Shaped Like an Ear or a Hat – Either Way, It’s Delicious
Following the Jewish New Year last fall, I mentioned that the celebration of Jewish holidays tends to be involved with food. Ok, that’s an understatement. What’s a Jewish holiday without food?! We recall a period in the history of Jewish people, recount a battle that was fought and the miracle of the Jews coming out on top. We celebrate that by fasting and/or feasting, or by just feasting.
And so, with the beginning of Purim tonight at sundown, we ask ourselves: Who did the Jews defeat? …and what’s cooking? Better yet, “what’s baking?” The Jews of Persia were saved from extinction, and we eat hamantaschen, triangular shaped jam-filled cookies. Before we get to the latter, first a word on this fun, colorful and charitable holiday.
A short history lesson: Persian King Ahasuerus had chosen Esther to be his queen, not knowing she was Jewish. Her uncle Mordechai – and leader of the Jews – went against the king’s orders and refused to bow to Haman, Persia’s anti-Semitic Prime Minister. Haman ordered a decree to kill all Jews. Mordechai called all Jews together to pray and fast, while Esther revealed both her true identity to the King and Haman’s wicked plans, thus convincing him to help save her people. Change of plans – Haman killed, Mordechai made Prime Minister and the Jews were free!
I love Purim because it’s a time to give money to the needy and share food with friends. Ok, this is true, but I also just love hamantaschen, and eat them all year round in fact. When I was living in New York City, I’d accept any excuse to go to the Upper East Side; that’s where my favorite hamantaschen are. William Greenberg may be better known for his classic black and white cookies, but his prune hamantaschen have a special place in my heart. Purim is also a really fun holiday for families with children, as masquerades are custom. Costumes run the gamut, but there’ll always be a few Queen Esthers and Mordechais at the party. No one wants to be evil Haman. Even more, when his name is mentioned in the Torah reading, children shake their noisemakers and adults stamp their feet so as to banish his evil name. What child doesn’t like Purim — it’s a mitzvah (good deed) to make noise!
Whether shaped like Haman’s three-pointed hat or his triangular ears as they say in Israel (or I’ve even heard, his pockets!), hamantaschen are truly the classic Purim treat, and for me, the holiday is not complete without them. Some people use a yeast dough, others add cream cheese to the batter, and still others add orange juice. My recipe is a simple cookie dough made with powdered sugar. This makes them nice and crunchy on the outside and real chewy and tender on the inside. As for the filling (some say representing the hidden nature of the Purim miracle), the most traditional is mun, Yiddish for poppy seed. My personal favorite is lekvar, made with prunes. Just love it. Other common flavors seen in bakeries and bagel shops are apricot and cherry. My French husband offered Nutella as an option. A woman of tradition, I simply shook my head, “mais non chéri.” But then again, why not?! Nothing like religion, history, miracles, charity and celebrations… with a sweet, modern twist !
Makes about 5 large or about 10 small hamantaschen
1 cup (150 grams) flour
1/3 cup (50 grams) powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
small pinch of salt
1/2 cup (100 grams) butter, chopped up in little pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 small egg
1 teaspoon milk (if needed)
Filling of your choice*
Whisk the flour, sugar and baking powder in a bowl. Sprinkle butter pieces on top and work into the dry ingredients with your hands. Do this until it looks like coarse meal. Mix the vanilla into the egg. Pour over batter and work together with your hands. If pieces continue to break off and it seems dry, add a teaspoon of milk (or water or orange juice even). Form into a ball and flatten to a round disk. Put in plastic wrap and leave it in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours. Take it out 30 minutes before you want to use it.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Roll out dough to 1/8 inch (3 mm) thickness. Using a cookie cutter (or whatever you have on hand: saucer, ramekin, etc.), cut dough into rounds. Carefully lift with a spatula and place on cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Place a small spoonful of filling in the center of each round. (It’s very tempting to put more, but it will just ooze out.) Wet the edges lightly with your finger. To shape into a triangle, fold the dough in, in three equal pieces and have them meet at the center above the filling. Pinch the corners together. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the corners start to turn golden. Let cool completely.
*You can use any fruit jam or filling you like, and yes, even Nutella! Another part of the fun of making your own. Stick to tradition… or be creative. Either way, enjoy… and Happy Purim !