My mother’s hamantashen

Learn the tricks of the trade for perfect Purim treats.

hamantashen 390 (photo credit: Courtesy of Lehem Yayin (Dan Peretz))
hamantashen 390
(photo credit: Courtesy of Lehem Yayin (Dan Peretz))
Making hamantashen, or oznei haman as they are called in Hebrew, is for me one of the joys of celebrating Purim. I did not learn how to cook when I was growing up, but I always managed to be in the kitchen when my mother was making cookies. Thus I knew how to shape hamantashen from a very young age. I can still picture my mother cutting circles from the dough with a glass, and I remember how tempting I found the cookie dough.
Cutting rounds of dough in order to get three-cornered cookies isn’t an obvious technique. Some might think that you start with a square and fold it in half over the filling. Doing that will indeed produce a three-cornered pastry, but it will be a turnover, not a traditional hamantash.
Hamantashen can be completely closed, like my mother made them, or they can be left open, with very small corners, so that most of the filling can be seen. When some of the filling shows, writes Marcy Goldman, author of A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking, “it looks pretty, and you know at a glance which filling is in that particular pastry.
On the other hand, this leaves the filling exposed during baking, which may cause it to dry out some.”
I prefer to enclose the filling, but I leave a small window in the center of each hamantash to show a bit of the filling.
From Parisian pastry chefs who were making butter cookies I learned another technique that proved beneficial for my hamantashen. I let the dough rest twice in the refrigerator – once after being made, and once after shaping the cookies.
Refrigerating the dough prevents the butter from becoming too soft, which could cause the cookie dough to melt away from the filling. Letting the dough rest also helps to relax the gluten, a protein in the flour. If the dough does not rest, the gluten tends to make it shrink, and the hamantashen could lose their shape during baking. In addition, letting the dough rest allows the flour to absorb the liquid more thoroughly. The rest period makes the dough more manageable and helps prevent you from adding extra, unnecessary flour.
For even baking, Goldman advises “Use parchment paper on your baking sheets.
This eliminates clean-up but, more importantly, ensures that the bottoms of these pastries don’t get too brown before their tops are done. An added protection against burnt bottoms is to double-stack your baking sheets. Fit one baking sheet onto another one. This extra insulation allows you to brown the tops of the pastries properly while keeping the bottoms from getting too brown. Bake your pastries on the upper third of the oven. Usually the bottom part of the oven is too hot and may also cause premature bottom- browning.”
For the filling, you can choose a favorite jam or make the time-honored poppy seed or prune fillings. Goldman also likes cranberry raisin walnut filling, for which she cooks dried cranberries and raisins in orange juice with cinnamon, sugar and orange zest and blends the mixture with walnuts to a thick puree. Her apple pie hamantashen filling is made from dried and fresh apples cooked in apple juice with sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon, then finished with raisins and thickened with cornstarch.
To make strawberry mango filling, she cooks dried strawberries, dried mango, dried apricots and raisins with sugar, water and lemon juice.
To appeal to children, Goldman bakes chocolate hamantashen from cocoa-flavored dough and a filling of packaged chocolate hazelnut paste or of peanut butter blended with milk and semi-sweet chocolate and chopped chocolate-peanut butter candy.
For children who don’t like filling, Goldman bakes flat hamantashen. These three-cornered cookies are made from dough cut in triangles, brushed with egg whites and sprinkled with colored sprinkles before being baked.
When I was a child, nobody needed to make different kinds of hamantashen for us. After our kitchen was filled with the wonderful aroma of my mother’s prune hamantashen baking, I couldn’t wait to eat them.
HAMANTASHEN COOKIE DOUGH Makes about 32 hamantashen
This dough produces hamantashen that are crisp, sweet and delicious. Some call it One, Two, Three dough because its basic proportions are 100 grams sugar, 200 grams butter and 300 grams flour. It’s easy to make in a food processor. You can make the dough up to three days ahead and keep it wrapped in the refrigerator.
Makes about 1 kg. dough, enough for 32 hamantashen, if scraps are not used, or about 48 hamantashen if you are rolling scraps as well.
✔ 1 large egg ✔ 1 large egg yolk ✔ 33⁄4 cups all-purpose flour ✔ 11⁄2 cups powdered sugar ✔ 11⁄2 tsp. baking powder ✔ 1⁄4 tsp. salt ✔ 300 gr. (1 cup plus 5 Tbsp.) cold butter or margarine, cut in small pieces ✔ 11⁄2 tsp. grated orange zest ✔ 1 – 2 Tbsp. orange juice (optional)
Beat egg with yolk to blend. Combine flour, powdered sugar, baking powder and salt in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process briefly to blend. Scatter butter pieces over mixture. Mix using On/Off motion until mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle with grated rind and pour egg mixture evenly over mixture in processor. Process with On/Off motion, scraping down occasionally, until dough just begins to come together in a ball. If crumbs are dry, sprinkle with 1 Tbsp. orange juice and process briefly. Repeat if crumbs are still dry.
Transfer dough to a work surface.
Knead lightly to blend. With a rubber spatula, transfer dough to a sheet of plastic wrap, wrap it and push it together.
Shape dough into a flat disk. Refrigerate it, well wrapped, at least 3 hours.
PRUNE HAMANTASHEN Makes about 32 hamantashen
These hamantashen are small and dainty. The prune filling flavored with walnuts, plum jam and grated orange zest is ready in just a few minutes. You can shape the hamantashen a day in advance and keep them on baking sheets or trays, covered, in the refrigerator.
The amount of filling is enough for the hamantashen cookie dough without scraps. If you want to roll the scraps as well to make additional hamantashen, make the filling using the amounts in the note following the recipe.
Hamantashen Cookie Dough (see recipe above)
✔ 225 gr. pitted prunes ✔ 1⁄4 cup walnuts ✔ 6 Tbsp. plum jam or jelly or strawberry jam ✔ 1⁄2 cup raisins (optional) ✔ 2 tsp. grated orange zest Prepare dough and refrigerate.
Cover prunes with cold water and soak 8 hours or overnight; or cover them with boiling water and soak 15 minutes.
Grind walnuts to a fine powder.
Drain prunes and chop finely or puree in food processor. Mix prune puree with walnuts, jam, raisins and orange rind.
Use one-quarter of dough at a time.
Roll it out on a lightly floured surface until about 3 mm (1⁄8 inch) thick. Using a 7.5-cm (3-inch) cookie cutter, cut dough into discs. Brush edges lightly with water. Put 1 tsp. filling in center of each. Pull up edges of discs in three arcs that meet in the center above the filling, creating a three-cornered pastry.
Close edges firmly. Pinch edges to seal. Put on greased baking sheet and refrigerate. Refrigerate scraps.
Roll remaining dough, and scraps if desired, and shape more hamantashen.
Refrigerate at least 1 hour to firm the dough.
Preheat oven to 190ºC (375ºF). Bake hamantashen about 14 minutes or until they are light golden at edges.
NOTE: If you want to use all the dough, including the scraps, to make hamantashen, prepare a larger amount of prune filling, using the following quantities: 350 gr. (12 ounces) prunes, 1⁄3 cup walnuts, 1⁄2 cup plus 1 Tbsp. jam, 3⁄4 cup raisins, and 1 Tbsp. grated orange zest.