The twin strands that make up the culinary story of Chanucah are oil and cheese. We all know the story of the small cruse of oil, enough for one day which nevertheless kept the light burning in the Temple for eight days until a fresh supply of pure oil could be provided. Less well known, however, is the story of the resourceful Judith (after whom, incidentally, my mother apparently named me) who is said to have plied the Assyrian General Holofernes first with an array of delicious (and salty) cheeses, and then with copious quantities of wine to quench his thirst. As he lay in a drunken stupor, she cut off his head with his own sword, his followers fled, and Judith was henceforth considered a heroine of the Jewish people.
In memory of that monumental wine and cheese party, cheese has played as important a symbolic role in the foods of Chanucah as oil — indeed the original recipe for latkes called for cheese rather than potatoes, which did not arrive in Europe until the 15th century.
A tender, flaky cream cheese pastry is used in these Casadielles — delicious little turnovers stuffed with a buttery brandy and walnut filling from Asturias in northern Spain. They are a cousin of Ashkenazi rugelach which are also made with cream cheese pastry, but resemble Sephardi borekas in shape. Traditionally, the filling was laced with anise-flavoured brandy.
Since the pastry requires no rubbing in, they’re easy to make and quite delicious. Best of all, they can be made now and frozen for when Chanucah arrives.
Makes 20 turnovers. Keeps 2 weeks in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Freezes 3 months
For the pastry:
125 g (4 oz) butter
125 g (4 oz) curd cheese
125 g (4 oz) self-raising flour
1 tbsp icing sugar
For the filling:
125 g (4 oz) coarsely
125 g (4 oz) sugar
1 tbsp brandy
1 tbsp butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten,
granulated or icing sugar
● Pulse the nuts, sugar and cinnamon in the food processor until the nuts are finely chopped then put in a small bowl. Stir in the brandy and butter.
● To make the pastry: have the butter the consistency of plasticine — pliable but not spreadable. Work it together with the curd cheese, either with a wooden spoon or mixer fitted with the K beater.
● Gradually work in the flour and icing sugar until a dough is formed. Knead lightly with the fingers until smooth.
● Divide in two and flatten each portion into a 2.5 cm (1 in) thick disc, then wrap each in foil and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.
● Roll the pastry to 3mm (¼ in) thick. Cut into 10cm (4in) circles.
● Fill each circle with 3 teasp of the walnut mixture. Brush the edges with the beaten egg, fold the circles in half, and press the edges together with a fork to seal well, and then brush the tops with the remaining egg.
● Bake at Gas 8 (450˚F, 230˚C) for about 10 minutes, or until the turnovers are golden. Dust with sugar. Serve at room temperature.