Friday, March 18, 2011

tiny poppy seed 'taschen

tiny poppy seed hamantaschen

My track record with hamantaschen — those three-cornered filled cookies traditionally limited to Purim, but shouldn’t be, because did I mention that they’re cookies? And you can fill them with whatever you want? — is abysmal. I can’t seem to find a recipe that allows them to be as fragrant, buttery, delicate and delicious as I believe they were meant to be that does not completely fall apart once baked. I suspect my insistence on finding my hamantaschen nirvana in a cream cheese-based dough — cream cheese, although tangy and delicious, seems to just flop down and laze about like a kitten in the sun once it hits the oven — plays a part although, given, my sealing technique also “leaves a lot to be desired”. The first year I attempted a recipe on this site, they puffed and pancaked open in the oven. The second year was no better. The third and fourth year, I didn’t even bother.

poppy seeds
zest an orange

But this year, I spied a recipe in Wednesday’s New York Times that although cream cheese-free, gave me hope. Plus, I’ve head so much about traditional poppy seed fillings, but confess that I have no experience with them. The fact that this called for one from scratch (as in, not “open a can of poppy seed filling”) delighted me and the cookie, with its egg yolks and butter, seemed to carry all the marks of a great sweet tart crust-ish/sable-like cookie dough.

poppy seed filling

cutting
forming

And yet, 5 p.m. yesterday found me cursing and throwing a tiny hissy (no room for larger ones in my shoebox kitchen) over the bleepin’ dough! Which did not bend over the filling, but broke. It crumbled! It cracked! Oh, I had some words with that dough as I swore its eventual placement in the Salon of Recipe Shame. I threw the tray in the fridge, chased a toddler around the East Village for a while and this morning, sighed deeply as I baked them even though I knew they’d be a disaster.

baked

I suspect you know where this is going. That they puffed slightly and bronzed nicely but never opened. That they’re buttery and perfect, crisp and lightweight. That (as happens often in the kitchen, but never ever when bickering with my husband, thank you very much) I was wrong. And everyone else wins.

irritating but eventually triumphant dough

One year ago: Spinach and Chickpeas
Two years ago: Penne with Potatoes and Rocket
Three years ago: Whole Wheat Pasta with Cauliflower, Walnuts and Feta
Four years ago: Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad (still a favorite!)

Tiny Poppy Seed 'Taschen
Adapted, mostly clarified a bit, from “Schmaltz” by Shmil Holland via the NYT 3/15/11

That doesn’t make this an easy dough to mess around with. It will seem impossible that this will work out in the oven but sure enough, 10 minutes later you’ll have the lightest, gently crisp hamanataschen you’ve ever tried in front of you, making all of the dough aggravation worth it. I’ve added notes on the forming of the cookies which will hopefully help.

I ended up with almost double the poppy seed filling I needed, but I also had to use a lot less than suggested to keep my cookies from being over-stuffed. If you’re not into poppy seed fillings, your favorite jam would work.

Most confusingly: I just realized that recipe I printed from the NYTimes yesterday is very different from the one on the site today. First, it tells you to grind your poppy seeds but doesn’t say in a spice grinder so I tried and failed to grind mine in the food processor. This is why my seeds are whole. The one on the site doesn’t suggest an extra chilling time once the cookies are formed and brushed with egg wash. I think this was helpful and encourage you to do this, below. The recipe on the site suggests you use 3-inch cookie cutters (a traditional size), the one that I printed says 2 1/2-inch. I listened to neither and used a 2 1/4-inch cutter; I like tiny ‘taschen.

Yield: 44-ish from a 2 1/4-inch circle cutter (as I did); the original recipe suggests a yield of 30 with a 3-inch round cookie cutter or a yield of 36 with a 2 1/2-inch cutter

Dough
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 cup powdered sugar
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 large egg yolks
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature, in small pieces

Poppy Seed Filling
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
Grated zest of 1/2 orange
1 cup poppy seeds
1/3 cup raisins
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tablespoon brandy
1/2 tablespoon orange liqueur
1/2 tablespoon butter
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract

Glaze
1 large egg, beaten

Make the dough: Place the lemon zest, powdered sugar, flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to blend. Add the butter and egg yolks and process until the mixture forms a ball. Scrape onto a sheet of plastic and wrap it tightly. Chill the dough for an hour or overnight.

Prepare the filling: Grind seeds in a coffee grinder. Heat milk, sugar, orange zest, ground poppy seeds and raisins in a small saucepan over medium heat. On a low simmer, cook until the seeds absorb the milk, thickening the mixture, about 15 minutes. Add the lemon juice, brandy, orange liqueur and butter and cook for 2 minutes more. Finally, add the vanilla and stir to combine. Remove from heat to let cool completely. I sped this up in the fridge.

Form the cookies: Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll out the dough to just under 1/4-inch thickness (1/4 was suggested; I found it a little thick for smaller cookies) and use a cookie cutter or glass to cut 2 1/4-inch circles (see Note up top for other sizes). Put a heaping half-teaspoon of the filling in the center of each and press up the sides to form triangles. If your dough comes out like mine did, this will be kind of annoying as the dough will crack when you want it to bend. Don’t be deterred, just smoosh the sides back on and mold it, if needed, into the proper shape. Arrange on prepared trays (transfer cookies with a spatula, as they are fragile before they are baked) and brush the tops with beaten egg for glaze. Return tray to the fridge for 20 to 30 minutes; chilling them again will help them hold their shape while they are baked. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350°F

Bake: Until cookies are golden, about 10 to 15 minutes. If trays are on different racks, switch them after about 5 minutes.


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