In the coming weeks, many food writers and magazines are focusing on Easter and Passover, anticipating Sunday brunches, Easter egg hunts, and the traditional Seder plate.
But there's another important holiday happening even sooner than these major holidays: Purim, the merriest of Jewish holidays, begins at sundown tomorrow (Wednesday March 4, 2015). It celebrates the liberation of Persian Jews from the persecution of the evil minister Haman. And there's a treat to celebrate.
Dubbed the "Jewish Mardi Gras," Purim calls for drinking, dancing, and costumes. It's a time for charity, and gifts of food are given to friends and family. Chief amongst these are hamantaschen — buttery triangular cookies, filled with jam or poppy seeds.
I polled a variety of friends for their opinion of the ideal hamantaschen, and overwhelmingly the response was that these cookies should be buttery, slightly crumbly, and have crisp edges. They wanted the faintest taste of orange in the dough, and plenty of filling.
The shape supposedly evokes Haman's tri-cornered hat, but it also conveniently displays the jewel-like filling inside. While poppy seed is the most traditional, apricot and raspberry jam, or prune fillings are also popular. But the filling is certainly open to experimentation. Some of my personal favorites have been fig and honey, strawberry-rhubarb, and Nutella.
Baking for Purim should be as joyous as Purim itself. I recommend you invite friends over, mix up a couple batches of dough, put out a variety of fillings, and uncork a few bottles of wine. After many happy hands fold triangles, everyone will go home with plenty of cookies.
What's not to love about subtly sweet, crisp cookies filled with fruity jam? The answer is obvious: nothing. These cookies are so great, and deserve to be celebrated more than once a year.
Hamantaschen aren't difficult to make, but there are a few essential tips you should keep in mind when making them.
Take care to roll the dough to the correct thickness. If it's too thin, the cookies will split during baking, and if it's too thick, the cookies won't cook evenly.
Don't be afraid to moisten the dough before adding the jam. I found that brushing a very small amount of the egg wash over the dough helped it stay together much better.
It's tempting to add as much sweet filling as possible, but add too much and it will boil over during baking.
Be sure to pinch the corners of the cookies together very well.
And, if you don't have a round cookie cutter or biscuit cutter, don't worry — you can use a drinking glass to cut the dough.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To assemble the cookies: 1 large egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 cups of filling, such as fruit jam, Nutella, poppy seed filling, or thick compotes
Stir together the flour and salt, and set aside. With an electric mixer or in a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, zest, and vanilla, and mix until well combined. Add the flour, a half a cup at a time, mixing gently. The dough should look crumbly, but stay together. Use your hands to form it into a smooth disk, then wrap the disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour and up to 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 375°F and line several baking sheets with parchment paper. In a small bowl, use a fork to whisk together the egg and milk, then set aside.
On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4-inch thickness. (If necessary, divide the dough in two and keep the other half of the dough wrapped in plastic until ready to use.) Use a 2- to 3-inch diameter biscuit or cookie cutter to cut out round circles, and use a spatula to transfer the rounds to the prepared cookie sheet.
On each round, spoon a 1/2 teaspoon of your desired filling. Lift up 3 sides and pinch the corners together to make a triangular 3-cornered hat shape, leaving the center of the filling exposed. Make sure you have thoroughly pinched the corners. If you're having trouble, you can moisten the surface of the dough lightly with the egg mixture.
Make sure there's about an inch of space between each cookie, then lightly brush the pastry with the egg wash.
Bake until lightly golden, about 15 to 18 minutes. Let the cookies cool completely before serving; overeager eaters will find themselves rewarded with scorching hot filling!
Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
Updated from a post originally published March 2008.