Living in New York City, I sometimes forget that the rest of the world isn’t aware of Jewish holidays and foods the way they are here, where babka and challah are bakery staples and admirable efforts at hamantaschen are available year round at diners and coffee shops. So for a quick review, hamantaschen are three-cornered cookies typically filled with jams or a poppy seed paste and eaten during the Jewish holiday of Purim. Their shape is modeled after the three-corner hat purported to be worn by the holiday’s villain, Haman. I always think of the holiday as kind of a Jewish Mardi Gras, replete with carnivals, costumes and a good amount of libations–a fun reprieve from the fall’s more somber High Holidays.
To keep them Kosher, most hamantaschen recipes call for oil or margarine instead of butter, but seeing as we are not, I’ve been on what seems a never-ending hunt for a buttery, richer version–. It is important that the walls do no slump in the oven, so a dough more firm than your average shortbread is required, but one that hopefully does not veer into the bland or crunchy-hard zone. The bit that fells my efforts each time, however, is trying to keep the corners together in the oven. For some reason, every time my efforts hit the heat, they just sigh and sprawl out like a cat taking a nap in the sunniest spot of the living room rug. This year was no different, leading me to concur that it is time for me to either begin twisting-and-pinching the corners or adhering them with some egg wash.
Fortunately, I was able to salvage a few, not that there were any complaints from the smittenkitchen tasters. But all of those notes will have to be tucked away for next year, as just twelve hours after taking these mostly-pancaked hamantaschen out of the oven I was baking for the next delicious holiday, Easter.
I love using a little cream cheese in the dough to give it a little more flavor and tenderness. Be sure to seal the corners well–hamantaschen pancakes are much harder to pack in a tin!
Yield: About 22 2-inch cookies
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1 1/3 cups plus 4 teaspoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Various jams (we used raspberry, blackberry and apricot, but my favorite is this stuff) or prepared fillings (such as poppy seed or prune pastry filing)
Cream butter and cream cheese together until smooth. Add sugar and mix for one minute longer, then egg, vanilla extract, orange zest and salt, mixing until combined. Finally, add the flour. The mixture should come together and be a tad sticky. If it feels too wet, add an additional tablespoon of flour.
Form dough into a disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
To form the hamantaschen, roll out the dough on a well-floured surface until it is about 1/4-inch thick. Using a round cookie cutter (3 inches is traditional, but very large; I used one that was 2 1/2 inches), cut the dough into circles. Spoon a teaspoon of you filling of choice in the center. Fold the dough in from three sides and firmly crimp the corners and give them a little twist to ensure they stay closed. Leave the filling mostly open in the center. Bake on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Cool on racks. Resist the urge to try a still-hot one unless a jam-burnt tongue is as much of your Purim tradition as are these cookies.