Queen Esther Cookies are a buttery, light poppy seed cookie – perfect for Purim. This year, Purim begins at sundown on February 25. On the Hebrew calendar it is always the 13th of Adar.
Every year I look forward to making and eating these treats. And while I could easily make them anytime, I like that there are certain things I only make for certain holidays, whether it’s Thanksgiving, Purim or Pesach.
Purim, which is also called the Feast of Lots, commemorates saving the Jews of Shushan in ancient Persia, from extermination. While a tale of classic anti-Semitism, it is nevertheless a joyous festival. In non-pandemic years, both adults and children would dress up in costumes and party hard in celebration. A Purim Spiel, which is a humorous skit or play, would often be performed.
We Jews are commanded to eat, drink and be merry and to listen to the reading of the Megillah Esther. Every time the evil Haman’s name is mentioned, we all boo and hiss and wave our noisemakers to show that we are not afraid.
The Book of Esther reminds us of the brave actions of Esther and Mordecai. Mordecai refused to bow down to the evil Haman, advisor to King Ahashuerus. And Esther remained faithful to her religious traditions and the Jewish People while married to the King, who did not know that she was a Jew.
Queen Esther Cookies are named after the woman who spoke to the King on behalf of her People despite the real danger to herself. Esther revealed Haman’s evil plot to destroy the Jews (and that she herself was a Jew). She was able to convince the King to reverse his decree, thereby saving the Jews of Shushan.
It is customary to give out baskets of food and treats to the poor, although over time, it has also become common to make them for friends and family. These cookies are always a welcome addition, along with the more well-known Hamentaschen. Both recipes come from The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook by Gloria Kaufer Greene.
Redolent with vanilla and almond extract, Queen Esther Cookies, also known as Mohn Kichelah, which simply means poppy seed cookie in Yiddish, keep well in an airtight tin or container. So enjoy them even when the holiday is over! And you don’t have to be Jewish to love these little beauties.
Yield: Makes about 3 dozen cookies, depending on size
1/2 cup butter or margarine, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute
1 Tablespoon water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
Scant 1/3 cup poppy seeds
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
These can be made by hand, but it is much easier to use either a standing mixer or a food processor.
Cream well the butter (margarine) and sugar until they are light and fluffy – about 3 minutes. Mix in the water, egg, vanilla and almond extract. Then pulse in the poppy seeds and baking powder.
Add the flour and mix to form a very stiff dough. These cookies can be made into a dropped cookie or rolled out and cut with a cookie cutter, which is what I do. If you are planning to roll them out, then form the dough into a thick disk, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for several hours or overnight. It should be quite firm. If you are making drop cookies, then use the dough immediately.
When you are ready to bake, heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment and coat with non-stick spray. You can also use a Silpat, which doesn’t require any spray.
Roll out the refrigerated dough on a lightly floured surface until it is about 1/8-inch thick. You can cut out the cookies free-hand or use a cookie cutter in any shape that you like. Re-roll scraps and continue cutting out cookies until all of the dough is used up. If the dough begins to get too soft to handle, simply place it in the fridge until it firms up.
Place the cut-out dough onto the baking sheets about 1/2-inch apart. Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes or until they are lightly browned at the edges. Ovens vary and it will also depend on how thinly you actually rolled out the dough etc. Mine ended up taking about 16 minutes this time…. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
I have never made these as a drop cookie, but the instructions say to drop by teaspoonfuls onto the cookie sheet. Then flatten the mounds slightly with a fork, your fingertips or the bottom of a glass. Bake for about 15 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges. Cool completely on a wire rack.