By Shannon Sarna
(JTA) – Hamantaschen weren’t always my favorite cookie to enjoy. The ones I grew up with were dry, would sort of crumble in your hand, and had a sad apricot, prune or poppy schmear in the middle that just wasn’t enticing. My grandma would bring them home from her synagogue’s sisterhood each year and I would do my best to smile and take a bite. Fast forward, and the quality and variety of hamantaschen have come a very long way. You can find hamantaschen these days in every flavor imaginable: stuffed with hot dogs, dulce de leche, guava, strawberry cheesecake, and so on. There is no end to the creativity that bloggers, bakers and chefs have infused into these traditional Purim cookies.
These triangle treats are enjoyed for the Jewish holiday of Purim, when the wicked king Haman (BOO!) was defeated through the brilliant intellect of a Jewish woman, Queen Esther. There’s a bit more to the story, of course. But we were blessed with hamantaschen cookies as one of the many ways we are encouraged to celebrate the holiday. My other favorite part about Purim is that you are commanded to “drink until you cannot tell good from evil.” Consider it done.
However, hamantaschen do not actually date back to Queen Esther; they are a far more recent addition to Jewish cuisine. Triangle-shaped, yeasted dough pastries filled with poppy seed (known as mohn) were common in Germany during the 18th century, and thats when Jews started adopting them and enjoying them for Purim, the triangle shape a nod to the hat supposedly worn by Haman.
My recipe below (which, yes, is one of the best you will ever try) is inspired by my dear friend Rachel Korycan and her mom Susan who took me under their wing to show me their recipe, which yields a far more delicate and delicious hamantaschen than many other old-school recipes. It is not made with a yeasted dough, but rather a sugar-cookie like dough which bakes up sweet and tender.
My favorite fillings include raspberry jam with mini chocolate chips, cookie butter, chocolate hazelnut spread and store-bought poppy seed filling (you can find it in the baking aisle near the cherry pie filling). But really, the sky is the limit, and the most important thing is to have fun.
Hamantaschen can be tricky to make sometimes – they are notorious for leaking or losing their shape – so make sure to follow my genius hamantaschen trick to ensure you have picture perfect cookies every time. Chill the dough for at least one hour before rolling it out, and pinch the corners very well to ensure the cookies keep their shape.
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter (or margarine), at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp milk (or other non-dairy milk)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp grated lemon zest (optional)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus more flour for rolling
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
Beat the butter and sugar together until smooth.
Add egg, milk, vanilla and lemon zest until mixed thoroughly.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Add dry mixture to wet mixture until incorporated. Note: if the dough is too soft, increase flour amount by a few Tbsp at a time until firmer.
Form dough into a disk and cover with plastic wrap. Chill dough for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
Dust surface with flour to keep from sticking. Roll the dough to about ¼ inch thick.
Using a round cookie cutter, cut out and place onto cookie sheet. To keep the dough from sticking to your cutter, dip in flour before each cut.
Fill each round with 1/2 tsp of your favorite filling, and using your favorite method, pinch corners together tightly.
Pop into the fridge for 10 minutes, or freezer for 5 minutes, to ensure hamantaschen hold their shape.
Bake at 400° for about 7-9 minutes.