Hamantaschen are delectable pastries made for the “Purim” Holiday. The cookie dough is rolled out and cut into round circles and then shaped into triangles. They are filled with poppy seed candy and honey or fruit preserves and nut fillings. The cookies are shared with family and friends. And my 96-year-old mother-in-law shared a delightful story from her childhood about these treats. Those special stories make the cookies worthwhile.
The Purim holiday is a Jewish celebration in the spring which commemorates the saving of the Jewish people by Queen Ester from the evil Haman, an official in the First Persian Empire. This was an extensive and ancient Iranian empire. Haman planned to kill all the Jews in a single day; but his plot was foiled by Queen Ester, who was Jewish herself. It’s a rather involved story, but that’s the core of it. The holiday, in our area, is celebrated by wearing costumes, shaking noise makers and retelling the story found in the Book of Ester. It also involves rejoicing, giving gifts to one another and to the poor.
There’s lots of symbolism in the story and holiday and many interpretations as to why Hamantaschen are triangular with three corners like a hat. The simplest interpretation is that Haman, the villain, wore a triangular hat. There are many more explanations, all beyond the scope of my knowledge. But we’ll continue with tradition and make the triangular pastries again this year.
Favorite Purim Story
My favorite Purim story comes from my 96-year-old mother-in-law. When she was a young child, probably in the 1930’s, her Russian-born grandmother (Rose “Rosie” Bespalow b. 1875) sent the family a box of treats for Purim every year.The grandparents owned a dry goods store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and lived above the store. They shipped the pastries and candy in a flimsy shirt box to their grandchildren. By the time the package arrived in Wichita Falls, Texas, the pastries were all broken up — but still delicious. The grandchildren savored the desserts, but never hard the heart to tell their Russian grandmother of the fate of the package! They especially loved the filling in the cookies which was a candy made of poppy seeds, peanuts and honey.
I don’t have my mother-in-law’s recipe so I’m using a cookie dough recipe found in a traditional Jewish cookbook, “The Gourmet Jewish Cook,” by Judy Zeidler. I’ve had this cookbook for years and have enjoyed many of the recipes related to Jewish holidays. The recipe is a good one — I’ve adapted it slightly.
The cookie dough is buttery and sweet. When the dough is mixed up, it seems a bit crumbly. But once you form it into a ball and knead it a tiny bit, it is pliable and just right to roll out and shape.
Keep the surface floured so the dough doesn’t stick and roll the dough out to between 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick. Use a 2-1/2″ cookie cutter to cut into circles. Thought I’d be fancy and use one with scalloped edges. Fillings for the cookies
My mother-in-law’s grandmother always made a filling of poppy seeds, honey and peanuts. This is the traditional filling for these cookies. Sounds delicious! Now many other fruit preserves and nut fillings are used.
But the cookies taste good! I’m hoping no one will mind if the cookies aren’t exactly triangular. And its the story that counts. This cookie has been in the family for four generations now. I’ll keep it going!
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp dried orange zest
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup fig preserves or other preserves
Method and Steps:
- Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil baking sheets.
- In the bowl of electric mixer, beat the softened butter and sugar until blended.
- Beat in the eggs and orange zest, blending thoroughly.
- Sift flour, baking powder and salt and blend until the dough is smooth.
- Transfer to a floured board and divide the dough into 3 or 4 portions for easier handling. Flatten each portion with the palm of your hand and roll out to 1/4″ thick.
- With a scalloped or plain cookie cutter, cut into 2-1/2 inch rounds.
- Place 1 heaping teaspoon of the fig preserves or other preserves into the center of each round.
- Fold the edges of the dough toward the center to form a triangle, leaving a bit of the filling visible in the center. Pinch the edges to seal them.
- Place the hamantaschen 1/2 inch apart on lightly oiled baking sheets.
- Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown.
- Transfer to rack to cool.
Adapted from: Judy Zeidler, “The Gourmet Jewish Cook.” ©1988 William Morrow and Company, New York, New York.