This recipe and story appear in the Jan. 21, 2013 edition of “From Tali’s Kitchen,” my biweekly cooking column in Binah magazine. On newsstands now — and make sure to check out my roundup of Shivat Haminim recipes for Shabbat Tu B’Shvat!
Confession: Until two years ago, I felt very little connection to Tu B’Shvat.
I grew up in a frum family living in a frum community (several different frum communities, actually). I attended frum schools. I went to shul from a young age, took halacha seriously, and looked forward to yom tov each time it rolled around. But somehow, Tu B’Shvat fell through the cracks.
Sure, I knew that Tu B’Shvat was Rosh Hashanah for the trees, and that it had something to do with taking ma’aser from crops grown in Eretz Yisrael. But what did that have to do with me? There was no special davening, no seudah, no mitzvah with which I marked the day in Silver Spring, Maryland. And so my connection to Tu B’Shvat never went any further than the little bags of dried fruit and carob handed out in school. Oh, and singing “HaShkediya Porachat” in ivrit class.
One of the sweetest rewards that comes with living in Eretz Yisrael is the way the chagim come to life. I experienced 23 cycles of Jewish holidays before I moved to Israel, and none felt as real as what happens here.
It’s things like public buses sporting “Shana Tova” before Rosh Hashanah and “Gmar Tov” before Yom Kippur. It’s the many, many apartment buildings with mirpasot built in a way that allows each tenant to make a succah. It’s the chanukiyot placed proudly not just in windows but actually outdoors, both outside private homes and public buildings. It’s the special grocery store deals on individual bags of snacks in time for assembling Purim’s mishloach manot. And it’s realizing in those hectic weeks before Pesach that you’re not the only one buying 50-micron aluminum foil for your countertops. So it came as no surprise that I rediscovered Tu B’Shvat here, too.
For the first 7 months of our married life, my husband and I lived in Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef. Malka, a friend of mine from high school, lived in the apartment building across the street with her husband and son, who I had nicknamed “favorite baby.” When they invited us to their Tu B’Shvat seder, we took them up on it right away. Finally, I thought, a real Tu B’Shvat!
At the designated hour, we walked across the street to their seder, a bottle of white wine in hand. Favorite Baby was asleep, and the table was set beautifully with the Shabbos tablecloth, wine glasses, and bowls of dried fruits and nuts.
The text for the seder (procured from Aish) used Torah sources to explain the significance of the day. It encouraged us to think more deeply about being in the presence of Hashem and to concentrate on the brachot we were saying over the fruits. I learned that eating fruit is a metaphor for our interactions with the physical world, and that Tu B’Shvat is an opportunity not just to examine how we treat the environment, but to atone for the cheit of Adam and Chava in Gan Eden.
As we made our way through barley pilaf, olives, dates, raisins, figs, pomegranates, and four (small) cups of wine and grape juice, I felt that for the first time, I was doing what I should be doing on Tu B’Shvat. And just as with the other chagim, it was more alive for being done in Israel –- what could be better than eating the fruits of Eretz Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael? I felt so much more connected than I had with all those baggies of dried fruit.
As a kid, I never understood what carob had to do with Tu B’Shvat. (I also had no idea how to eat it, tree bark-resemblance and all.) Much later, I learned that the connection stems from a halachic discussion about ma’aser: Because carob fruits bud before Tu B’Shvat, ma’aser would normally be taken along with the rest of the produce from the year preceding Tu B’Shvat. However, because the carob fruits are harvested much later (and all together), carob is an exception to the rule, and its ma’aser is taken with produce from the coming year.
Carob is often considered chocolate’s healthier relative, and I wanted my carob hazelnut fudge to stay as true to that as possible. As I sifted through dozens of other fudge recipes, I was dismayed (and kind of appalled) to see that many called for 1-2 cups of granulated sugar in addition to 3-4 cups of powdered sugar. Determined to find out how much of that was actually necessary, I tested this fudge four different ways –- and while the final result can’t be called low-sugar, I give you my word that I didn’t use any more than was needed to produce the right texture.
Carob hazelnut fudge topped with fresh roasted hazelnuts makes for sophisticated little squares of richness. Ironically, this is also a simple recipe that doesn’t require fancy equipment (nope, no candy thermometers). And time-wise, all you need is 10 minutes (not counting the refrigeration).
Whether this year’s Tu B’Shvat seder is your family’s first or fourteenth, carob hazelnut fudge is a great way to finish up the evening. Besides, after sampling those fruits and nuts, surely there’s room for a bite of fudge.
One year ago: Butternut squash and fennel soup
Yield: 20 small squares
⅓ cup hazelnuts
¼ cup unsalted butter, plus more to grease the pan
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup whip topping (such as Rich’s whip) or heavy cream, unwhipped
½ tsp salt
1 cup carob hazelnut spread*
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
*Check out your local health food store or the health food aisle of a large supermarket. Genesis is one brand that I’ve found readily available in Israel (look for it near the peanut butter), but you can also get it on Amazon.
Tip: This recipe can also be made as peanut butter fudge. Replace the carob hazelnut spread with unsweetened peanut butter and top with chopped peanuts.
1. Preheat oven to 350 F/180 C. Pour the hazelnuts onto a baking sheet and roast for 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer them to a hand towel and rub briskly to remove the skins. Chop roughly and set aside.
2. Line an 8″ x 8″ pan with foil hanging over the edges and grease well.
3. Place ¼ cup butter, granulated sugar, whip topping, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking frequently. Once it boils, cook for an additional 2 minutes, whisking constantly.
4. Remove from heat and whisk in carob hazelnut spread and vanilla. Add confectioner’s sugar and stir with a spatula until fully incorporated. Beat for 2 minutes with a hand-mixer set to the highest speed.
5. Spread in the prepared pan and sprinkle hazelnuts over the top, pressing them gently into the fudge. Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours.
6. Lift the fudge from the pan by the foil handles and slice into small squares, wiping the knife after each cut. Store in the refrigerator between wax paper layers.
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