Purim beckons, and with it come certain tasks, from costumes and a Purim feast for some and for many, the delights and aggravations of mishloah manot, the trove of treats handed out to friends and family.

There’s always the option of making hamantaschen, using whatever fillings you prefer, or other kinds of homemade cookies and cakes, with the usual selection of candy so anticipated by the younger set. I’ve been doing savory treats for some years, including homemade gnocchi and sauce, garlic knots with dipping oil and scones with ginger chutney. Okay, those were on the sweeter side.

What I aim for is making something a little different, a bit unexpected for that plate of mishloah manot, even if it means a smaller basket of treats because of time spent on more labor-intensive goodies. (Last year’s garlic knots took much longer than expected, accruing to only two to three knots per family, although no one seemed to mind.)

Marzipan masquerading as vegetables (photo credit: Courtesy Judith Zer-Aviv)

Marzipan masquerading as vegetables (photo credit: Courtesy Judith Zer-Aviv)

This year I turned to two chefs for ideas. The first was pastry chef Judith Zer Aviv, known to her family and friends as Yud, who is a master in the art of pastries, producing a veritable host of perfect confections from delectable, exquisitely decorated cakes and tarts to bread books and hamsas — really, you have to see them — sweetly tinted macaroons, and marzipan creations. You may think, hmm, marzipan, I’m not sure I’m a fan. And you may not be. But what’s great about almond paste is that it has a subtly sweet flavor, yet is wonderfully pliable.

Marzipan was part of Zer Aviv’s early childhood in Switzerland, where everything is “chocolate and marzipan, and I have more memories of marzipan,” she said. Zer Aviv moved to Israel with her family when she was still a child, and always decorated with marzipan, even though she “didn’t have a clue how to do it.” Her real skills in manipulating marzipan came later when she studied pastry-making.

Judith Zer-Aviv's marzipan confections (photo credit: Courtesy)

Judith Zer-Aviv's marzipan confections (photo credit: Courtesy)

The recipe Zer Aviv suggests for Purim was developed one Passover when she had a guest with celiac disease who couldn’t eat gluten. She took a look at the ingredients she could use — marzipan, hazelnuts, apricot leather and prunes — and came up with the following marzipan candies. Zer Aviv uses small, silicon candy molds that she makes herself and which can be found in most stores selling pastry making equipment.

“What’s nice about these is they combine the sourness of the prune or apricot leather and the sweetness of marzipan with the crunchiness of the hazelnut,” said Zer Aviv. “And they’re really easy.”

Marzipan candies

  • Hazelnuts, roasted and peeled
  • Whole prunes
  • Marzipan
  • Apricot leather, sliced into strips
  • Silicon candy molds
  • Green food coloring

Knead the marzipan into small balls and push a roasted hazelnut into the middle ball. Roll strips of apricot leather around the exterior of each ball.

Add a bit of food coloring to some of the marzipan and knead it. Press a hazelnut into a pitted prune and place a small lump of green marzipan on top, pressing the silicon mold into the marzipan to create an impression.

Hungarian half-moons

Ofer Vardi was Nana’s boy. Nana – the name he and his brother called their grandmother, Rozsi Varidi – took care of them every day after school, cooking every kind of Hungarian treat she knew, and when she died, they missed her and her cooking. A food writer, Vardi found himself writing about Nana’s recipes in the Israeli food website Al Hashulchan, and ended up putting together a cookbook of her recipes, recently translated into English as “Going Paprikash,” and with an app as well.

One of her celebrated Purim recipes was kifli, sugar-coated half-moon cookies that were considered similar in taste to hamentaschen and usually baked for Purim. (My husband’s Czech family also used to eat half-moon cookies on Purim, but called them kiflin, and my stepdaughters always beg my mother-in-law to make them each year.)

According to Vardi, some kifli are sweet, stuffed with a soft nut filling, while others are savory, with a creamy poppy seed interior.

Poppy Seed / Nut Kifli (makes 20 crescents)

For the dough:

  • 7 oz. (200 grams) butter, softened
  • 1 lb. 2 oz. (½ kilo) flour
  • 1/4 oz. (10 grams) fresh yeast
  • ¼ cup milk, to ferment the yeast
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, to ferment they yeast
  • 4 egg yolks
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 oz. (50 grams) powdered sugar
  • ¾ cup milk
  • Lemon zest

For the poppy seed filling:

  • 9 oz. (¼ kilo) ground poppy seeds
  • 7 oz. (200 grams) powdered sugar
  • 1/4 oz. (10 grams) vanilla sugar
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • 1 ¼ cups milk

For the walnut filling:

  • ¼ cup ground walnuts
  • 7 oz. (200 grams) sugar
  • 1/4 oz. (10 grams) vanilla sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ cup milk
  1. Ferment the yeast in milk and sugar.
  2. Place the flour and butter in a separate bowl and knead well. Pour in the milk, add the yeast, egg yolks, powdered sugar, lemon zest and salt. Knead to form dough.
  3. Make a ball, sprinkle with flour and cover in plastic wrap. Place in the fridge for 20 minutes.
  4. Roll out thinly and cut out 4 inch (10 cm) squares.
  5. Prepare the poppy seed filling: Heat all the poppy seed filling ingredients in a pot until smooth and combined. This is also how you make the nut filling.
  6. Place some of the filling in the center of each square of rolled-out dough, roll one of the corners in, and close. Fold the two ends to make a crescent moon shape. Place cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet and brush with egg yolk. Set aside to rise until cracks in the dough become apparent.
  7. Brush additional egg yolk onto the crescents and set aside until the coating is dry.
  8. Bake in a preheated 400F (200 degree) oven for half an hour until golden brown.