But there's also another important holiday happening, with a tasty food tie-in. Purim, the merriest of Jewish holidays, begins at sundown tomorrow. It celebrates the liberation of Persian Jews from the persecution of the evil minister Haman. 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.
We 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 or raspberry jam, or prune fillings are also popular. But the filling is certainly open to experimentation. Some of our favorites have been fig and honey, strawberry-rhubarb, and nutella. The Jew and the Carrot blog recently made savory hamantaschen, filling a rosemary-flecked dough with sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions, and spicy cheese.
Baking for Purim should be as joyous as Purim itself. We 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. Each will be folded slightly differently but be no less beautiful.
Makes 20-30 cookies, depending on size.
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
about 1 1/2 cups of filling, such as fruit jams, nutella, poppy seed filling, or thick compotes
2 tablespoons milk
Stir together the flour and salt, and set aside. With an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg, 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. 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 degrees Fahrenheit, 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 board, roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thickness. (If necessary, divide in two and keep the other half of the dough wrapped in plastic until ready to use.) Use a 2" to 3" 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 teaspoon of your desired filling. Lift up three sides and pinch the corners together to make a triangular three-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.
Make sure there's about an inch of space between each cookie, then lightly brush the pastry with the egg wash.
Bake at 375 until lightly golden, about 20 to 25 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 five days.
More cookie recipes and tips:
Oatmeal Raisin Cookies with Chocolate Chips
Brandied Prune and Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Ultra-Chewy Lemon Coconut Cookies
Food science: In Pursuit of the Perfect Cookie
Holiday Baking: Top 5 Cookie Decorating Ideas
Word of Mouth: Dorure
Photos: Nina Callaway for The Kitchn