From the desk of Jean Graubart, Director of Jewish Living and Learning
My mother burnt Sara Lee. I worshipped Betty Crocker. I wanted family recipes, so anything I enjoyed at someone’s house, I asked for the recipe. I would create a collection of other people’s family recipes and make them my own. As a graduate student in Social Work in San Diego, I interned at Jewish Family Services. When the board president was going on a safari to Africa, she asked me to visit her elderly Orthodox parents.
My first visit to the Brosloff’s apartment was like stepping into a time warp. San Diego was sunny and filled with military men in bright white uniforms or too thin young women, all tan and smiles. Upon entering the apartment I found a scene out of Eastern Europe. Mrs. B always met me at the door with her thin white hair brushed back into a little bun, wearing a floral housedress and a mismatched floral apron. Mr. B sat in an ancient armchair with hand embroidered doilies on the arms and back. The lamp, on the end table next to him, seemed to be the only light in the room. He had a black nylon yarmulke on his head and work a short sleeved once white button down shirt. He was totally focused on the heavy Hebrew book on the TV table in front of him, drinking a glass of tea and nibbling from a plate of his wife’s sugar cookies.
Mrs. B and I would walk into the kitchen where she made me a glass of tea and served a plate of light yellow sugar cookies, always fresh. Each visit, she presented me with a small brown paper bag filled with a few cookies. It was a touching ritual that I looked forward to.
On a visit in early March, Mrs B was making hamentashen out of the sugar cookie dough. When I asked for the dough recipe, she looked at me as if I had asked for her pocketbook. “Watch me,” she said.
With a pencil and pad from her telephone table, I watched. She used a glass for measuring and I had no idea of it’s size. She had hands that could comfortably tell when the dough felt just right. I asked if I could return the next time she was baking, with a measuring cup and spoons to figure out her measurement. Mrs. B smiled, a bit puzzled, and assured me we could make hamentashen the next day.
Geared up with my recipe card and utensils, I returned. She put the flour in her glass (whatever was convenient at the time) and I poured and measured and wrote. She always used vegetable oil because in the old country there was no “parve” margarine and her cookies were eaten after all meals. Also oil allowed the baking to stay fresh longer than butter.
Years later as a rebbetzin in my husband’s synagogue, I sat at Shabbat morning services and heard him read the names of those who had died that week. He mentioned a congregant who had lost her grandmother Lillian Brosloff.
I went up to Mrs. B’s granddaughter and told her sorry I was and how I knew her grandmother. I spoke of the warm visits I had to her apartment years earlier. She asked me if I ever had her grandmother’s sugar cookies or hamentashen. Teary eyed, she told me that no one in her family had the recipe though they always meant to get it. I felt great joy as I told her how I had captured the dough recipe and that it was indeed alive.
The next day I dropped the recipe off at her home, alone with a plate of the sugar cookies and the hamentashen.
Mrs. B’s Recipe
3/4 cup vegetable oil
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla (my addition)
Lemon rind from a whole lemon (Mrs. B said, “Use an orange if you don’t have a lemon”
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
Mix eggs, oil and sugar until lemony looking
Add lemon rind and vanilla
Add 3 cups of flour and baking powder
If dough is sticky, add a little more
Roll out on a floured board
Use a jar or glass to cut in circles
For sugar cookies place on greased cookie sheet and sprinkle with sugar (cinnamon too if you like)
For hamentashen, put a teaspoon of filling, poppy seed, prune, any jam or chocolate spread
Pinch the corners to make a triangle
Place on greased cookie sheet and bake cookies (about 8 minutes) and hamentashen 15-20 minutes until golden
Make this part of your Purim baking and enjoy!