Hamantashen

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According to an old Jewish joke, if you put three Jews on a committee, you’ll get four different opinions. . .which is exactly the number of different explanations I found detailing the origins of Hamantashen.

Hamantashen are triangular cookies that are served during the Jewish holiday, Purim.  Purim tells the story of how the Jewish people in Persia avoided persecution at the hands of the King’s vizier, Haman.  The three-cornered confections, commonly filled with jam or a poppy-seed concoction, owe their shape to Haman’s ear, clipped with shame.  Or maybe to his triangular hat, which was the style at the time.  Or maybe to his pockets weighted with bribe money.  Or maybe to the three Jewish patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  In other words, no one really knows.

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Even the origins of the word are disputed.  One explanation says Hamantashen derives from the Hebrew word “tash” for weakened, so that the word refers to Haman’s defeat.   A second source says Hamantashen comes from the Yiddish words “mun” for poppy seed, and “tash” for pocket or bottom, so that the resulting amalgam captures elements of the cookie and its representation.  A third source goes back to the original German words “mohn” for poppy seed, and “taschen” for pockets.  Mohntaschen, it seems, was the name of a popular German pastry with poppy seeds.  The poppy seeds are themselves a reference to Queen Esther’s three-day fast, during which she prayed for the Jews’ survival while subsisting on nothing but seeds.

Of course, in Israel, they don’t even call them Hamantashen.  Instead, they are known as “Ozney Haman,” which means the ears of Haman.  Sephardic Jews refer to the Purim cookie as “Orejas de Haman,” or again, the ears of Haman.  So, maybe that first explanation is correct after all.  Whatever the explanation, these triangular treats are worth the effort!

Instead of the traditional poppy seed filling, I went with three more exciting fillings.  Each recipe provides enough filling on its own – in case you have a particular favorite.  I recommend  giving the dough at least an hour to chill.  I also suggest letting the shaped pastry chill before putting them in the oven.  The extra chilling will help prevent the ends from unsealing.

Cherry, Apple, and Pecan Hamantashen

Adapted from a recipe on NPR

PREP TIME: 30 minutes
COOK TIME: 20 minutes, plus 2 hours for chilling
YIELD: 25 Hamantashen

WHAT TO GRAB:
HAMANTASHEN
1/2 cup butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon orange zest

APPLE FILLING
1 heaping cup apples, diced (I like Gala)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons corn starch
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup apple juice

CHERRY FILLING
4 ounces maraschino cherries (about half the bottle)
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons lemon juice

PECAN FILLING
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped (350 for 7 minutes)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

hamantashen gallery

HOW YOU DO IT:

HAMANTASHEN

1.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and cream cheese.  Add sugar, mixing well.  Add the egg, vanilla, and zest, and mix thoroughly again.  In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking powder.  Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing until fully incorporated.  Chill the mixture for at least an hour.

PECAN FILLING

2.  For the pecans, simply add all the ingredients to a medium saucepan and heat until well-blended.   Set aside to cool. Toasting the pecans really does make a noticeable difference.

CHERRY FILLING

3.  In a separate saucepan, lightly smash the cherries with a wooden spoon.  On medium heat, add the sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice, and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Reduce to a simmer until the cherry mixture is thick.  Set aside to cool.

APPLE FILLING

4.  In a third saucepan, combine all the ingredients over medium heat, stirring constantly until well-combined.  Set aside to cool.

ASSEMBLING

5.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

6.  On a surface lightly covered with powdered sugar or flour (I liked using the sugar), roll out a small amount of dough to 1/4-inch thick.  If the dough gets warm and hard to work with, refrigerate for a few minutes and re-roll.

7.  With a round cookie-cutter or large drinking glass, cut out circles, roughly 3 to 4 inches in diameter.  Arrange the circles on the baking sheets.  Place one teaspoon of the filling in the center of each circle.  Only use a teaspoon – any more and the dough won’t hold in place.  Pinch the edges of the cookie together to make three corners.  Be sure and pinch each of the corners pretty tightly, so that the dough does not come undone.  (I tried using an egg wash, but it did not make any noticeable difference).  If you have time, chill the ready pastries for another hour.

8.  Bake for about 17 minutes, or until the Hamantashen are lightly golden brown.  Cool on a wire rack, then serve!

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4 responses to “Hamantashen

  1. Ah, une recette d’oreilles d’Aman! Trop cool… mais franchement, tu pouvais pas la poster avant Pourim?… 🙂

  2. oh my gosh that top picture is adorable! love it. i’ve always wanted to try these. (eating them, that is) happy purim! hopefully that’s the right greeting. hmmm. hahah.

    caitlin told me about protzel’s, and now i’m dyyyying to go there.

  3. Deeelish!

    And just remember, if you don’t have apple juice . . .

  4. actually in Hebrew they are called “ozney haman”, which translates “haman’s ears” (‘ozen’ means ear). So the first explanation you mention about Haman’s ear being cut is correct:)

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