Friday, March 2, 2007

Hamentaschen

It's time for Purim here, and the wild boys are expecting lots and lots of hamentaschen. Hamentaschen are traditional Ashekenazic Jewish cookies usually eaten at Purim. Purim is a Jewish holiday, a feast, celebrating the deliverance of the Persian Jews from Haman's plot to kill them all. We read the Book of Esther, give mutual gifts of food and drink, give charity to the poor, and generally whoop it up and have a good time.

Hamentaschen are triangular cookies traditionally filled with fruit. They can also be filled with nuts, chocolate or cheese. "Hamentaschen" is a Yiddish word roughly translated as "Haman's pockets"; in modern Israel these cookies are known as oznei Haman, "Haman's ears" (modern Hebrew). Some people make their own fruit filling for these cookies. I do not because I have had success with the canned or jarred fillings I mention below.

The original recipe comes from my Aunt Mary, my favorite aunt. She is a wonderful woman who always has a kind word to say about people. Aunt Mary bakes and freezes hamentaschen all year-round so she always has some ready for my boys. She is a phenomenal cook of traditional Jewish foods, and I am grateful she has shared many of her time-honored and beloved recipes with me. No matter where I go in this world, the tastes of hamentaschen or stuffed cabbage and the smell of brisket bring me back to childhood holidays spent at Aunt Mary and Uncle Ozzie's house. They are indelible.

2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour, plus extra for rolling
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 lb (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs
1/4 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons vanilla
Canned or jarred filling:
Solo® brand poppyseed, apricot, cherry. almond; Lekvar prune butter; Nutella®

Special Equipment: sifter or sieve; pastry blender; zipper bags; rolling pin; parchment paper or silicone baking mats (Silpat®); 4-4.5" round cookie cutter or a clean, empty 28-oz tomato can with both ends removed; cookie sheets; cooling racks

Cook's notes: The dough will work better if you make it in advance and let it chill in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. If you do not have time to let the dough chill for that long, put it in the freezer for 30 minutes. Do not double this recipe! I have tried on several occasions and have ended up with a big, unwieldy mess. If you intend to make several batches of cookies, as I always do, make each dough mixture individually.

Make the dough:
  1. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and sugar into a large non-reactive bowl. Cut the butter into the dry mixture using a pastry blender, until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Make a well in the center of the dry mixture.
  2. In a separate non-reactive bowl, beat 1 egg with the orange juice and vanilla until well-blended. Pour the egg mixture into the well of the dry mixture. Incorporate the dry into the wet with a fork until blended.
  3. Gently squeeze the dough together until it forms a ball. Easier said than done: it will take a couple minutes to squeeze and incorporate all the solids together. If your mixture seems a little dry, add another tablespoon of orange juice. If the mixture seems a little wet, add a little more flour. You're looking for the dough to just come together but not be sticky or crumbly. (This is the hardest step.) Place the ball of dough into a zipper bag. Squeeze out all the air and gently flatten the dough into a disk. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
Make the cookies:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line each cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. In a small dish, mix together 1 egg with a couple tablespoons of water to make an egg wash.
  2. Dust your work surface with flour. Dust your rolling pin with flour. Roll out the dough until it's about 1/8-inch thick. Add more flour, a little at a time, if the dough is soft and sticky.
  3. Use the cookie cutter or can to cut out large circles. Place each circle on the lined cookie sheet. You can fit 6-8 circles on one pan.
  4. Put one generous tablespoon of filling in the center of each circle. Dip your forefinger in the egg wash and trace the edge of the circle of dough. Pull up the rounded edges of the dough and pinch together to form a triangle pastry; leave a small opening in the center of each cookie so you can see the filling. Pinch each seam together well, otherwise it will burst open in the oven.
  5. Bake at 350ºF in the center of the oven for approximately 20 minutes or until the cookies are light brown. Cool on a wire rack. Stored in a covered container, the hamentaschen will keep for several days.
Makes 8-10 large hamentaschen. This is an easy recipe to make with and for children, and I encourage you to do so. My boys anxiously await Purim every year so they can "help" me make hamentaschen. Thank you, Aunt Mary, for the legacy.

2 comments:

Rambling Mom said...

You're making me hungry (and I know I don't have time to make that right now). OHHHHH -- I bet the Jewish deli around the corner has some. I'll need to stop by.

I do believe I was a Jewish mother in a former life.

Kel said...

i wish i had the time to make some of these now - they look delicious
a recipe to keep for a rainy day

i love the Esther story
it was my lifeline a couple of years ago when I faced a "for such a time as this" situation