Wednesday, March 20, 2019

It's Purim Time: Hamantaschen

Before there was Halloween, before there was Carnivale/Mardi Gras, there was Purim.  A festival with costumes, feasting, and festivities.

Like most Jewish holidays, Purim celebrates the escape of the Jewish people from those who wanted to annihilate us.  Which is pretty much the history of the Jewish people up to and including the present. 

Purim retells the story of the brave Queen Esther who saves the Jews from the evil Haman - the king's adviser who had convinced the king to kill all the Jews in Persia.  

Every year the story is told through theatrical performance - known as the Purim spiel.  When Haman's name is said, the audience boos and shakes noisemakers known as "groggers" to drown out the very sound of his name.  Children dress in costume and participate in Purim Carnival games, winning treats and sweets.  They sing songs about the evil Haman, who, although the villain in the story, receives the most attention in the form of songs and sweets.

In Morocco, challahs are turned into "Haman's eyes" - sweet bread with hardboiled eggs baked into it to represent the eyes.  More traditionally worldwide Hamantaschen are eaten, their triangular shape a nod to the three-cornered hat Haman wore.

I grew up every year making these cookies with my father.  And now I make them with my children.  Unfortunately I don't know the recipe my father used - whether he crafted it himself or memorized it after years I'll never know, but he did the whole thing without once glancing at anything written down.  So I have been forced to cobble together my own version from various sources over the years.  Finding a dough that's soft - but not too soft, sweet - but not overly so, and sturdy enough to hold together through the baking process.

The filling is where things get fun.  Traditionally, prune, poppyseed, cherry, and apricot are the flavors used - through jams, jellys, and pie fillings.  But if there's one thing I learned from my dad, is that you don't need to be traditional.  Just about anything can work here.  We used to use chocolate chips or hershey kisses for chocolate hamantaschen when I was younger.  I happened to have nutella on  hand while we were making these, and I thought that would make a fun addition.  Thatkid requested grape jelly.  The only limits are your imagination.

My father always pinched together the dough circle at the top and each side of the bottom to create a triangle.  But when looking over various recipes I came across a folding method I tried out this year.  I'm not sure that one is better than another, but it was a fun new thing to try.  To give the folding method a shot, fold over the left side of the dough circle, then the right side to make a point, overlapping the right fold over the left fold at the top.  Then fold up the bottom, placing one part of that fold under the left fold and one part over the right fold, almost as though you were putting together the bottom of a box.  It's a little more complicated, but does result in a nice triangle.  You can see both versions in the picture above.

 3/4 cup butter, room temp
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
fillings: jam, jelly, pie filling, poppy seed, prunes, nutella, hershey kisses, butterscotch chips....

  1.  Beat butter and sugar in an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
  2. Add egg and vanilla and beat until creamy.
  3. Add in flour and salt and mix until just combined.  Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead until smooth.  Shape into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  4. Preheat oven to 350. Line 2 baking sheets with silpat or parchment paper.  Roll out dough into a circle about 1/4 inch thick.  Use a round cookie or biscuit cutter to cut out circles from the dough.  Gather the scraps and re-roll and cut until all the dough is used.  Place the dough circles on your baking sheets.
  5. Place 1 tsp of filling in the center of each circle.  Pinch or fold the circle into a triangle, pressing to seal.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown. 

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