Whether you grew up eating them or not, homemade hamantaschen are a special treat. The triangle-shaped cookies, which are traditionally served during the Jewish holiday of Purim, come stuffed with jam, ground poppy seeds, and many other delicious spreads. And when made well, with a supple dough and warm, sweet filling, they can be ethereal.
The problem is, making hamantaschen at home can be tricky. Too often, the dough ends up tasting bland, the cookie's corners pop open while baking, and those tasty fillings end up spilling out onto the baking sheet. To help ensure that your next batch of hamantaschen are a glorious success, we checked in with Erin Patinkin — the cofounder, along with Agatha Kulaga, of the celebrated Brooklyn bakery, Ovenly.
Known for their out-of-the-box treats (think espresso and burnt sugar shortbread and pumpkin olive oil quick bread), the Ovenly gals know a thing or two about baking. Here Patinkin, who developed two special hamantaschen recipes for Ovenly's forthcoming cookbook (more on those below), shares her tips for filling, forming, and baking fool-proof versions of Purim's favorite sweet.
1. Butter is Best
"A lot of times, the hamantaschen you find in bakeries are dry and crumbly," Patinkin said. Even at home, making a just-right dough that is tender, flaky, and flavorful, can be a challenge. Patinkin's fix? Enriching the dough with butter and, if you like, cream cheese, to give it both wonderful flavor and texture.
"Hamantaschen are basically pie cookies, a rolled out, buttery dough that you fill," she said - so treat it accordingly.
→ Get Ovenly's hamantaschen dough recipe, which is also sweetened with honey: Homemade Hamantaschen for Purim at Ovenly
2. Get Creative With Fillings
At Ovenly, Patinkin and Kulaga strive to bake familiar, homey desserts with a twist, and their hamantaschen are no exception. So while the traditional poppy seed, prune, and apricot jam fillings are well and good, Patinkin had a hunch she could do one better. Last year she developed two fillings — a fig, white chocolate, and poppy seed spread, and a Turkish apricot citrus quick jam flavored with orange zest — that perfectly hugged the line between tradition and innovation.
Try her recipes for both spreads, or experiment with your own creative flavor combinations.
3. But Make Sure the Filling Is Thick Enough
Here's a rule of thumb: just because it comes in a jar and tastes sweet, doesn't make it a good hamataschen filling. "Whenever you fill a cookie, the filling should be pretty thick," Patinkin advised. Too thin, and it will leak out of the dough and all over the baking sheet. Ensure that your filling is the right texture by making your own.
When using a store-bought spread, stick to thick preserves instead of watery jellies. (Apple butter: good, Concord grape jelly; bad.) Patinkin also suggests bringing store-bought jams to a boil in a small saucepan, letting them reduce for a few minutes until they no longer look watery, then using an immersion blender or food processor to blend everything together while still warm. "As it cools, the jam will thicken into the perfect consistency," she said.
4. Learn How to Keep the Pinched Shape Intact: 3 Tips
Even the most tightly pinched hamantaschen corners have this funny way of popping open in the oven, which ruins their distinctive triangular shape. Some people solve this cookie conundrum by folding the dough instead of gathering and pinching the corners — but Patinkin prefers the look of pinched hamantaschen.
To keep her cookies intact, she follows three rules.
- First, she resists the urge to overfill, which can encourage them to open in the oven. A rounded teaspoon of jam is typically about right, she said.
- Next, she brushes the cookies with an egg wash after filling and pinching them, which she said, "acts like glue" to hold everything together.
- Finally, she pops the baking sheet of filled hamantaschen into the freezer for 15 minutes while she preheats the oven, which helps the dough retain its shape. "At Ovenly we chill all of our cookies before baking," she said.
Thanks so much Erin!
More from Ovenly
Bonus! If you live in or are visiting New York this week, pop by Ovenly's bakery storefront in Brooklyn to sample their house baked hamantaschen.
(Image credits: Winona Barton Ballentine; Winona Barton-Ballentine)