Sunset tonight marks the start of Purim. You may be thinking, “What the heck is Purim?” Or maybe, “Bring on the hamantaschen!” Either way, this is a holiday worth sharing. The story of Purim in a nutshell is this. According to the biblical Book of Esther, Haman, the advisor to the King, plotted to annihilate all the Jews on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar. Why? Mordechai, a Jew, refused to bow down to him. Makes total sense like so much of history. After serious deliberation, Queen Esther spoke with the King on behalf of the Jewish people and informed him of Haman’s plan. The King, not knowing Queen Esther was herself a Jew, hung Haman and saved the Jewish people from extermination. Purim is now celebrated on the 14th day of Adar every year to commemorate the salvation of the Jews in ancient Persia. How is Purim celebrated? By eating, drinking and masquerading in costume. Sounds a bit like Mardi Gras, right? Aside from the whole reading the Book of Esther part, of course. Purim has actually even been nicknamed the ‘Jewish Mardi Gras’ in the U.S. Food for thought.
So what are hamantaschen…and what do they have to do with Purim? Hamantaschen are triangle-shaped pastries made with various sweet fillings. The more traditional hamantaschen are filled with poppy seeds or prunes. Other popular fillings include fruit marmalade, nuts or cheese. Hamantaschen means ‘Haman’s pockets’ in Yiddish. Word on the street is the name represents all the bribe money Haman collected during his time as advisor to the King. Haman evidently wore a triangular hat, hence the shape of hamantaschen.
Joan Nathan is my go to for Jewish cooking. My Mom used her Jewish Holiday Cookbook religiously (no pun intended) while I was growing up and now I understand why. Boy does that woman know her Jewish food! Below is a video from Tablet Magazine of Joan Nathan making hamantaschen. It’s a good basic tutorial and if you have any questions re how to assemble the hamantaschen, check it out! Did I mention that I love Joan Nathan? Because I do.
makes 30 cookies
useful gadgets: food processor, 3 inch circle cookie cutter, rolling pin
for the dough:
adapted from Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup sugar
½ tsp vanilla
2 tbsp Brandy
1 tbsp orange juice
2 tsp orange zest
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
for the raspberry filling:
12 ounces raspberries, fresh or frozen
⅓ cup sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp lemon juice
for the poppy seed filling:
1 cup milk
½ cup sugar
⅔ cup poppy seeds
⅓ cup golden raisins
½ tbsp butter
½ tbsp vanilla extract
for the peanut butter filling:
½ cup creamy peanut butter
¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 ½ tbsp butter
Cream together the butter and sugar in a food processor. Once it reaches a fluffy consistency, add the egg, vanilla, Brandy, orange juice and orange zest. Continue to pulse in the food processor until the dough is smooth. Gradually add in the flour, baking powder and salt. Pulse until the dough starts coming together and all the ingredients are well mixed. Lay out a piece of plastic wrap on the counter, scoop out the dough from the food processor into a ball and place it in the middle of the plastic wrap. Use more if needed to ensure the ball of dough is fully covered. Put it in the fridge for a couple hours, or overnight if you’re baking the hamantaschen the following day.
I’m not going to lie, I’m partial to the raspberry filling. But it’s always fun to play around with new combinations! Go crazy.
To make the raspberry filling, place the raspberries, sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice in a saucepan. Stir ingredients together and bring to a boil. Once the mixture has thickened a bit, take the saucepan off the stove and let the filling cool completely.
To make the poppy seed filling, grind the poppy seeds in a coffee grinder and set aside. In a saucepan, stir the milk and sugar over medium heat. Once the mixture starts to boil, turn the heat to low and add the poppy seeds and raisins. Cook until thick, about 15 minutes. Add the butter and vanilla extract and cook on low for a couple more minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.
To make the peanut butter filling, melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the peanut butter and stir until well combined. Take the saucepan off the stove and mix in the confectioners’ sugar. The peanut butter mixture may become hard, so place in the microwave and reheat as necessary to spoon onto cookies.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place a rack in the upper half of the oven and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Take the dough out of the refrigerator and roll it out on a floured surface until it’s ⅛ inch thick. You don’t want the circles too thick otherwise they become very hard to shape into triangles so roll the dough on the thinner side if you’re not sure. Use a 3 inch cookie cutter or a water glass to make 3 inch circles.
Place 1 teaspoon of filling in the center of each circle and brush water around the rim with your finger.
To make a triangle shape, pull the edges of the dough up around the filling and pinch the three corners together. Make sure to leave a small opening in the center so you can see the filling and use a little more water to secure the areas you pinched so the filling doesn’t leak out or the dough doesn’t come undone.
Transfer the hamantaschen to the parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes, or until the tops are golden.
Meet one of my closest friends Abby! She’s a hamantaschen assembling pro. We spent all day in the kitchen together working on these little guys for you (and us). Be sure to share your hamantaschen with family and friends too, it’s a Purim custom!