Purim: the fun holiday

“Eat, drink and be merry.” Hardly a directive one would expect from the pulpit. But this is Purim, and revelry and festivities are the order of the day.  

Comic elements exist in the Megillah: a king’s wife spurned, a beauty contest to choose a new wife, an evil prime minister, the near annihilation of our people, a palace plot thwarted and our enemies defeated through the machinations of said new wife. 

Surely God had a hand in the outcome, yet there is no mention of God in the Megillah, a source of debate for centuries.  

Purim is a holiday of masks, and the miracle of our redemption unfolds through a series of natural events and “coincidences,” but were they really? Just like the filling in the hamantashen, the role of God in the Purim story is hidden,” writes Paula Shoyer, a graduate of the Ritz Escoffier pastry program in Paris, and author of The Holiday Kosher Baker (Sterling). 

“And just as with the hamantashen, the true significance of the holiday unfolds. We should always look for the hidden and deeper meaning of our experiences in life as a way to acknowledge the unseen forces in the world.”

In her cookbook, Shoyer presents traditional desserts with a distinctively modern twist with clear, detailed directions and lavish colour photos. 

Along with new versions of sponge cakes, blintzes, challahs and rugelach, you’ll find a chic Raspberry and Rose Macaron Cake, a Salted Caramel Banana Tart Tatin and recipes for low-sugar, gluten free, vegan and nut-free treats. 

“Interestingly, the Megillah is the first place in the Bible where the word ‘Jew’ appears,” Shoyer notes. And leave it to the Jews to commemorate this near tragedy with humour. “Purim is the most whimsical holiday of the Jewish calendar,” she says. “We put on Purim spiels, comedic plays that enact the Purim story, and dress in costumes.”

And of course we eat hamantashen, those three-cornered cookies filled with jam, poppy seeds, prunes or even chocolate, that are supposed to resemble Haman’s hat. Whether Haman ever wore a hat, three-cornered or not, is in question by some, as is the whole story altogether. 

“The filling is mostly hidden,” Shoyer writes, “and only when we break open the cookie do we experience the flavour inside.” The book includes recipes for eight varieties, including Raspberry, Vanilla Bean, Low-Sugar, Green Tea and Gluten-Free. 

We celebrate Purim with the mitzvah of mishloach manot (literally “sending portions” in Hebrew), giving sweets to family and friends. 

“The giving of gifts celebrates our survival, an acknowledgement that we are still here,” says Shoyer. Her recipes in this chapter reflect the fun and whimsy of the holiday: Decorated Brownie Bites, Licorice or Root Beer Chocolate Truffles, Mazel Cookies (her take on Fortune Cookies), Homemade Marshmallows: Coconut or Raspberry Swirl, and Tie-Dyed Mini Black and White Cookies, “my whimsical Purim version of classic chocolate and vanilla black and white cookies,” she says. 

If Purim is here, can Passover be far behind? Heads up: The Holiday Kosher Baker contains 45 Passover recipes, including Lemon Tart with Basil Nut Crust, Chocolate Chocolate Éclairs and Lime Macarons.