Monday, March 5, 2012
Hamantaschen: Purim Is Just Around the Corner!
Get out the masks and groggers (noise makers)! Purim is a merry holiday celebrating Queen Esther and Mordecai’s victory of saving the Jews of Persia from the wicked Haman. In synagogue, we gather to hear a lively telling of the story of Esther during which we sound groggers every time Haman’s name is mentioned. It is a noisy, joyous time filled with costumes, carnivals and exuberance.
Purim also means it’s time for hamantaschen baking. Hamantaschen are scrumptious pastries stuffed with various fillings such as fruity jam, chocolate, prunes or poppy seeds (our favorite is apricot jam). Apparently Haman wore a tri-cornered hat which is why hamantaschen are shaped like triangles.
There is a lovely tradition of sharing gifts of shalach manot with others – little baskets or bags filled with fruit, nuts, candy and, of course, hamantaschen. Baking dozens of hamantaschen also gives us the chance to use up our flour before Passover begins next month.
The classic recipe for hamantaschen is much like sugar cookie dough. For the past fifteen years, though, I’ve been baking flaky, light hamantaschen using a simple dough recipe I found in our local Jewish newspaper. It contains only three ingredients - cream cheese, flour and butter - and yields a rich, flaky pastry similar to rugelach, a favorite cookie of mine.
Since the dough does not have any sugar, it balances nicely with the sweet fillings. This tender dough tends to pop open easily when baking, so be sure to pinch the corners tightly when you seal them. In fact, I may go sneak a couple of popped ones myself right now ...
Chag Purim Sameach (Happy Purim)!
From Naomi Arbit via the Jewish Transcript (now the JT News)
Makes 40 cookies
1/2 pound cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
Your favorite fruit jams and/or chocolate discs for filling
In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth. On low speed, slowly beat in the flour a little at a time until a dough is formed. Shape the dough into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill the dough for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly flour a surface to roll the dough. Remove the dough from the fridge and cut off 1/4 portion of it.
Have a small bowl of water ready. With a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough to roughly 1/8 inch thickness. Using a drinking glass or round cookie cutter, cut the dough into 2 1/2 inch circles. Place a few chocolate discs or a teaspoon of jam in the center of each circle. Dip your finger in the water and run it around the perimeter. Bring the edges of dough together to form a triangle around the filling and pinch the 3 corners together tightly to seal.
Place 10 or so cookies on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 12-13 minutes, until the cookies are puffed and just starting to look a little golden. Remove to a cooling rack and let cool before indulging in them. Repeat baking until all the cookies are done.