Infused with the new

A new twist on hamentashen.

Hamentashen cookies (photo credit: CON POULOS)
Hamentashen cookies
(photo credit: CON POULOS)
Did you ever eat apple hamentashen, potato hamentashen, or beet hamentashen with feta cheese? In his book Breaking Breads: A New World of Israeli Baking (written with Raquel Pelzel), chef Uri Scheft explained what inspired him to make these out-of-the-ordinary hamentashen.
Scheft, who has two bakeries – Lehamim Bakery in Tel Aviv and Breads Bakery in New York City – wrote: “The fusion in much [of] contemporary Israeli food extends to baking and mirrors my own approach in the kitchen.... It’s taking the old and infusing it with the new.”
The recipes are “ultimately a reflection of my tastes and my cultural heritage, which is Jewish, Israeli and Danish.”
When Scheft was a boy, his parents moved from Israel to Copenhagen because they “decided it was important for us to better understand Danish culture and our Scandinavian roots.” Later, he studied baking in Denmark and in France.
Because Scheft is always looking for new ways to make hamentashen, he came up with savory ones. He stuffs pie dough with fillings such as mashed potatoes flavored with olive oil, or roasted beets with hazelnuts, “to make something that is close to a turnover.” Like burekas, his savory hamentashen are coated with sesame seeds, white or black. He recommends serving savory hamentashen as cocktail party appetizers. (See recipe.) French apple tarts inspired his apple hamentashen, which he flavors with vanilla beans, lemon zest and juice, and honey. (See recipe.) He also makes hamentashen filled with vanilla pastry cream, a popular filling in France, flavored with chocolate chips.
What about old-fashioned poppyseed hamentashen? Have people lost their taste for them? Not at all, and Scheft makes them, too. But they’re not like the ones I grew up with. He bakes them and his other sweet hamentashen in almond shortbread dough.
Scheft’s most heretical hamentashen are probably the ones filled with a Passover specialty – haroset! The filling has chopped toasted almonds, toasted sesame seeds, grated apples lightly cooked in honey syrup, walnuts and dates, and is seasoned with cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves.
“Israelis have a deep-rooted hunger for exploration and discovery,” wrote Scheft. “...Many Israelis quench their wanderlust by heading to South America, India, Europe, Asia, Australia and the United States....When the young generation comes home, they bring with them a passion for new tastes and dishes.”
■ Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.
Apple hamentashen
You can refrigerate the dough up to five days or freeze it up to a month, wrote Uri Scheft.
Makes about 30
Almond shortbread dough:
■ 230 gr. (8.1 oz. or 2 sticks) unsalted butter (cold)
■ 100 gr. (3.5 oz. or scant 1 cup) confectioners’ sugar
■ 50 gr. (1.8 oz. or ¼ cup) granulated sugar
■ 1½ large eggs, beaten
■ 400 gr. (14.1 oz. or 3 cups plus 2 Tbsp.) all-purpose flour (sifted) or cake flour
■ 50 gr. (1.8 oz. or ½ cup) almond flour
■ 5 gr. (0.17 oz. or 1 tsp.) fine salt
Apple filling:
■ 3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 6-mm. (¼-in.) cubes
■ 90 gr. (3.2 oz. or heaping ¹⁄3 cup) granulated sugar
■ Lemon zest grated from ½ lemon
■ 45 gr. (1.6 oz. or 3 Tbsp.) fresh lemon juice
■ 45 grams (1.6 oz. or 3 Tbsp.) unsalted butter
■ ½ vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped out and reserved
■ 30 gr. (1 oz.) honey or apricot jam (heaping Tbsp.)
■ 40 gr. (1.4 oz. or heaping ¹⁄3 cup) fine cake crumbs
Egg wash:
■ 1 large egg
■ 1 Tbsp. water
■ Pinch fine salt
Dough: Set butter on a piece of parchment paper and whack it with rolling pin to soften it, but keep it cold. Place smashed butter, confectioners’ sugar and granulated sugar in bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Then beat on medium-low speed for 30 seconds until well mixed but not airy.
