Healthier hamantaschen

There are more ways to make delicious hamantaschen than there are references to the evil Haman in the megila.

hamentashen 88  (photo credit: )
hamentashen 88
(photo credit: )
There are more ways to make delicious hamantaschen than there are references to the evil Haman in the megila. After all, hamantaschen are the most popular Purim treat, and creative bakers have come up with numerous versions. Some use yeast dough, others use sweet pie dough and still others use tender cream cheese dough. Fillings range from orange marmalade, dried fruit and preserves to chocolate and even peanut butter. Yet the old-fashioned standard - poppyseed hamantaschen in crisp cookie dough - remains the favorite. I love it, too, but I decided to make a healthier version. "Why bother?" some friends asked. "Purim comes only once a year and is a time to celebrate." One reason is to help nutrition-conscious eaters partake in the enjoyment. With all the feasting, some people feel so guilty about eating rich foods that they avoid hamantaschen completely, though they regret missing the treasured treat. Besides, even if Purim lasts only one day, hamantaschen are often around for longer. Either you baked a batch or you received some for mishloah manot. Making them somewhat healthful means feeling better about eating a few. The emphasis is on "somewhat healthful." I'm not suggesting that these hamantaschen make a substitute for your breakfast oatmeal; nor am I encouraging anyone to over-indulge. When it comes to holiday treats, I'm in favor of slight adjustments to classic recipes, not drastic differences. I have tasted fat-free hamantaschen in which applesauce replaced all the fat, but I don't make mine that way. People look forward to their Purim hamantaschen, and I wouldn't want mine to disappoint. Instead, I modify my hamantaschen in subtle ways. My customary recipe has a very rich, sweet pastry, with lots of butter and egg yolks - the kind of dough used for French fruit tarts. One year, when I was baking hamantaschen with my mother, we used margarine to make them parve. Always practical, my mother suggested we use whole eggs instead of just yolks, and thus we would need fewer. Naturally, I agreed. My mother was a good hamantaschen baker. Besides, she had taught me how to make them when I was a girl. She also suggested adding baking powder. My French dough had none. The Parisian chefs with whom I had studied regarded baking powder with suspicion. Even the word for it, "levure chimique," or chemical leavening, was not appealing. But the baking powder proved a good addition and gave our dough a pleasing lightness. With the recent scientific research showing it's best to avoid the trans fats of margarine, I replaced it with canola oil. Since the new dietary guidelines encourage us to eat more whole grains, I made another small change - I substituted whole wheat flour for part of the white flour in the dough. Personally, I liked poppy seed filling only after I moved to Israel and learned to cook the seeds with milk, honey and butter. Today, for my parve poppy seed filling, I cook them in soy milk, which, like the milk and butter, gives the filling a luscious flavor. I slip in a little oatmeal, which adds to the creamy texture. Chopped figs contribute natural sweetness and healthy fiber. There is no need to make a big fuss over the nutritious boost in these hamantaschen. After all, Purim is a holiday celebrating intrigue, and the fact that these hamantaschen are healthier can remain the baker's secret. PARVE POPPYSEED HAMANTASCHEN The canola oil dough for these hamantaschen is easy to make in a food processor. Use freshly ground poppy seeds for the filling; keep them in the refrigerator until ready to use. If you like, serve the hamantaschen sprinkled with powdered sugar. 3⁄4 cup whole wheat flour 11⁄4 cups all-purpose flour 3⁄4 tsp. baking powder pinch of salt 1⁄2 cup sugar (for dough) plus 3 Tbsp. (for filling) 1 large egg 6 Tbsp. canola oil 1 tsp. grated orange zest 2 to 3 Tbsp. orange juice 1⁄2 cup poppy seeds (about 70 grams), preferably freshly ground 1⁄2 cup soy milk 3 Tbsp. honey 1⁄4 cup dried dark figs, chopped, or raisins 2 Tbsp. fine oatmeal Combine whole wheat and all-purpose flour, baking powder, salt and 1⁄2 cup sugar in a food processor. Process to blend. Beat egg with oil and add to processor. Add orange zest. Pulse until dough is the texture of meal. Add juice 1 Tbsp. at a time, pulsing after each addition, until dough becomes sticky crumbs; if dough is too dry, sprinkle with a little more juice or water and process again. Transfer to a bowl and press together. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. In a small saucepan combine poppyseeds, soy milk, honey, figs, oatmeal and 3 Tbsp. sugar and bring to a simmer. Cook over low heat, stirring often, about 10 minutes or until thick. Remove from heat. Chill before using. Grease a baking sheet. Cut dough in 4 pieces. Roll out one piece on a lightly floured surface until about 1⁄8 inch thick. Using a 3-inch cookie cutter, cut in circles. Brush edges lightly with water. Put 1 tsp. filling in center of each circle. Pull up edges of circle in 3 arcs that meet in center above filling. Close them firmly. Pinch edges to seal. Put on greased baking sheet and refrigerate. Wrap and refrigerate scraps at least 30 minutes. Roll and shape more hamantaschen from remaining dough and from scraps. Refrigerate 1 hour or up to overnight to firm dough. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 190C. Bake hamantaschen for 12 to 14 minutes or until they are light golden at edges and golden brown on bottom. Cool on a rack. Makes about 2 dozen hamantaschen (including scraps). Faye Levy is the author of Feast from the Mideast (HarperCollins).