Bar Mitzvah Baking – Part I

My cousin Daniel’s Bar Mitzvah was last weekend, and the usual Gecht family over-the-top preparations were in full swing for weeks (and probably months). It was a whole weekend of celebration: Friday night dinner, Saturday lunch at the Synagogue, Saturday night dinner/party. Oh yeah, and somewhere in between the eating and the partying my little cousin became a Bar Mitzvah!

In case you’re wondering what it looks like when 120 thirteen-year-olds get together with an enthusiastic DJ, here’s a little peek:

Madness. 13-year-old dancing seems to consist mostly of standing in a clump and jumping up and down. My older cousins and I got in there too…. that’s right, we broke it down.

I just had to include this picture…too funny!

As you can imagine, lots of planning and time went into this weekend-long celebration, and I was really happy to be able to contribute. My mom, my other aunt, and I all did some baking for the party Saturday night. Although I can’t take too much credit for my thoughtful offer to help, because we all know I jump at any excuse to bake something.

So I made cookies….lots of cookies!

all 126 of them!

It was a full family effort, and it was awesome to see all our treats displayed on the dessert table.

And this was before the tiramisu cheesecake came out!

The first thing I made was brown sugar poppy seed cookies, sandwiched together with chocolate. I did a trial of the recipe a couple weeks before, and then doubled the recipe for the big event.

These cookies are simple and slightly crisp, and they get a little sophistication and complexity not only from the poppy seeds, but also from a sprinkling of course turbinado sugar and sea salt.

The process for these cookies involves refrigerating the dough, rolling it out, and then cutting out the cookies. Since I was doubling the recipe, and I made the cookies small, (and I could only bake 1 or 2 batches at a time), it ended up being an afternoon-long process. But there was something meditative about rolling out batch after batch, laying out the cookies, and sprinkling on the salt and sugar.

And then, of course, time for chocolate.

I had to make some coffee by this point. (and maybe sample a reject cookie.)

And that was it! They froze beautifully and were ready for their big appearance the night of the party. So my first time making desserts for a real event? I guess I’d call it a success.

I’m so proud of my cousin Daniel – he did a wonderful job. And the whole weekend was such a fun family reunion. Aunt Maureen, all your hard work paid off!

Next time……caramels!

Brown Sugar Poppy Seed Sandwich Cookies

Adapted from Heidi at 101 Cookbooks

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
scant 1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon poppy seeds
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons milk

1 tablespoon sea salt (optional)
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar (optional)
6-7 ounces dark chocolate, chopped

special equipment: a 1 1/2-inch cookie cutter or a similarly sized glass

Makes 2 dozen 1 1/2 inch sandwich cookies (I used a slightly smaller glass and ended up with about 30 small sandwich cookies)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 & place rack in the top 1/3 of the oven. Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and poppy seeds. Set aside. In a separate bowl, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy and slightly lightened in color. Add the egg yolks and vanilla extract. Remember to scrape the sides of the bowl.
  3. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet. Fold them together by hand, being careful not to over-mix. If the dough is on the dry side stir in the milk as well.
  4. Dump the dough onto the counter-top and knead once or twice, just until it comes together to form a ball. Divide the dough into 4 roughly equal pieces, and shape each one into a ball. Flatten each of the four balls so they are about 1/2-inch thick, wrap each separately in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.
  5. Remove the dough quarters 1 at a time from the fridge, and roll out on a lightly floured surface. Roll them out very thinly, about 1/8-inch thick. Cut out your cookies and arrange them (1-inch apart) on prepared baking sheets.
  6. Sprinkle the cookies lightly with sea salt and sugar. Bake for about seven minutes until the cookie edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and cool completely on a rack.
  7. To assemble the sandwiches, place the chocolate in a double boiler to melt. You can just as easily use a glass bowl placed over a bit of simmering water; the bowl shouldn’t touch the water. Flip half of your cookies upside down, so the flatter side is up. Scoop about 1/2 teaspoon of melted chocolate onto the center of those cookies. Top each with another cookie, matching flat side to flat side. Allow the chocolate filling to set before eating, if desired.


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