Add beaten eggs and mix on low speed until just combined, scraping down sides and bottom of bowl as needed. Add all-purpose flour, almond flour and salt, and mix until almost combined. Remove bowl from mixer base, and use a plastic dough scraper to fold and work dough until it is of one consistency. (Finishing dough by hand prevents overmixing and ensures tender shortbread.) Transfer dough to a large sheet of parchment paper and use plastic wrap or another sheet of parchment to press it into a 12.7-by-25-cm., 1.3-cm.-thick (5-by-10-in., ½-in.- thick) rectangle. Leaving plastic (or paper) on top, refrigerate dough for 1 hour.
Filling: In medium bowl, toss apples with sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. When light brown and nutty smelling, add vanilla seeds (save pod for another use) and apple mixture. Cook over high heat, stirring often, until apples just start to color, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in honey and cook until juices are deep mahogany color and apples are tender (but not too soft), 6 to 7 minutes.
Transfer apples to a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium bowl. Drain apples, reserving juices in bowl. Transfer drained apples to another bowl.
Pour drained-off juices into a small saucepan. Simmer until thick and reduced by half. Stir into apples. Refrigerate until completely cooled.
Set dough on a lightly floured work surface. Lightly flour top and roll dough into a 46-cm. (18-in.) square, 3.2 mm. (¹⁄8 inch) thick. As you roll it, move dough often, flouring top and underside lightly to prevent sticking.
If dough starts to stick, slide it onto a sheet pan and refrigerate it until it becomes firm again, about 20 minutes.
Egg wash: In small bowl, whisk egg, water, and salt together. With 7.6-cm. (3-in.) round cookie cutter (or an upside- down glass), stamp out as many rounds as possible. Place rounds on a parchment paper–lined sheet pan about 3.8 cm. (1½ in.) apart; refrigerate for 10 minutes.
Gather scraps and lightly press together into a ball (without kneading dough); flatten ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10 minutes.
Brush surface of each chilled pastry round with egg wash and place a pinch of cake crumbs in the center.
Spoon a scant tablespoon of apple filling onto center of each round; don’t overfill, or you won’t be able to shape hamentashen. Pinch dough into classic triangular hamentashen shape around filling.
Flour work surface and roll out ball of scraps. Shape more hamentashen, refrigerating dough for 20 minutes if it becomes too sticky. Discard any remaining dough scraps. Add shaped cookies to others on sheet pan, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight.
Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F) with rack in upper-middle and lower-middle positions. With pastry brush, lightly brush sides of each hamentash with egg wash.
Bake a sheet of hamentashen on each oven rack for 8 minutes; then rotate top sheet to bottom rack and bottom sheet to top rack and continue to bake until pastry is evenly browned, 5 to 7 minutes.
Remove pans from oven; let hamentashen cool. Store them in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Savory potato hamentashen
Scheft makes pie dough in an unusual way. “You want to see thin butter streaks throughout the dough after it is rolled,” he wrote.
Makes 24 to 30
Pie dough:
■ 350 gr. (12.3 oz. or 1¾ cups) all -purpose flour, plus extra for dusting and shaping
■ 250 gr. (8.8 oz.) unsalted butter (freezer chilled, not frozen)
■ 70 gr. (2.5 oz. or ¼ cup plus 2 tsp.) ice water, plus another 2 tsp. if needed
■ 5 gr. (0.17 oz. or ¾ tsp.) granulated sugar
■ 5 gr. (0.17 oz. or 1 tsp.) fine salt
Potato filling:
■ 2 all-purpose potatoes, preferably yellow-fleshed (total about 285 to 340 gr. or 10 to 12 oz.), peeled and cut into 1.25-cm. (½-in.) cubes
■ 20 gr. (0.7 oz. or 4 tsp.) fine salt, plus a pinch
■ 15 gr. (0.5 oz. or about 3 Tbsp.) fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
■ 5 gr. (0.17 oz. or 1 tsp.) extra-virgin olive oil
■ 20 gr. (0.7 oz. or scant 1½ Tbsp.) mayonnaise
Egg wash and topping:
■ 1 large egg
■ 1 Tbsp. water
■ Pinch of kosher (coarse) salt
■ 75 gr. (2.6 oz. or ½ cup) black sesame seeds
Dough: Place flour in bowl of stand mixer and freeze for 20 minutes. Set butter and bowl of flour on work surface.
