Monday, February 15, 2010

Wish List - Parshat Terumah

Good morning from snowy Cambridge.

If you are ever wondering what to buy God as a wedding gift, look no further than this week’s portion, Parshat Terumah. For those who are familiar with the registry process, you will notice that it’s out of order here– first there’s the wedding (which is how many metaphorically interpret the experience at Mt Sinai and the giving of the ten commandments – God betrothing Israel), then there’s the honeymoon (a bit of time in the desert) and then comes the gift wish list. The Portion opens with God telling Moses “tell the Israelites to bring Me gifts- you shall accept gifts from every person whose heart so moves them.” A nice sentiment. But the list might be a hard one for the likes of Macy’s and Crate and Barrel, no less the Jews wandering in the desert:

Blue, purple and crimson yarns
Fine linen
Goats hair
Tanned ram skins
Dolphin skins
Acacia wood
Oil (for lighting)
Spices (for incense)
Lapis Lazulai (and other stones for the breast plate)

These are all materials that will be used to build the tabernacle- the portable temple that will travel around the desert with the nation. Luckily, the nation happens to have a bunch of this stuff on hand from spoils they took when they left Egypt.

So after God sets up this registry it’s time to set up the house. He gets a custom ark. It holds the tablets with the ten commandments and has a fancy 3D cover with two golden angels, a wooden table covered in gold to serve as the alter for sacrifices, matching bowls, ladles and jars for the job as well as a smaller copper alter for incense with matching accoutrements. There is a pretty elaborate lamp – that seven branched Menorah – this one made of pure gold. God asks for the ark to be set up behind a big blue, purple and crimson curtain which separates the Holy and the Holy of Holies. The table goes outside of the curtain on the northern wall and the menorah on the southern wall. The rest of the building, the coverings and courtyard are all fashioned according to God’s specs. Handily enough, each of these pieces are transportable with a ring and pole system.

For some great illustrations of the tabernacle and its furniture check out The Tabernacle by Moshe Levine (above).

All of the gold is really jumping out at me. There must have been a lot of gold amongst the Egyptian spoils, and now it’s going to good use (as opposed to when they used it to build that pesky calf). Typically, gold and other metals don't show up on a plate of food too often. There are Yukon Gold potatoes which may make a hearty mashed potato dish but don’t give off a very regal feel the way that edible gold on a dessert will! (I’m noticing I haven’t made too many desserts here yet.) You may have seen this edible extravagance gracing the top of a chocolate cake or other lavish dessert at a fancy dessert establishment. I first ate several small silver balls that sat atop a cake my mom made for an early birthday party - in the middle of a bundt cake my mother propped one of my barbie dolls and frosted the cake to look like her skirt. She procured quite an elaborate decorating kit for the job, including edible paints and said edible silver balls. To me it was magical - I could eat something that looked like jewelry.

There just so happens to be quite a number of kosher edible gold products out there if you are up for giving them a spin:glitter, spray, pricier flakes and icing.You could avoid such a frivolous cost by baking something in a golden cupcake cup but I’m going to be a bit frivolous this week. I'm ordering this gold luster dust. I'll bake sesame cookies in ring shapes (to mimic the tabernacle transportation system), dipped in chocolate and covered with gold.

I had been thinking of sesame cookie rings for this week before I came across a recipe for gold dusted sesame cookies. We used to enjoy savory sesame rings at the home of Sephardic friends, the Gelbands, before they moved to Israel. Esther Gelband was an amazing cook, hailing from Egypt, she had a bastion of alluring Middle Eastern recipes. She made the best baklavah, taught me how to efficiently cut and cube a mango and always made way too much food even though she often was feeding her family of nine kids plus guests. Her sesame rings I was always more hesitant about and it wasn’t until I was living in Israel with a more mature palette that I began to enjoy these. But the recipe for a sweeter version is very intriguing. I’m going to give it a whirl, but make it conform to a ring shape.

Gold Dusted, Chocolate Covered Sesame Cookies
Adapted from this Gourmet recipe

1 and ¼ cups of flour

½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

1 egg white

1 stick of unsalted butter, softened

½ cup sugar

½ cup of tahini (aka techina)

1 tsp vanilla extract

½ cup sesame seeds

¼ tsp gold or silver flakes, icing or sprinkles

3 ounces of good quality semisweet chocolate

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Stir the tahini very well by hand, or even better, put it in a blender.

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in egg white, tahini and vanilla. Add the flour mixture in 2 batches, mixing until a crumbly dough forms.

Put the dough on a silpat baking sheet, form into a circle, cover and chill in the fridge for an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Toast the sesame seeds in a frying pan for a minute or so, until you can really smell them.

Roll the dough into 3-inch coils, roll the coils into the sesame seeds and then form the coil into a ring. Place the formed cookie onto silpat covered baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes and then cool for 10.

While the cookies cool, melt chocolate in a double boiler. Carefully, using tongs, dip each cooled cookie into the chocolate, place back onto baking sheet and dust or paint with gold.


  1. hi elisha. davidi jonas writing. this is such a neat idea. i love how you have synergized two of your passions: Torah and cooking. i hope that your blog is a success.
    we look forward to some great recipes for the body and soul.
    tell us when the cookbook is coming out.
    if you ever want to give a class on torah and cooking we would love to have you do so at my new shul, KCI (
    please send my best to Sam--not the cat!
    have a great shabbos.

  2. This blog is terrific, Elisha! Keep up the good work. In hope you don't mind, but I just shared the link to your blog via Twitter...

  3. Hey Davidi - thanks so much for your comment! I'm glad you like the blog and would love to take you up on teaching a class in Riverdale sometime. Will be sure to alert you when the cookbook is coming out (hopefully sometime next fall/winter).

    Megg thanks for the compliments and for sharing my blog on twitter (of course that's ok!) - I hope you come back often.