Hamantashen

The quintessential Purim treat is hamantaschen.


I’ve long had a certain affection for the Jewish holiday of Purim. Partly, it’s because it always seems to fall somewhere around my birthday, or at least during Pisces. This year, it’s today (or last night), which, like Easter, et al., is particularly late in the season; next year, it’ll be March 8 (or the night before). You can find out when it falls each year here.

But it’s also because it’s based on a story from the Old Testament book of Esther, one of only two books in the Bible named for a woman, the other being Ruth. I always liked the story of palace intrigue involving Esther, though secretly Jewish, getting to marry king Ahasuerus. Meanwhile, the king’s prime minister, Haman, gets ticked off with Esther’s cousin Mordechai and plans to get all the Jews killed. Through some clever strategy, which you can read about Purim here, it is Haman who ends up being executed. The Jews’ deliverance led to the celebration of Purim.

In a church miniplay about 20 years ago, I got to be the evil Haman. Always more fun playing the bad guy.

As part of my wife’s birthday present to me, she let me have a card party, specifically HEARTS party, at our house yesterday. My friends Jeff and Sandy said they would come, but they would have to leave early because of Purim, a fact that I mentioned to my friend Mary. So one of my friends, who is a gentile who likes to bake, considered making and bringing hamantaschen. What?

The quintessential Purim treat is hamantaschen. This Yiddish word means “Haman’s pockets”; the name of these triangular-filled cookies in Hebrew — oznei Haman — means “Haman’s ears.” They are served as a reminder of the triumph over Haman, whose name is also symbolically drowned out by the children using noisemakers during the synagogue recitation of the Purim story.

Hamantaschen with poppyseed filling

Total time: 6 1/2 hours; much of it is chilling time

Servings: This makes about 3 dozen hamantaschen

Creamy poppyseed filling with raisins

3/4 cup poppyseeds (3½ ounces)

1/2 cup whole milk

3 tablespoons mild honey

2 to 3 tablespoons sugar, divided

1/4 cup raisins

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest (from about 1 orange)

1. Using a spice grinder, grind the poppy seeds into a fine meal but not to a paste. This will need to be done in batches.

2. In a small saucepan, combine the poppy seeds, milk, honey, and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Stir over low heat and bring to a simmer. Cook over low heat, stirring often until the mixture is about as thick as peanut butter, about 10 minutes.

3. Add the raisins and butter, and stir over low heat just until the butter is blended in. Remove from heat and stir in the orange zest. Taste, and stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar if you like.

4. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and set it aside to cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate it until cold before using, at least 1 hour. This makes about 1 cup filling, enough for about 3 dozen hamantaschen.

Hamantaschen and assembly

3/4 cups flour (12.4 ounces)

1 cup powdered sugar (3.5 ounces)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter or stick margarine, cut into ½-inch pieces

1 egg, beaten

1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest (from about 1 large orange)

1 to 3 tablespoons orange juice

Creamy poppyseed filling with raisins

1. Combine the flour, powdered sugar, baking powder, and salt in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process briefly to blend. Scatter the butter pieces over the mixture. Pulse the mixture just until it resembles a coarse meal. Add the orange zest. Pour the beaten egg evenly over the mixture in the processor. Pulse again, scraping the sides down occasionally, just until the ingredients are blended.

2. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon orange juice and pulse briefly until the dough begins to stick together but does not quite form a ball. If the dough is too dry to stick together, add another tablespoon of juice and pulse several times to blend. If necessary, add the last tablespoon of juice 1 teaspoon at a time, pulsing after each addition.

3. Transfer the dough to a work surface and divide it into 4 portions. With the heel of your hand, knead each portion lightly to blend. Using a rubber spatula, transfer each portion of the dough to a sheet of plastic wrap, form it into a fairly smooth flat disk and wrap tightly. Refrigerate it for at least 3 hours or up to 3 days.

4. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. If it is very firm, let it soften for a few minutes at room temperature. Meanwhile, butter a baking sheet, or line it with foil and butter the foil.

5. Unwrap 1 quarter of the dough at a time. Push to form it into a rough circle. Tap it firmly a few times with a rolling pin to soften it and to begin flattening it. Roll it on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin, turning it often and flouring lightly as necessary, until it is about one-eighth-inch thick.

6. Using a 3-inch cookie cutter or a glass, cut the dough in rounds. Brush water lightly along the rim of each one. Put 1 teaspoon filling in the center of each. (Do not add the extra filling, or it may come out during baking.) Pull up the edges of the round in 3 arcs that almost meet in the center above the filling, to form a triangular pastry with the filling showing slightly. Pinch the edges to seal them firmly.

7. Put the pastries on the greased baking sheet and refrigerate them. Push the trimmings gently together; wrap and refrigerate them.

8. Roll the remaining dough into 3 more portions and shape more hamantaschen. After refrigerating the trimmings for at least 30 minutes, you can roll and shape them also. Refrigerate the shaped pastries for 30 minutes or up to overnight to firm the dough.

9. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 375 degrees.

10. Bake the hamantaschen until they are lightly golden at the edges, about 10 to 14 minutes.

11. Cool them on a rack, then store them in an airtight container.

Each of 3 dozen cookies: 128 calories; 2 grams protein; 14 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 7 grams fat; 4 grams saturated fat; 21 mg cholesterol; 6 grams sugar; 27 mg sodium.

As it turned out, my friend opted for another treat that was likewise DELICIOUS.