Hebrew Cookies for Simchat Torah

IMG_6068Simchat Torah is the celebration of the never-ending circle of Torah. One wonderful way to celebrate is by baking cookies in the shape of the first word in the Torah.

Simchat Torah services begin at sunset on Thursday, October 12. The last chapter of Deuteronomy is read, followed by the first chapter of Genesis. This is the only time of the year that the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark at night.

photo

The first sentence of Genesis in Hebrew.

The first phrase in Genesis is “In the beginning.” In Hebrew, this is written as one word, “Bereishit.”

The whole family can have fun mixing sugar cookie dough, rolling it out, and cutting out the shapes of the Hebrew letters. You may use Alef-Bet cookie cutters, or a knife. A fun tactile activity is to sculpt the letters with the dough. This is much less fussy than rolling and cutting it.

Refrigerated sugar cookie dough is perfect for this if you are pressed for time. Alternatively, if you are too busy to bake, you may purchase some Alef Bet cookies. If you like, you may decorate your cookies with icing and colorful sugar sprinkles. As you bite into each sweet letter, you will be reminded of the sweetness of learning Torah.

Sugar CookiesIMG_6067

Adapted from Alton Brown

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  1. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  4. Roll out the dough.
  5. Cut out the letter shapes.
  6. Place the cookies on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
  7. Bake for about 10 minutes.

Savory Treats in the Samaritan Sukkah


A Samaritan sukkah. Photo: Ben Sedaka

— by Ronit Treatman

In Exodus (23:16), we are commanded to keep the harvest festival.  The harvest festival referred to is sukkot.  To this day, many of us build temporary booths outside, decorate them, and eat or even sleep in them. There also exists an ancient Samaritan tradition of building indoor sukkot. The Samaritans serve their guests unique treats, that hearken back to ancient Israel, during the time before the Babylonian captivity.

Samaritans believe that they are the descendants of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.  They believe that are the offspring of the Jews who remained in Israel during the Babylonian Exile (597 BCE).  When the Judean exiles returned to Jerusalem from Babylonia (538 BCE), they rejected the Samaritans, out of concern that their practices and beliefs had diverged during the decades of separation.  The Samaritans built their temple on Mount Gerizim.  They have a Samaritan Torah, and do not accept the Talmud, Mishnah, and Gemara.  The Samaritans call themselves “Bnei Israel,” “the children of Israel.” According to the Talmud (tractate Kutim) Samaritans are to be treated as Jews when they practice the same customs as Jews, and as non-Jews when their practice differs.  Since the 19th century, the Samaritans have been considered a Jewish sect, and referred to as Samaritan Jews.   Today there remain two small communities of Samaritans, one in Holon and one on Mount Gerizim near Nablus.

Sesame Cookies recipe after the jump.
The custom of building sukkot indoors is a vestige of the persecution that the Samaritans endured under the Byzantines. In order to be able to preserve their traditions, they moved their sukkot indoors. They decorate their sukkot in a very exquisite way, with a ceiling that is a mosaic of fresh fruit. Guests who are lucky enough to experience this beauty are also treated to Samaritan hospitality: The Samaritans serve fragrant, savory cookies called Mekamar. They are a wonderful treat with hot mint tea.

Mekamar: Savory Sesame Cookies (Adapted from “The Wonders of the Israelite Samaritan Kitchen” by Benjamin Sedaka)

  • 7 cups of unbleached flour
  • 3 1/2 cups of semolina flour
  • 6 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 1/4 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons ground fennel
  • 2 tablespoons ground turmeric
  • 1 3/4 cups water
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Knead all the ingredients together in a bowl.  
  3. Pinch off walnut size pieces of dough.
  4. Roll each piece of dough into a ball, and then flatten onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
  5. Bake for approximately 20 minutes. Then, check to see if they are baked through, and bake for a few more minutes if necessary.

Duvshaniot: Israeli Rosh Hashanah Honey Cookies

— by Ronit Treatman

There is a charming Rosh Hashanah tradition in Israel: Family members and friends send baskets of sweet goodies to each other, with wishes for a happy new year. One of the most ubiquitous Rosh Hashanah treats is a round cookie, flavored with honey and spices. It is called a duvshanit (“small honeyed cookie”), and no gift basket is complete without it.

Full recipe after the jump.
The Ancient Egyptians were the first known bakers of duvshaniot. They prepared honey and ginger cookies for ceremonial use. In the 11th century, the crusaders brought ginger from the Middle East to Europe. The ginger was transported encased with honey and spices, so it would not get spoiled. Initially, only the very wealthy were able to experiment with ginger in their kitchens.  

Gregory of Nicopolis, an Armenian monk, brought the recipe for honey-ginger cookies to the French monasteries. In French, these cookies were called pain d’épices (spice bread). At first, these biscuits were considered medicinal, and sold as digestives in medieval pharmacies. In the 18th Century, the cost of importing ginger decreased, making it more widely accessible. Honey-ginger cookies became traditional at the Christmas markets all over Europe, where they were called “gingerbread.”  

In my family, we had never baked our own duvshaniot until this year. My mother insisted on buying the ones that she considered to be the best. They were imported from a German monastery, and called lebkuchen. This year, I decided to bake my own duvshaniot. I found a recipe in an Israeli baking blog called The Hopping Rolling Pin.


“The Gingerbread Baker” by Hans Buel, 1520.

Duvshaniot

  • 3 cups unbleached flour
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • Powdered sugar
  1. Mix all ingredients, except for the powdered sugar, in a bowl.
  2. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  5. Sprinkle some powdered sugar on a plate.
  6. Retrieve the cookie dough from the refrigerator. Pinch a walnut sized piece of dough, and roll it between your palms to make a ball.
  7. Roll the dough ball around in the powdered sugar, and place on the parchment paper. Make sure to space your cookies, as they will expand during baking.
  8. When all the cookies have been formed, bake them for about 11 minutes.