Homemade Chanukah Gelt
Did you know that the Hasmoneans minted the first Jewish coins in history?
Those ancient bronze coins have been reinvented as Chanukah Gelt, chocolate treats we eat during Chanukah. These mass-marketed Chanukah coins are beautifully molded and add a festive touch to the festivities. This year, you can get creative and have fun making your own gourmet chocolate gelt for your Chanukah celebration.
For the Maccabees, minting their own coins was an expression of self-governance and freedom. In the Middle Ages, a tradition developed in Eastern Europe to give Chanukah gelt (money) to teachers and needy Yeshiva students. The connection was made between the Hebrew root for Chanukah and Chinuch (education), which is Chanech. Chanech means "educate," or "mold.
When I was a girl, this tradition was carried over to the types of gifts we received for Chanukah. They were educational gifts such as books, art supplies, and tickets to museum exhibits or concerts.
How were these ancient Maccabee coins transformed into the chocolate coins that are ubiquitous today? The cacao tree originated in Central America, and for thousands of years, chocolate was consumed as a drink. The Olmecs, Mayans, and Aztecs prepared a bitter, spicy, frothy drink from the cacao beans. Then, when Christopher Columbus journeyed to America, he brought some cacao beans back to the Spanish court.
Many of the Spaniards who settled in America were Sephardic crypto Jews, fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. They were the first to create a sweet chocolate drink, by combining the cacao beans with cane sugar. They opened the first chocolate houses in Europe, where sweet, hot, frothy chocolate drinks were served out of special pots called chocolatieres.
Solid chocolate bars were first produced in Switzerland in the 1840s, and in the 1920s, American chocolate producers were inspired to create chocolate coins for Chanukah. These coins were wrapped in gold and silver foil, and sold in little mesh bags. Currently, the Israeli chocolatiers Elite and Carmit dominate the Chanukah gelt market. Their coins are molded with the image of the menorah that was found on the last coin minted by the Maccabees 2,000 years ago.
A fun, creative, and delicious activity during Chanukah is to make your own artisanal Chanukah coins.
Chocolate Chanukah Gelt Recipe
Candied orange peels
Fleur de sel (hand-harvested sea salt)
Sprinkles or Jimmies
Shredded, toasted coconut
Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave or over a hot-water bath.
Spoon the melted chocolate onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
Personalize your gelt by adding the topping of your choice.
Allow the chocolate coins to harden at room temperature.
Carefully remove them from the parchment paper, and wrap them with gold or silver foil.