These recipes – in honor of Purim – come from Luigi Martell, whose great-grandparents came from Catalonia to Puerto Rico, where he grew up. Many of his family’s sweetmeats and dishes for the holidays have been dug up over the years from collections of recipes hailing from the different lands of the former Crown of Aragon of which the Principality of Catalonia was an integral part.
Among those foods that Luigi has luckily been able to recover are these cookies for Purim: “malvats” (or the “wicked-ones”), which are shaped to look like evil Haman and his equally wicked wife Zeresh, and “amargs” or chewy and usually round bitter almond biscuits, which for Purim are not round but rather three-cornered and triangular in shape because it says in the Midrash that the strength of Haman weakened as soon as he recognized the merit of our three forefathers: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Martell says the malvats and amargs “can be made with any cookie dough you like. Sometimes we make them out of spicy gingerbread cookie dough, but more often than not, we make it from ‘rustic’ marzipan because it comes together quickly and uses just four ingredients…and it’s a nice addition when sending out “platikos de Purim” (mishloach manot) to friends.” Here’s the recipe, which makes approximately 6 “malvats” and 15 “amargs”.
Ingredients (for both malvats and Amargs)
250g almond flour
the zest of 1 orange or lemon
the juice of 1 small freshly squeezed orange
1 whole egg
Thoroughly mix all ingredients and turn the marzipan dough out onto a work surface and knead it a few times just to make sure it is s smooth and all the ingredients are fully combined. Cover and place the marzipan dough in the fridge to set for about 30-60 minutes.
With your hands grab amounts of marzipan dough the size of walnuts and shape the marzipan into balls of about 30g each. Press a whole almond or pistacchio —or an almond or pistacchio half, if you prefer, on top of each ball. Now, with your thumb and forefinger pinch each ball on its sides and with the help of the palm of your other hand and fingers start shaping the marzipan balls into triangles with 3 pointy corners.
Cut the marzipan dough into the shape of Haman and his wife Zeresh. You can make use of a gingerbread man cookie cutter for the basic shape of Haman and Zeresh. For the Haman cookie you will need to give him some pointy ears. As for the Zeresh cookie, you will need to run some of the marzipan dough through a garlic press to give each Zeresh cookie crazy tangled tufts of hair.
Pop both the “malvats” and “amargs” into the oven and bake for 8 minutes at 170° Celsius (338° Fahrenheit) till the marzipan has browned a bit. Chag Purim Sameach!
Luigi Martell is also active in La Nova Escola Catalana, a Jewish organization which seeks to increase awareness and understanding of the Catalan rite which, like the Italian rite, is a distinct historical tradition. To learn more, please see their website (www.novaescolacatalana.cat) or Facebook page (https://m.facebook.com/NovaEscolaCatalana/).