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.