangle with some of the melted butter. Spread half of the cheese filling over each portion, leaving a 1-inch border on all sides.

Starting with a short side of 1 of the rectangles, roll it up tightly, jellyroll fashion, stopping at the middle of the rectangle. Then using a sharp knife, cut along the edge of the roll to separate it from the remaining half of the rectangle; transfer the roll to a baking sheet. Then roll up the remaining half of the rectangle in the same manner and transfer it to the baking sheet.

Repeat the process with the remaining rectangle of dough. (You will have a total of 4 rolls.)

Brush the top with each roll with some of the remaining melted butter. Refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes. Cut the rolls into 2-inch slices. Transfer the slices to the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the rugalach until golden, about 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly, dust with confectioners' sugar and serve.

Per rugalach (using cottage cheese and 2 tablespoons butter): 162 calories, 4 gm protein, 14 gm carbohydrates, 10 gm fat, 36 mg cholesterol, 6 gm saturated fat, 107 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Malai or Romanian Cottage Cheese Cornmeal Kugel

(8 to 10 servings)

Kugel is a great dish any time you are in a dither for dinner; it can easily be made ahead of time and served either hot or cold. This is perfect for a dairy Hanukah supper.

For the batter:

1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted, or vegetable oil, plus additional for the pan

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1/4 cup milk

1/3 cup sour cream or yogurt

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup cornmeal

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

For the cheese filling:

16 ounces drained cottage cheese (or you may substitute drained ricotta cheese)

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs

1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt, plus additional for garnish

Pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 11-by-7-inch baking dish or a 9- or 10-inch springform pan.

For the batter: In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, mix together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, milk, sour cream or yogurt, flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt and beat until smooth. Set aside.

For the cheese filling: In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, cream together the cottage cheese and the sugar. Blend in the vanilla, eggs, sour cream or yogurt and salt. Set aside.

Spoon half of the cornmeal batter into the prepared dish. Top with half of the cheese filling. Add another layer of the remaining cornmeal batter and top with the remaining cheese batter. If desired, marbleize the kugel by gently swirling a butter knife through the mixture.

Bake the kugel in the preheated oven until the casserole is set, about 50 to 55 minutes. Cut into squares and serve warm or cold with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt. (To reheat, microwave individual portions for 35 to 45 seconds.)

Per serving (based on 10; using cottage cheese and sour cream): 313 calories, 14 gm protein, 36 gm carbohydrates, 13 gm fat, 114 mg cholesterol, 7 gm saturated fat, 201 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Hanukah Chocolate Cream Cheese Fudge Bundt Cake

(12 to 16 servings)

A luscious "tunnel" of cream cheese and chocolate chips makes this cake a winner with kids and adults alike.

Butter for the pan

For the batter:

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup cocoa powder, measured and then sifted

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup brewed coffee, warm

For the filling:

1/4 cup granulated sugar

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

1 cup (about 6 ounces) miniature semisweet chocolate chips

For the glaze:

1 cup confectioners' sugar

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 10-inch bundt or tube pan.

For the batter: In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together the granulated sugar, oil and eggs until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the vanilla, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cocoa powder, flour, buttermilk and coffee and beat for 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside.

For the filling: In a medium bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, cream together the granulated sugar and cream cheese. Add the vanilla, egg and chocolate chips and beat until smooth.

Scrape half of the batter into the prepared pan. Spoon the filling evenly over the batter, then top with the remaining batter.

Bake the cake in the preheated oven for 70 minutes, or until the top of the cake springs back when lightly pressed.

Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes. Then place a plate over the pan and invert the cake onto the plate. If the cake sticks, place the pan on a warm burner for a few seconds to loosen the cake. The cake will firm up as it cools to room temperature.

For the glaze: In a small bowl, combine the confectioners' sugar, chocolate and butter to form a pourable glaze, thinning with water if necessary.

Pour the glaze over the cooled cake. You can cover the cake tightly and store at room temperature for several days or freeze for 3 months.

Per serving (based on 16): 517 calories, 7 gm protein, 64 gm carbohydrates, 28 gm fat, 60 mg cholesterol, 9 gm saturated fat, 267 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber

Hanukah White Cheesecake

(12 to 16 servings)

This creamy, winter-white cheesecake is an all-time favorite; topped with chocolate-covered Hanukah gelt, it's spectacular.

For the crust:

1 1/3 cups crushed shortbread cookies

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the cheesecake batter:

2 pounds cream cheese

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

5 eggs

14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 to 3 drops orange oil* (optional)

2 to 3 drops lemon oil* (optional)

1/3 cup heavy (whipping) cream

For the topping:

1 1/2 cups sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

Gold foil-covered chocolate Hanukah gelt (small coins), some halved

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Have a 10-inch springform pan ready.

For the crust: In a medium bowl, mix together the cookie crumbs, butter, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon. Pat the mixture into the bottom of the pan. Set aside.

For the cheesecake batter: In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, cream together the cream cheese, sugar and flour. Reduce the speed to low and blend in the eggs, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla, orange and lemon oils (if using) and cream; mix well.

Scrape the batter onto the crumb crust. Cover the pan with foil, transfer to a baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Remove foil, reduce the heat to 325 degrees and bake just until set, about 30 minutes.

For the topping: In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, vanilla and confectioners' sugar.

Remove the cheesecake from the oven, increasing the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Pour the topping over the cheesecake. Return the cheesecake to the oven and bake for 8 minutes.

Turn off the oven and let the cheesecake cool in the oven for at least 1 hour. Transfer to the refrigerator to cool completely, at least 6 hours.

To serve, sprinkle the cheesecake with gold coins, standing the halved coins on end in the topping.

* Note: Oils made from a variety of citrus fruits are available at some specialty markets.

Per serving (based on 16, without gelt): 580 calories, 11 gm protein, 45 gm carbohydrates, 39 gm fat, 170 mg cholesterol, 22 gm saturated fat, 338 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Marcy Goldman is a food writer and professional baker living in Montreal. She can be reached at www.betterbaking.com.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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