Sprinkle a little of the flour over butter and, working quickly so butter doesn’t warm up, cut butter crosswise into very thin pieces. Sprinkle butter pieces with a little more of the cold flour and chop them very fine, until butter looks like grated cheese. If butter starts to soften, freeze it in a bowl for 10 minutes.
Fill small bowl with ice and water and stir for a few seconds so water gets icy cold. Measure ¼ cup plus 2 tsp. of ice water and pour into a bowl. Add sugar and salt, and whisk until dissolved.
With a bench scraper, transfer butter and any bits of flour from work surface to mixer bowl containing remaining flour. Using mixer with paddle, cut butter into flour on medium-low speed until there aren’t many pieces that are larger than a small lentil, about 2 minutes.
With mixer running, pour 3 Tbsp. of water mixture over flour mixture, adding it around edges of bowl. Let mixer run for 10 seconds, then grab and squeeze dough several times with your hands. Return to medium-low speed, add remaining water mixture around edges of bowl, and let mixer run for a few seconds.
Dough should start to come together but still be crumbly around edges of bowl (if it doesn’t come together, add up to another 2 tsp. of ice water). Squeeze a small knob of dough in your hand. It should hold together. If it crumbles or feels dry, add more water, a small spoonful at a time, until dough holds together without crumbling apart.
Transfer dough (it will be crumbly) to a lightly floured work surface. Press and squeeze dough into a mound, then knead it 3 times. Press it into a 1.9-cm.- (¾-in.)-thick square and wrap it in plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days.
Filling: Add potatoes and 10 gr. (2 tsp.) of the salt to large pot of boiling water over high heat. Cook until potatoes are just tender, 12 to 15 minutes.
Drain potatoes in a colander and cool completely. Place them in a large bowl and stir in remaining 10 gr. (2 tsp.) salt, parsley, olive oil and mayonnaise.
Flour work surface and set dough on top; lightly dust dough with flour. Roll dough to a very thin square about 1.6- mm. (1/16-in.) thick, flouring dough and surface as necessary to prevent sticking.
With 10-cm. (4-in.) round cookie cutter, stamp out as many rounds as possible (you should get about 24). Gather scraps, gently press together (without kneading) and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, fill rounds: In small bowl, whisk egg, water and kosher salt together to make egg wash. Pour sesame seeds into shallow dish. Brush entire surface of each dough round with egg wash, then press egg-washed side into sesame seeds.
Set rounds, sesame-side down, on a parchment paper–lined rimmed sheet pan; brush them with more egg wash.
Chill rounds in refrigerator for 20 minutes if they become too soft to work with easily.
Dip a pastry brush into a small bowl of water and lightly dab outer edges of each round. Add 1 heaping Tbsp. potato filling to center of each round. Use your thumb and forefinger to pinch 2 edges of dough together; then pinch other edges together to create classic triangle-shaped hamentashen.
Refrigerate filled hamentashen for at least 20 minutes (or up to overnight) before baking.
Flour work surface. Roll dough scraps and shape more hamentashen. Discard any remaining dough scraps.
Preheat oven to 190°C (375°F). Bake hamentashen until browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Let cool completely on sheet pan before serving.
Recipes excerpted from Breaking Breads by Uri Scheft (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2016. Photographs by Con Poulos.