Hamantaschen are triangular, shortbread-style cookies made to celebrate the late winter Jewish holiday of Purim, when Jewish people, during the times of Queen Esther, were saved from evil Haman (the story is detailed in the bible, in the book of Esther). The cookies are usually filled with poppy seeds, plum, or apricot jam and are now enjoyed all year round.
The name Hamantaschen comes from the German word for poppy seeds (mohn) and taschen, which means pocket in Yiddish, so they literarily mean “Haman’s poppy seed pockets.” The name is also a play on words, and the three-corner design symbolizes the three patriarchs of Judaism – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You can learn more here. It is unclear if Haman ever wore a three-cornered hat, but it is said that Hamantachens were inspired by German cookies of the 16th century.
The poppy seed filling is the most popular for Hamantaschen, and poppy seeds are essential for East and Central European baked goods. Poppy seeds are wildly popular in Austria, Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Russia. The rest of the world, including the United States, has a complicated relationship with poppy seeds, as anyone who has watched the Seinfeld poppy seed bagel episode understands. The natural bitterness of the poppy seeds mellows when they are ground, but they are best purchased unground and stored in the refrigerator or freezer to avoid them going rancid.
East European grandmothers even had a special poppy seed mill, but those fell out of favor due to their size and bulk. Today, coffee grinders are the best tool for achieving finely ground seeds. I have one coffee grinder designated especially for grinding spice and poppy seeds, and it produces an even better result than a food processor.
When grinding the seeds, they will start to break up and darken, eventually resembling wet soil or wet sand.
Hamantaschen Poppy Seed Cookies
Poppyseed filling: You can easily make your own poppy seed filling, or you can purchase premade filling in a can.
- 1 c Poppy seeds (ground)
- ¾ c Milk
- 1 tsp Vanilla extract
- 3 Tbs Unsalted butter
- 2 Tbs All-purpose flour
- pinch Salt
Cookies:U Note:all ingredients should be at room temperature
- 4 c All-purpose flour
- ½ tsp Baking powder
- 2 sticks Unsalted butter
- 2 Eggs
- 1 c Sugar (or vanilla sugar)
- 1 c Sugar
- 1 tsp Lemon zest
- 1 c Ice cold water (add one Tbs at a time)
- ½ tsp Vanilla extract
- Poppyseed, apricot, or plum fillings
For poppyseed filling
- In a saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil over low heat. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Cool completely before using. It can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for up to a week.
- Cream sugar and butter, add eggs and vanilla, and work until smooth. Slowly add flour, mix with baking powder, and process until dough forms. Add ice-cold water if the dough is not coming together, but only one tablespoon at a time. Knead the dough a few times in the bowl to bring it together.
- Divide dough into halves, form them into two disks, wrap tightly in cellophane, and refrigerate for two hours or up to overnight. Let dough come up to room temperature for 30 minutes before rolling out.
- Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to about ¼ inch thick. As you roll, cracks may form on the edge of the dough. Repair the crack with your fingers and continue rolling. Using a large 3-inch cookie cutter or a glass, cut out circles and gently, using a spatula, if needed, transfer them to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and set them as close together as possible. Gather the dough scraps and roll them out again, cutting more circles until all dough has been used. Two baking sheets will be necessary for this recipe.
- While filling the circles, cover the unused circles with a lightly damp towel top revent them from drying out. Spoon one rounded tablespoon of filling in the center of each circle of dough. Fold three sides up, and pinch, creating a triangle, leaving the middle exposed. (Make sure the pinch is firm so the cookies do not come apart during baking, as was my experience).
- Bake for 18-22 minutes at 350 degrees, rotating halfway through baking, if necessary, until golden brown.
- Store cookies in a tightly lidded container in the fridge or in the freezer in zip-lock bags.
Typically Jewish by Nancy Kalikow Maxwell
Format: Print Book
Little Book of Jewish Sweets by Leah Koenig
Format: Hoopla eBook
Jewish Holiday Baking by Uri Scheft
Format: Hoopla eBook
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