By Emily Paster
Saturday, at sundown, the Jewish festival of Purim begins. Purim is the Jewish "carnival" holiday where people are encouraged to dress in costume and make merry, including getting drunk. (Yes, drunkeness is required. Lucky for us that Purim falls on a weekend this year.) Purim commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people from an evil government minister, named Haman, who plotted to destroy the Jewish community in ancient Persia.One of the ways that Jewish people celebrate Purim is by giving baked goods to friends and neighbors. In Ashkenazi communities, the signature food of Purim is a triangular filled cookie called Hamantaschen. The cookie's shape is said to come from the three-cornered hat that the villain Haman wore. However, the word taschen means "pockets" in German, and middle German is the basis of the traditional Ashkenazi language, Yiddish, so I suspect that the name really has more to do with Hamen's pockets.
Hamantaschen can be delectable or absolutely dreadful. Just like all Jewish kids have been scarred by a terrible, tough brisket that some relative used to serve, all Jewish kids have scarred by eating a soggy, tasteless Hamantaschen filled with nasty prunes or poppy seeds. (Poppy seeds are traditional for Purim because they were a favorite of the Jewish queen, Esther. Personally, I'm not a fan.) I am happy to report, however, that I make delicious Hamantaschen that are filled with my homemade jam, usually apricot. My recipe comes from the extremely authoritative book Jewish Home Cooking by Arthur Schwartz.
Zuzu and JR helped me whip up a big batch of Hamantaschen this week. We delivered some to neighbors, including those who walk Zuzu to school and drive her home from Hebrew school, and we ate the rest ourselves. Like Purim itself, these Hamantaschen are a bit of a production. But the result is worth it. My friend Sara has a more streamlined version on her blog, which looks pretty good.
Adapted from Jewish Home Cooking
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
10 tsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Zest of one lemon
8 to 10 oz. jam or preserves for the filling
Place the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and process for a few seconds until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. In a separate bowl, beat together two of the eggs, the yolks of the other two eggs (reserving the whites), the vanilla and the lemon zest. Add the egg mixture to the food processor and process for ten seconds. Stir the mixture a bit to bring up flour from the bottom and process for another ten seconds until the dough begins to come together. It will still be somewhat dry and crumbly.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead together to gather up all the crumbs. Divide dough and form into two discs. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
To make the Hamantaschen, let the dough warm up slightly to make it easier to roll out. Preheat oven to 350 and line two baking sheets with Silpat or parchment paper. Roll out dough on a well-floured surface with a well-floured rolling pin to between 1/2 inch and 1/4 inch thickness. Don't make it too thin or it will not hold the filling. Using a round cookie cutter or the rim of a drinking glass that is at least 3 inches across, cut out circles and place them on the cookie sheets. Gather up the scraps of dough and re-roll them out to cut out more circles.
To fill the cookies, spoon about a teaspoon of jam or preserves in the center of the dough circle. Brush the edges with the reserved egg whites and then gather them up into a triangle shape, pinching the corners closed. Brush the outside of the cookies with egg wash and, if you like, sprinkle with a little Turbinado sugar. Repeat until the cookies are filled. Each disc of dough should make about 14 cookies. Bake for 15 minutes or so until the cookies are golden brown.
I hope that you will try your hand at making Hamantaschen.