It’s almost Purim! Bring on the noisemakers, costumes and treats! And Purim wouldn’t be a celebration without Hamantaschen. Imagine a flavorful dough, shaped like a triangle and stuffed with all kinds of delicious fillings. Traditionally, these sweet treats were filled with poppy seeds or lekvar (prune paste). But now, anything goes. Growing up, my son’s favorite filling was (and remains) Nutella. I also love apricot, almond paste, or even blueberry with lemon zest. Whatever you choose to fill your hamantaschen with, just enjoy them.
I’m not usually boastful, but these are simply THE BEST Hamantaschen that you will ever eat.
The name, Hamantaschen, which is Yiddish, translates as Haman’s Pockets. It’s not really known why these treats came to be associated with Purim. But one story is that Hamantaschen resemble the tri-cornered hat Haman wore. Or maybe his pockets filled with bribes to spies. In Hebrew these delectable sweets are referred to as Haman’s “Ears.” But who was Haman and why do we remember him? The evil Haman was the royal vizier in the court of the Persian King Ahasuerus. He was out to exterminate the Jewish People.
When Do We Celebrate Purim?
Purim is celebrated according to the Hebrew calendar on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar (this year on March 9-10). This is the day following our deliverance from the evil decree. It is a time of merriment and satire much like April Fool’s Day. There is often a carnival and both adults and children dress up in costumes and swing noisemakers to scare off our enemies. In addition, the Book of Esther (Megillah) is recited publicly and we all boo every time Haman’s name is mentioned.
The Purim Story in Brief
Why does the Purim story resonate today? The Megillah is perhaps, the first written story about classic anti-Semitism. In the 4th century B.C.E., Ahasuerus, chooses the beautiful and brave Esther, a Jew, for his wife and queen. Haman, arrogant and egotistical, starts whispering in the king’s ear that because the Jews are different, they must be suspect and should be killed. Thankfully, Haman’s plans are foiled by Mordecai, an advisor to the king and Esther‘s cousin and adopted father. The day of deliverance was celebrated with a day of feasting and rejoicing for Jews.
So in addition to eating many special treats and reading the Megillah, Jews are commanded (Esther 9:18) to send out gifts of food or drink, and to make gifts to charity.
While my son never wanted to dress up for Halloween, he always donned costumes for Purim as did I. And like so many Jewish girls, I always wanted to be Queen Esther, the brave and smart savior of our people.
Unfortunately, anti-Semitism was not wiped out along with Haman. Even after 6 million Jews were butchered during the Shoah, our enemies are still whispering lies and committing acts of violence and hatred against our people. So while Jews everywhere will celebrate Purim this year, we will also remain vigilant against the Hamans of this world.
I always look first to Gloria Kaufer Greene for my Jewish Holiday recipes. I have tweaked the original recipe and those changes are reflected below.
Yield: About 2 dozen (Can be doubled)
1/2 cup butter or non-dairy buttery sticks, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Zest and juice of one medium navel orange (Up to 3 Tablespoons of juice, as needed)
1.5 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
Cream the butter (non-dairy sticks) with the sugar using a food processor or electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, zest and vanilla until well combined.
Add the flour, salt, baking powder and baking sugar and mix until mixed through. Add orange juice, as needed. (If the dough seems really dry and won’t form, I add the juice to get a smooth dough.)
Form the dough into a thick disk, wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours. (You can make the dough up to 3 days ahead.)
When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Then roll out the chilled dough on a lightly floured surface until it is about 1/8-inch thick. (I like to roll out 1/2 of the dough at a time to make it easier to handle.)
Cut out circles that are 3-inches in diameter. You can use a clean, empty tuna can or a glass if you don’t have a cookie cutter. Re-use scraps until almost all of the dough is used up. I wouldn’t re-roll more than once.
Scoop a generous teaspoon of whatever filling you are using into the center of each circle. (I like to set things up like an assembly line, with my fillings all lined up and ready to go to make this go more quickly.)
Fold up the edges of each circle in thirds to form an open triangle with some of the filling showing. Using my finger and some cold water, I then “paint” the pinched edges both to seal them and to smooth them. You don’t want your hamantaschen opening up in the oven. They may taste fine, but the look will be disappointing.
Place the hamantaschen on baking sheet lined with a silicon baking sheet or parchment paper. Bake for about 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
I am happy to use bought fillings which I then add special touches to. You want a filling that is thick enough to hold up to baking without running all over. I like to use either Solo brand or Love N’ Bake. Some of my favorite fillings are Nutella, apricot pastry filling, almond pastry filling and Lekvar or prune filling.
I always add a bit of orange zest to my apricot and prune filling and place a few sliced almonds on top of the almond filling. Nutella needs nothing added, but on occasion I have been known to add a few mini-chocolate chips.
Below is a wonderful poppy seed filling, which I will make from scratch. Obviously, if you are using multiple fillings, you will either have left-over filling or gee, I dunno, you may need to make additional batches to hand out to lucky friends and family! (Left-over filling can be used in yeast-based pastries or in little tarts.)
Best Poppy Seed Filling – Ever
1 cup (About 5 ounces poppy seeds
1/2 cup dairy or non-dairy milk
1/2 cup honey or agave
1/4 cup dark raisins
1 Tablespoon butter or non-dairy buttery sticks
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- Grind the poppy seeds using a coffee or spice grinder. You can do this with a mortar and pestle, but it will be more work.
- Place the ground poppy seeds into a small saucepan with the remaining ingredients.
- Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently for about 10 minutes or until the mixture is very thick and almost all of the liquid has been absorbed.
- Remove the filling from the heat and allow it to cool slightly. Chill the filling before using for best results. This can be made up to 3 days ahead as well.