For probably no reason beyond proximity on the calendar, Hanukkah and Christmas tend to get lumped together. Traditionally, the holidays actually have little in common.
But one shared tradition — and one that has become even more so as lines have blurred — is the exchange of gifts. But with one important distinction. Whereas Christmas is celebrated on one day, Hanukkah stretches over eight. As a result, the gifts tend to be smaller. Treats and other food gifts are particularly popular during the Jewish Festival of Lights.
Favorite Hanukkah treats include chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil (called gelt), as well as cookies in the shapes of menorahs and dreidels often decorated in blue, white, silver or gold, common colors for the holiday. Also popular are rugelach, bite-sized crescent pastries filled with nuts, chocolate, marzipan or fruit preserves.
Laura Frankel, a food educator and executive chef at the Spertus Center for Jewish Learning & Culture in Chicago, favors another — more American — Hanukkah tradition: the giving of pretzels that have been dipped in chocolate and other toppings.
"It's great fun because the kids love making the dough into all kinds of shapes," says Frankel.
The tradition of eating pretzels during the Jewish Festival of Lights is a relatively new one. The pretzels often are shaped to resemble Hanukkah symbols, such as menorahs and dreidels. This version from Laura Frankel, also a cookbook author, gives the tradition a deluxe twist with a coating of dark chocolate and a dusting of gold leaf (available at craft and baking supply shops).
Gilded Chocolate-Dipped Hanukkah Pretzels
1﻿½ c. warm (110°) water
1 T. sugar
2 t. kosher salt
1 packet active dry yeast
22 oz. (about 4﻿½ c.) all-purpose flour
¼ c. canola, vegetable or other neutral oil, plus extra for the pan
⅔ c. baking soda
1 large egg yolk
1 T. cool water
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate
Edible gold leaf