It’s been pretty busy around here and I haven’t had much time for blogging, but Purim begins this Saturday evening so I just had to pull away from my studies. The result? Hamantaschen!
Purim is a Jewish holiday that I’ve often heard described as “the Jewish Halloween.” That’s not quite accurate, but there are certainly similarities. Celebrants dress in costumes, attend parties, eat sweets and drink wine. Even synagogue services take on a boisterous flare as congregants hiss and rattle noisemakers when the name “Haman” is mentioned. The holiday has its origins in the biblical Book of Esther. According to the Bible, Esther was a beautiful Jewish woman living in Persia who was taken to the house of Ahasuerus, the King, to become part of his harem. Eventually she became his Queen, but when her cousin, Mordecai, told her of a plot to kill all the Jews in Persia she became a heroine too. After fasting for three days and making herself look even more beautiful, she visited the king without being invited – an act punishable by death – and told him of the plot. The man behind the sinister scheme was named Haman, and he harbored a particular hatred for Jews in general and for Mordecai in particular – but he didn’t know that Esther was also Jewish. Esther’s place at court allowed her to save her people, and Haman was hanged on the gallows that had been prepared for her cousin.
“Hamantaschen” is a Yiddish word that literally means “Haman’s Pockets” and in German “taschen” can also mean “cookie.” According to legend Haman wore a triangular hat, so eating hamantaschen is a way of celebrating how the Jewish people overcame his villainy. Traditional fillings are made from poppy seeds or prunes, but can also include nuts, cheese, dates, apricots and chocolate. The hamantaschen pictured here feature fruit preserves: apricot, peach, blackberry and strawberry. I also made another batch of cookies filled with Nutella.
Hamantaschen are very easy to make and would probably be a great baking project for small children because after the dough has been rolled out and cut into circles the edges are folded over whatever filling you have placed in the center. I don’t have children of my own yet, but I imagine adding the filling and folding the edges would be a good way to keep little fingers busy for a while!
Note: If you want to make nondairy hamantaschen you can replace the butter with shortening or with nondairy margarine.
Ingredients: Makes about 3 dozen cookies
- 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine
- 1 1/4 cups sugar + a pinch for the egg wash
- 3 eggs + 1 for the egg wash
- 1/4 cup orange juice or milk (I used orange juice)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Approximately 4 to 4 1/2 cups of flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- Fruit preserves. (Not jam.) You can also use Nutella.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a mixing bowl, cream the shortening, butter and sugar together. Add the eggs and blend until smooth. If the mixture is too hard to blend or seems curdled, add about 1 tbs of flour to bind it.
Stir in the orange juice or milk and the vanilla. Fold in 4 cups of flour, salt and baking powder. Mix to make a firm but soft dough. Cover and let the dough rest for 10 minutes to give the flour time to absorb all the moisture. If the dough is too sticky to handle after ten minutes have passed, add extra flour up to 1/2 cup. The dough will be sticky when it’s ready, but you should be able to handle it without it getting stuck to your fingers.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide the dough into 2 or 3 flattened discs and work with one portion at a time. Roll out the dough onto a lightly floured board to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Use a 3-inch cookie or biscuit cutter and cut as many rounds as you can.
In a small bowl mix 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of water and a pinch of sugar to make an egg glaze. Brush the rounds with the wash, then fill each with a generous 1/2 teaspoonful of your desired filling. Fold 3 sides of each circle together, creating triangles. I like to leave a little space in the center so you can see what the filling is (plus it looks pretty), but you can also seal your hamantaschen completely.
Brush the cookies with additional egg wash. If desired, sprinkle with regular or coarse sugar, and bake in the center of the preheated oven until golden brown, 18 to 25 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets.
Tips: Bake your hamantaschen in the upper third of the oven – usually the bottom part of the oven is too hot and may also cause premature bottom-browning. If you want to use leftover scraps to make more cookies, only roll them out once more because a lean dough like this one can only be rolled a couple times before becoming really tough.
This dough can be frozen for about 2 months or refrigerated (wrapped well in plastic) for one to three days. Just give it time to warm up before rolling it out. You can also freeze or refrigerate the filled triangles before baking. If you do this, just bake them without defrosting.
This recipe is from: A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking by Marcy Goldman.