Mom turns 87 this year, ad meah v’esrim. Her pride and joy revolves around her children, grandchildren, home, and her Hungarian rooted cooking. She was the renowned master balabusta of the neighborhood. When she made a Kiddush, everyone came. Her kugels, kishka, holoptzes, homemade sweet cabbage strudel, rum ball cookies, rum mousse, napoleons, chestnut cakes, oron-golushkas, kokosh, markosh and diosh were devoured in minutes. Her challas stood tall and statuesquely braided.
I still remember how barbaric her scraping walls of the intestines looked, as she prepped them to be stuffed with gelinglach (lung, rice and lots of pepper), and those sweet breads looking like splattered brain matter, before she sautéed them with mushroom and onions, smelling heavenly- later to become one of my personal favorite delicacies. She made Jewish classics like p’tchah and roasts that melted in your mouth, brust-deckle, tzimmes, Hungarian goulash, and chicken paprikash, and homemade pickles, beets and ugorkashalata (cucumber salad). You name it she could make it.
I don’t think she ever looked in a recipe book, she measured by eye and taste and what made innate sense to her. She had an uncanny sense for putting together ingredients be it for cooking or baking. Without knowing the chemistry of why she knew how and her tables were overflowing with amazing dishes. And I honestly can’t remember a time when something didn’t come out right, her consistency was truly remarkable. She used to raise thousands for Hadassah and UJA with her luncheons. I remember being floored when all these fancy clad high falutin American women came pouring into our house for her sit down dinner fund raisers. All cultural barriers disappeared as they sat and enjoyed the never ending multi course meals served on Herendi dishes and those blue or forest floral china with the gold accents that are so popular among the Hungarians. The lively chatter and coming together around delicious food in a homey environment was a fabulous success, each and every time. Her Shabbos and Yom Tov meals were no different. Relatives could call up a few hours before Shabbos to say they were coming, and two hours later between the freezer and adding to fresh dishes already on the stove a feastele was ready.
Mom lost cerebellar function close to twenty five years ago, and though it slowed her down, she found a way to continue cooking. It kept her sane, and proved each day that she was still the balebusta of the house. Nowadays, mom’s still at it. She makes the most delicious aromatic chicken soup; you would smell the parsley and dill welcoming the Shabbos malachim into our home every week. The freezer is till filled with plastic containers filled of her golden elixir, in case anybody gets hungry or needs a refuah.
This year she announced that she’s giving up baking. So this past Purim, I baked mom’s markosh and diosh and brought the loaves down and she prepared plates for her few surviving Hungarian friends and close neighbors. One of the delicacies mom served on Pessachwere her drum cookies. I’ve made a batch in her honor and lovingly share them with you now. I warn you, they are decadent and outrageous.
Yields 24 cookies
- 6 egg whites, at room temperature
- Pinch of cream of tartar (à la Levana) Or use Kosher for Passover baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- ¾ cup sugar
- 2 tbsp. potato starch
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 cup finely ground nuts- preferably filberts or pecans, for rolling the cookie sandwich
- Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
- Whip eggs with the cream of tartar and the salt until fluffy and shiny.
- Gradually add the sugar, starch and vanilla, and continue whipping until very stiff peaks form.
- Fold in the nuts gently, until thoroughly incorporated
- Spoon half dollar dollops onto a cookie sheet lined with foil or parchment paper. you will get approximately 20 -24 drops.
- Bake 30 minutes, or a little longer, until the bottoms of the cookies are golden brown and the tops feel firm.
- Set aside to cool
- 1 stick margarine
- 1 cup real chocolate melted
- 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
- 1 tsp. instant coffee powder
- 2 tbsp. water
- Whip the margarine in mixer, slowly add the chocolate and the rest of the ingredients.
- Chill for an hour before filling.
- Spoon about a tbsp. of filling onto cookie ( flat sides of cookie on outside), place another cookie on top and then roll in ground nuts.
- Chill before serving.