I promised you more Jewish cookies with cute names and these festive Hamantashen are beauties you will love. If you have fond memories of playing with playdoh as a child, you will enjoy the tactile similiarity this dough has to that product. Except this product smells so much better, of butter and sweet vanilla. Encasing a lively and textured filling of ground poppy seeds, these three-cornered cookies have an intriguing persona, a little bit pastry-like, yet miniaturized and dainty. Jewish people eat Hamantashen during the holiday Purim as a symbolic reference to an evil man named Haman who wore a three-sided hat and who wanted to kill all the Jews in Persia. He did not succeed.
Those of us who are practiced Hamantashen eaters fall are divided into camps: sturdy cookie dough disciples or delicate pastry dough devotees. Also, some of us favour poppy seed fillings and others prefer prunes. In Israel, where demand is high and competition fierce during Purim, bakers are dreaming up new ways to seduce customers, with modern takes on this traditional treat: marzipan, sour apples, pistachio and rosewater fillings are now on offer. As Joan Nathan explains in her recent article on modern Hamantashen in The New York Times, "the globalization of Israeli food. . . . inspires this generation of Israeli bakers to compete for ways to tweak tradition for a more sophisticated clientele."
Lehamim Bakery in Tel Aviv sells a variety of unconventionally flavored hamantashen - photo courtesy of The New York Times
All of this to say that the Hamantashen culture is here to stay and is adapting to new tastes and influences for a new generation. Never one to get in the way of good baking, I applaud these creative ventures and will say this: I still love the old standards, prune and poppy seed. And I fall into the cookie dough camp, though I flirted with the pastry dough rendition for many years. Today I offer you what I consider the gold medal of Hamantashen, a traditional poppy seed studded treat with a sturdy cookie dough casing. If you fall in love with these, go forth and experiment with my blessing.
adapted from Marcy Goldman's A Passion For Baking
Dough: 1 cup unsalted butter; 1+1/4 cups sugar; 3 large eggs; 1/4 cup orange juice; 1+1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract; 4 cups of all-purpose flour; 1/2 tsp. kosher salt; 2+1/2 tsp. baking powder. Egg wash: one egg, beaten.
My filling: 2 cups poppy seeds, ground in a spice grinder; approx. 1/2 cup granulated sugar or to taste; approx. 1/3 cup water or enough to evenly moisten the poppy seeds; 1 tbsp. runny honey; 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon; pinch of kosher salt. Combine filling ingredients in a pot and cook over medium heat, stirring continually, until thickened to a moist paste, about 3 minutes. You want the filling to be firm enough to hold together when pinched. Cool. Filling will continue to thicken as it cools. Can be prepared ahead and kept, covered, in the refrigerator for a few days.
In a mixing bowl cream the butter and sugar together. Add eggs one at a time and blend until silky. Stir in the orange juice and vamilla. Mix to blend. Fold in flour, salt and baking powder and mix to form a soft but firm dough. Cover and let dough rest for 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide the dough into 3 flattened discs and work with one portion at a time. Roll out each disc onto a lightly floured counter to a thickness of 1/8 of an inch. Use a 3-inch cookie cutter and cut as many rounds as you can. Brush the rounds with egg wash. Fill with a generous teaspoon of filling. Draw 3 sides together into the centre. You should now have a 3-cornered or triangular pastry. Pinch the sides together where they meet, leaving some filling showing in the middle. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Brush egg wash on the top of each filled pastry. Bake at 350 F for 18 - 25 minutes or until golden brown.
All kinds of possibities await you once you fall for Hamantashen. Take inspiration from the creative creations in Israel, including savoury versions, feta cheese and beets, potato and sesame seeds. But remember that tradition has a strong pull and, as the Lehamim bakery owner Uri Scheft, says "even with all the different fillings we make, the most popular is still poppy seed."
Traditional Jewish food is celebrated here: