Friday, February 22, 2013

Tales of the Hamantaschen


Tomorrow is the Jewish holiday of Purim and part of the traditional celebrations is a triangular filled cookie called a hamantaschen (literally, Haman's hat). To say I love them would be a gross understatement! My mother was not much of a baker so our pastries came from bakeries, including my beloved annual hamantaschen. She always worked at a school on the lower east side of Manhattan which was once home to many old world Jewish delis, bakeries, pickle vendors, etc. and that's where she bought them. Those were the days...

Much of that old Jewish enclave is gone and my mother has long since retired from the Board of Education.  Consequently, I've spent the years looking around for a cookie with the same flavor I remember. The closest I've found is at a NY bakery chain called Hot & Crusty but Eli's also makes a close replica. The pre-packaged hamantaschen found in most supermarkets is definitely NOT worth eating. But there's always a mad rush around Purim and I've been disappointed to find bakeries sold out on more than one occasion. I really wanted to learn to make these cookies myself. My beloved hamantaschen is also the source of one of Brian's and my favorite "inside" jokes.

One fine Sunday morning, several years ago, Brian and I stopped into the nearest Hot & Crusty Bakery for a loaf of bread. While there, we saw one of the bakers bring out a tray of freshly baked hamantaschen, a site that always captures our attention. I have a particular fondness for the poppy seed filled version so we attempted to inquire what flavors had just been brought out.
Me:  What kind of hamantaschen do you have today?
Clerk:  They're $2.50.
Me:  Thank you. And what flavors of hamantaschen do you have?
Clerk:  They cost $2.50 each.
Me:  That's fine. Can you please tell me what the flavors are on that tray of freshly baked hamantaschen?
Clerk:  Oh. Prune, apricot and poppy seed.
Me:  Excellent! We'll take two poppy seed.
Clerk:  They're $2.50 each.
Me:  Yes, I understand that.
Clerk:  How many do you want?

You should know that I'm not exaggerating in the slightest and it took a couple more rounds before we were finally able to leave the store with our two hamantaschen (at a cost of $2.50 each, don'tchaknow). Yup, I really needed to learn how to make these babies myself but, unfortunately, this is proving harder than you'd think.

1st Attempt.  Butter dough.
After pinning, printing and book-marking enough hamantaschen recipes to open my own bakery, I've found that most are divided into two schools of thought - a butter dough and an oil dough. But I didn't know which version it was that I loved so I knew I had to make both. Each recipe I found contained mostly the same ingredients with minor quantity variations so I had to take my best average guess and I started with the butter dough. The result was a batch of perfectly good butter cookies but not hamantaschen. It was also my first attempt at folding the triangular shape of the cookies and, as you can see, the result looks like they were done by a particularly uncoordinated child. Next!

Hamantaschen from Crumb's Bakery
I called my mother to see if she could offer any insight and to tease her about not having provided me with a serviceable recipe. I must have made her feel guilty because she dropped by for a visit and brought me a hamantaschen from Crumb's bakery but she hadn't asked them what was in it.

Assorted Hamantaschen at Orwasher's Bakery
I then stopped off at Orwasher's Bakery since they usually have decent hamantaschen and they had both the butter and oil versions. I knew the look of the version I always liked best so I asked them whether it was butter or oil and the answer was oil. OK, oil based dough coming up. The first time I made the oil dough I barely bothered with getting the shape right which is why they look as if the uncoordinated child was also wearing a blindfold. But it was really more about whether or not I could get the correct taste of the dough. I over-baked them so the texture was more biscotti than hamantaschen but Brian said the taste was right.

2nd Attempt (oil based dough)
By my third attempt I had finally managed to produce a reasonable shape and a better texture by baking them less. Still, I'm not convinced I have the right flavor recipe and I wish I knew what is lacking. So, here then, is the oil based recipe but I do invite you to give me feedback or links to other recipes if you think you have a better version of hamantaschen. I'd love to get it right!

2 Cups all purpose flour
1 Teaspoon baking powder
3/4 Teaspoon salt
1/2 Cup sugar
1/3 Cup canola oil
1 Egg
1 Teaspoon orange zest
2 Tablespoons orange juice
1/2 Cup filling of choice (I used apricot preserves)

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, egg, zest and juice. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Slowly beat the dry ingredients into the wet until fully combined. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough about 1/4" thick. Note that if it is too crumbly you might need to add a few drops of water. Cut out rounds with a cutter or glass. The traditional small cookie is made with a 3" cutter but I like them larger so I used a 4 1/2" cutter. Place a teaspoon of filling in the center of each round and fold up the edges into a triangle. I used a bit of water on my fingers to pinch the ends shut.

Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 10-15 minutes or until lightly golden brown. The number of servings will vary based on the size cutter you used but I got about a dozen large cookies.


  1. OMG that guy at the bakery! So glad you learned how to make these, they look so wonderful!

  2. Good job keeping up the struggle to get the right recipe! I think that is half of the fun, taste testing and trying new recipes! They look great!

  3. Oh so neat. I've never heard of hamantaschen, but they sounds absolutely delicious. What is your favorite filling? Apricot? Good luck tweaking the recipe to what you remember I know you will be able to figure it out!


  4. The guy at the bakery must have been new. You did well to keep your cool. Looking forward to all of your tweaks. I wish we had as many bakeries to choose from.

  5. What a great food story, Anita ~ I loved reading about your hamantaschen adventures & hope you find the one for you :)

  6. So, I have never heard of hamantaschen and I'm not sure I could even pronounce it correctly but they look wonderful! Are there only specific fillings you are supposed to put in during Purim? And, if I sound like an ignorant Okie when I ask the next question, please, we already know THAT - what is in the poppy seed cookie? Is it poppy seed filled or are they baked into the dough. Your food is always so perfect, I'm thrilled to know that sometimes your food looks like mine! :)

    1. Hi Kelli - There is no religious mandate about what filling can be inside the cookie but prune and poppy seed are the most traditional and raspberry and apricot preserves are also very common. The poppy seeds are made into a paste and cooked with honey, butter, sugar and other tasty ingredients and are then spooned into the middle just like you would do with a jam. The dough itself is tender and similar to a good short dough. Jewish or not, most New Yorkers are familiar with and fond of these pastries. They're really delicious and I hope you get a chance to try one sometime.

  7. We were introduced to hanataschen at Moishe's Bake Shop on 2nd Ave. in the East Village. It is our first and last stop when in town. I am really looking forward to trying to make these at home. Alas, there are no Jewish bakeries in Northeast Tennessee. Thanks for your effort to get this recipe.

  8. I have never heard of Hamantaschen until entering the blogging, pinning world. hey look difficult to make, but I am sure you will find a way to perfect it to your liking. If it's apricot filling that you love the most, could it be your brand of apricot preserves that make it taste different, or is it the variations in the dough? Anyway, thanks for sharing yet, another great recipe on Foodie Friends Friday.
    Your co host from Nosh My Way.

  9. Oh my gosh! I want one of these so badly!! They look like they'd go well with my hot tea!

  10. That clerk cracked me up! It's amazing what length us foodie's will go to in order to get some good food.

    I have no doubt that you'll perfect the recipe. When you do, I'll be right over ;)


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