It wasn’t until last year that I first learned from my friend Mara Rosebloom that the yummy triangle shaped and jam filled cookies I’d seen over the years in Jewish bakeries are called hamantaschen. Mara had brought me a little batch of her delicious cookies and told me a bit about the story of Haman, the royal vizier of Purim who, according to the Book of Esther, sought to destroy the Jews of ancient Persia. Very briefly, Haman’s plot crumbled after King Ahasuerus’s new wife Esther Hadassa caught wind of it. Haman’s dark secret was made public and he was briskly hanged. In time, a holiday named Purim emerged to commemorate the deliverance of the Jewish people from Haman’s scheme and hamantaschen cookies were baked to symbolize his defeat.
I was reminded of hamantaschen this week when my dear friend Esther Hadassa, who is actually named after King Ahasuerus’s wife, invited my husband and me to celebrate the Purim holiday on Sunday. Regretfully, we weren’t able to attend as I had another commitment. I did, however, get to spend some time with Esther on Thursday and learned more about Purim. (btw – if you caught the first episode of Fannie Cohen and my podcast Doing It, you heard an interview with Esther. If you haven’t listened, tune in here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/doing-it/id605177565) She also gave me a lovely recipe for hamentashen.
So how does this cookie symbolize the villain Haman?
One theory is that the triangular cookies represent the three-pointed hat that Haman wore. Because the word tasch means “pouch” or “pocket” in German, some say the pastries reference “Haman’s pockets” and symbolize the money that Haman offered to Ahasuerus in exchange for permission to destroy the Jews. In Hebrew, hamentashen are called “Oznai Haman” which means Haman’s ears. This interpretation references an old custom of cutting off the ears of criminals before they were executed (not so appetizing).
Anyway, hamantaschen are easy and fun to make! While they were traditionally filled with poppy seed mixture, jams are excellent to use, too. They remind me of thumbprint and Linzer Torte cookies.
Here’s the recipe Esther gave me. I halved it and still ended up with close to 30 cookies (Plenty for a household of 2! Fortunately, I was also able to give some of to my older brother Chris.).
What You Need:
- 2 Eggs
- ½ cup Sugar
- ½ cup oil (OK…I used butter because I’m not Kosher or Jewish for that matter.)
- Juice of ½ a Lemon
- Zest from ½ a Lemon
- ½ teaspoon Vanilla extract
- 2 ½ cups flour (add a little less, like 2 ¼ cups, if you want a denser pastry)
- 1 teaspoon Baking Powder
- I also added ¼ teaspoon sea salt
What You Do:
- Whisk or sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
- In an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs one by one. Add vanilla and lemon juice/zest.
- Gradually add the dry ingredients and beat until incorporated.
- Divide the dough in 2-3 parts (I don’t have a big surface to roll out my dough, so I work in smaller units). Shape into discs, wrap in plastic wrap, and stick in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (ok – I was working with a time constraint, so I stuck the dough in the freezer for about 10 minutes.
- At this time, you’ll also want to preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll the first section of dough out so it’s ¼ inch thick. Cut into 3-inch rounds using a circular cookie cutter or upside down glass or cup.
- Transfer the rounds onto a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet with a couple inches in between each cookie.
- Put a dab of jam in the middle of each cookie (about a teaspoon) and fold up the corners to create a triangle. Make sure to press the corners firmly.
- Bake for about 20 minutes. You’ll know the cookies are done when they smell nice and fragrant and are just beginning to turn golden-brown.
- Transfer to a wire cooling rack.