Ears to you, hamentashen

To help you choose which hamentashen are right for you, here are reviews of a selection of Jerusalem’s top bakeries.

Hamentashen  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
There are many different explanations for why Jews traditionally eat hamentashen on the Purim holiday.
Some date them back to Germans in the 1500s, who ate pastries shaped like pockets with poppy seeds inside. Mohntaschen literally means “poppy seed pockets.”
The Jews among them connected the pastries to Haman, the villain of the Book of Esther, and decided that the corrupt politician’s pockets must have been filled with bribes. The current scandals facing modern-day politicians give us new reasons to eat the cookies.
Some connect the triangular-shaped cookies to the three-sided hat that Haman wore, according to the children’s song sung on the holiday. The Hebrew term for the cookies – oznei Haman, literally “Haman’s ears” – refers to a Midrash describing him as having been shamed, with his ears cut off, or at least twisted.
Israeli kids delight in eating the ears of the Jewish state’s enemies.
But the best explanation was provided by the late, great Israeli food writer Gil Marks, who connected the cookies to manna. That explanation is the best fit nowadays, when bakeries go out of their way to give hamentashen a taste that is heavenly, if not miraculous.
There is a tradition that manna tasted like anything its taster wanted it to taste like. Similarly, hamentashen today have a great variety.
Gone are the days when poppy seed was the only flavor of hamentashen available in Israeli bakeries. If you go to Roladin, you can get hamentashen filled with sweet potatoes and ricotta cheese, or a cheesecake hamentashen with white chocolate, raisins and Cointreau French liqueur in dough made of almonds.
There are also healthier options available at bakeries throughout Jerusalem, offering whole wheat, no-sugar, and no-gluten options that are admittedly not as tasty, but it is good they exist.
English Cake boasts dairy hamentashen that are better than its parve ones. Its white chocolate flavor hamentashen are unique and delicious.
Burekas Ima, which co-won In Jerusalem’s best sufganiyot competition during Hanukka, has hamentashen made from Pressburger pastry dough that are the best hamentashen in Jerusalem, but you have to know to ask for them.
Facilitating a fair comparison of the capital’s bakeries requires consistency, and that means grading only the standard, nondairy hamentashen every bakery has in the only flavor they all have – chocolate.
Because of Purim’s focus on kids, IJ’s lucky reviewers included children aged four to 39. Like with Hanukka, they decided to declare two winners, which could not be more different.
They found that the best cookies came from Herby’s Bake Shop in Beit El, founded by Memphis-born Herby Dan, who supplies cookies to stores throughout Jerusalem.
But the best chocolate was at Halehem Shel Tomer – a high-class, snobby chain of bakeries.
To help you choose which hamentashen are right for you, here are reviews of a selection of Jerusalem’s top bakeries:
Location: 14 grocery stores throughout the city, including Super Hamoshava and Super Deal
Chocolate, apricot, blueberry, date Prices: Varies by the store
Review: The closest thing to American hamentashen available in Jerusalem.
They are softer, sweeter and more flavorful.
They also look better, with ridges in the dough around the filling. The chocolate was the creamiest. And while only the chocolate was graded, having apricot and blueberry options makes Herby’s stand out.
Location: Halamed-Heh Street in Katamon, Leib Yaffe Street in Arnona, and Aza Street in Rehavia
Kinds: Chocolate, date-cinnamon, poppy seed Prices: NIS 38 for a package, one for NIS 3, two for NIS 5
Review: These are hamentashen for grown-ups. The chocolate has a unique texture and is more robust. The cookie has just enough density to burst with flavor in your mouth. The younger children also liked it, even though they called it too crunchy.
It’s all about the Pressburger chocolate at Burekas Ima (MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)It’s all about the Pressburger chocolate at Burekas Ima (MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Location: Rivka Street, Talpiot, and new branches in Efrat and Tzur Hadassah
Kinds: Chocolate, poppy seed, date, halva, strawberry and apple in the hard variety, chocolate, poppy seed and date in the Pressburger pastry variety
Prices: NIS 65 per kilogram
Review: The Pressburger chocolate is the best cookie available in Jerusalem today, but the regular chocolate hamentashen are just above average. The chocolate is rich enough to taste the flavor of the chocolate and not taste like sugar.
Even those who are not chocolate lovers liked it. For those who don’t want sugar, the apple hamentashen are surprisingly good.
Location: 18 throughout the city, plus Beit Shemesh, Modi’in, and two in Ma’aleh Adumim
Kinds: Chocolate, poppy seed, nut, date and chocolate dough with halva
Prices: NIS 70 per kilogram
Review: The youngest kids gave Neeman the best review, with one comparing the taste of its hamentashen to that of chocolate chip cookies, and others saying they taste fresher. The chocolate was found to be thicker and creamier than others.
English Cake’s white chocolate offerings are a good addition to ‘mishloah manot.’  (MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)English Cake’s white chocolate offerings are a good addition to ‘mishloah manot.’ (MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Location: Eight throughout the city, plus Beit Shemesh, Gush Etzion, Modi’in and Mevaseret Zion Kinds: Chocolate, poppy seed, nut, date, and halva
Prices: NIS 28 a package (NIS 32 for dairy), NIS 70 per kilogram
Review: English Cake is big on aesthetics, and the powdered sugar on its hamentashen makes them more attractive for kids of all ages. But none of the reviewers liked the taste. One said the chocolate is too sticky, like peanut butter, which detracts from the experience of eating it. Another complained about the aftertaste. But English Cake’s dairy hamentashen are much better, and the white chocolate is a unique flavor and a very good fit other bakeries should adopt.
Roladin's Hamentashen (MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)Roladin's Hamentashen (MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Location: Six bakeries throughout the city plus Modi’in and Mevaseret Zion
Kinds: Chocolate, caramel and nut, salty caramel, cheesecake, goat cheese with onion jelly, date, poppy seed, pistachio, and sweet potato with ricotta cheese Prices: NIS 120 a kilogram – expensive!
Review: How can Roladin be last? Well, this is not a comparison of who has the best goat cheese flavored hamentashen, because it is the only bakery with that option. It seems that in its quest to create beautiful, artistic hamentashen in unique salty and sweet varieties, Roladin forgot the basics. Its standard hamentashen are tasteless, and its chocolate tastes like chocolate spread, although the saleswoman said it was real Belgian chocolate from Belgium. For cookies that cost this much, your money is better spent elsewhere.