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Wednesday 9 April 2014

Sluttishly Sweet: Charoset Truffles

Sundown on Monday brings with it the start of Passover, the eight-day Jewish festival celebrating the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. As with so much of Jewish life, food is the cornerstone of this holiday - and in turn, charoset is the cornerstone of Passover grub.

To tell you about charoset, I do have to give a very brief Religious Studies lesson. On the evening of the first day of Passover, Jewish families have a Seder, a ritual feast. The most important part of this feast is the Seder Plate, a special, um, plate containing an array of symbolic foods.

I won't list them all here, but highlights include parsley dipped in salt water (this symbolises the tears shed by the slaves); a roasted hard-boiled egg (it represents - variously - rebirth, springtime, and our mourning at the loss of the Temple); and charoset, which looks like the mortar used by the slaves between their bricks. Fortunately, it tastes nothing like mortar.

At its most basic, charoset is a mixture of apples, walnuts, cinnamon and WINE. It is widely considered to be the best bit of the Seder Plate (admittedly it doesn't have much competition). The recipe changes from family to family and from place to place, and this one relies heavily on dates, apricots, and pistachios to make, quite frankly, the best charoset ever. Do I want a bowl of mortar at my table, though? Not especially. Sephardic Jews often roll their charoset into balls; I've done the same, and gone one further by coating them in cocoa, coconut, and cinnamon sugar for the ultimate delicious - and good-looking - Passover treat.

The following recipe is kosher for Passover - if you're preparing this for observant friends, look for wine marked 'Kosher for Passover', 'KP', or simply 'P'. It's complicated. Substitute freshly-squeezed orange juice if you're worried.

Charoset Truffles (makes 15-20)
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Chilling time: At least 1 hour
You will need:
  • 100g shelled walnuts
  • 60g shelled pistachios
  • 100g pitted dates
  • 50g dried apricots
  • 50g golden raisins 
  • 1 apple (Golden Delicious for preference), peeled, cored, and roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp light brown muscovado sugar
  • 1 tbsp runny honey
  • 1-2 tbsp sweet red Passover wine, or just kosher wine if you're not strict, or indeed any sort of wine if you don't keep kosher
  • 1 tbsp shredded desiccated coconut
  • 1 tbsp finest-quality cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar, mixed with a pinch of ground cinnamon
Make it!
  1. Using one of those special grindy gadgets, or a blender on a stick, grind the walnuts and pistachios. Up to you how fine you go - I like to leave some chunky bits in there for texture.
  2. Remove the nuts and now mush up the dates, apricots, raisins, and apple in the same way, until you have a paste. 
  3. Combine the nuts and fruit in a bowl, and add the ginger, cinnamon, sugar and honey, and stir well. Taste, and add more cinnamon or ginger as you wish. Now we need to add the wine! Start with a tablespoon and build up if you feel the mixture needs a little extra liquid.
  4. Pop your charoset in the fridge for about half an hour to firm up. After this time, sprinkle the coconut, cocoa, and brown sugar on a plate or chopping board (in separate sections), and with clean hands, roll a scant tablespoon's-worth of charoset into a ball, then dip and roll into the topping of your choice. Repeat until all the mixture has been used, and you have a variety of charoset truffles.
  5. Back in the fridge we go, for as little as half an hour, or as long as overnight. Your truffles will keep for 2-3 days, but do cover them in clingfilm if you're keeping them for that long. 
And now all that's left is for me to wish you...
חג פסח שמח 
... or Happy Passover!

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