Religious Gastronomy



One of the things I like the best about living in the big city is the vast array of cultures and religions all in one place. Most months there’s at least one holiday of various origins going on (as anyone who follows the religion of alternate side of the street parking will avow,) and if you are lucky there’s a food associated with it. So while I was raised within a specific liturgy, these days I tend to follow a broad range of dogma, based upon the food served on holy days. To me, the majority of religions are basically all the same at the core anyway – love one another, treat people and the earth how you would want to be treated, there’s a greater “something” than us out there, and collective positive thought can make good things happen. So really it’s just the edges and the clothing that are different.  And when the celebratory food is good in a particular faith, well then, I’m onboard for that feast.  Which means during this holiday-chocked season I’m a culinary Hindi during Diwali, epicuriously Jewish on Chanukah and up to my eyeballs in cookies and breads at Christmas. In other words, I’m gastronomically religious.

Saturday is the first night of Hanukah, one of my favorites of the food-related observances. Who wouldn’t love a holiday based upon a really cool story, spelled at least 4 different ways (and counting) so even if you spell it wrong you are probably spelling it right, and where doughnuts, potato pancakes and various things fried feature prominently in the culinary liturgy. AND you can play a game and win chocolate!  Yup, I’m all over Hanukkah! For a holiday based on oil, I tried to come up with a recipe that featured it too. One of my favorite desserts is an orange olive oil cake I first had in Rome about 12 years ago and have been making ever since.  This Chanukkah, I wanted to figure out a way to feature olive oil in a cookie. Luckily there were several recipes to peruse via Google, and in the end I came up with one that incorporated several of them with a few twists of my own.  My Orange Olive Oil Cookies have the rich cake-like feel of madeleines but without having to run out and buy special pans. They get their orange flavor from four sources, orange zest and juice, candied orange peel and a splash of Cointreau, and I’ve made the texture and color a little more interesting with the addition of some semolina flour. Finally, since it is a holiday, I’ve gilded  (or ‘gelt-ed’) the cookie a touch more by dipping their bottoms in chocolate.  These probably won’t last 8 nights, but they will sure make the first one or two extra special.

Orange Olive Oil Cookies

Makes 4- 4 ½ dozen cookies

  • 1 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup semolina flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¾ cup orange juice
  • ½ TBSP orange zest
  • 1 tsp Cointreau (you could substitute vanilla if you like)
  • ½ cup chopped candied orange peel
  • 4 oz. dark chocolate, chopped (I use a combination of bittersweet and semisweet)
  • Powdered sugar for sprinkling

Line two or more cookie sheets with parchment paper. Wisk all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add in the orange zest and whisk to combine.  In a medium bowl mix the eggs, orange juice, olive oil, and Cointreau or vanilla together. Add the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until just combined (don’t over mix). Add in the candied orange peel and mix until incorporated.

Set the oven to 375°F and chill the dough for about 15 minutes or until the oven is up to temperature. Drop the dough by heaping teaspoon onto the prepared pans, leaving about 1-½ inches between since they spread a bit.  Return the bowl of dough to the fridge. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the bottoms are golden brown. Let the cookies cool on the pans for 5 minutes then remove to rack to cool completely.  Cool the pans until they are just warm to the touch before adding more dough. To speed things up, I like to prepare 4 pans with parchment so that I don’t have to wait for the pans to cool before another batch can go in. Once all the cookies have cooled completely, store in the freezer for at least an hour before dipping in chocolate.


Line 1-2 cookie sheets with cling wrap and chill for a few minutes in the freezer or fridge. Cold pans and chilled cookies mean the chocolate will set quickly.

Add the chopped chocolate to a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 30 second intervals until the chocolate is mostly melted. Remove from microwave and stir well until all the chocolate is completely melted. Take the chilled pans and cookies from the fridge and spread the bottom of each cookie with a layer of chocolate. (You could use an offset spatula if you have one, but a butter knife works just as well.) Place the cookies chocolate side down on the pans. When the pans are full and all the cookies are dipped, sprinkle the tops of the cookies with powdered sugar.

Once the bottoms have set, remove to a plate, light the candles and enjoy! Calories: approximately 75-85 per cookie. [Leftover cookies keep better when stored in the freezer.]

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