Judaism: the religion based on loud, pointless arguments. I only joke, although sometimes it seems that way -- there are dozens of useless points of contention, and sides are generally staked based on what your grandmother taught you.
Chanukah or Hanukkah? (Hanukkah.)
Matzoh balls: sink or swim? (Swim.)
Latkes: grated potatoes or from a box? (Grated potatoes, obviously.)
Challah with or without raisins? (Without. Always without. ALWAYS.)
But I've come to realize there is no debate so strong as the hamantaschen debate. Should the dough be more cakey or cookie-like? And if you like a cookie, should it be soft and chewy or slightly crunchy? Do you pinch or fold the corners? Do you fill it with traditional fillings, like apricot, prune, and poppy, or modern 'anything goes' fillings, which run the gamut from mint chocolate chip brownie to blueberry goat cheese?
(For the record, the correct answers to the hamantash questions are: cakey, fold, and traditional.)
Let's back up a second. If you're scratching your head wondering what a hamantash is, you're probably like most of the general population. This week is Purim, which celebrates the story of Esther when the Jews escaped from evil Haman's plot of annihilation. Purim is a festival -- whenever Haman's name is mentioned during the reading of the Megillah, everyone boos and hisses and shakes gragers (noisemakers). Children dress up in costumes, playing off the theme that Esther hid her own cultural identity from the king. But the BEST part of Purim? The hamantaschen. Hamantaschen are made in a triangular shape as a reference to the supposedly triangular shaped hat that Haman wore. Apparently we eat hamantaschen (translation: Haman's pockets) to symbolically destroy his memory -- I'm not sure I quite grasp that connection, but let's not dwell on that mere detail -- let's focus on the fact that hamantaschen are basically the perfect dessert. The sugary dough combined with the fruit filling is an absolutely perfect pairing -- light and sweet, sugary but not rich, a little bit cake, a little bit cookie, and a little bit fruity.
I grew up eating bakery-purchased hamantaschen, and the cookie-part was always very cakey: dry, crumbly, and strangely yellowish-orange in color, and I've spent years trying to replicate that texture. It turns out that perhaps I'm in the minority with my feelings on this -- most recipes I come across specifically advertise that they're more like a cookie, unlike those stale crumbly cakey hamantaschen of your childhood. Harrumph.
So, is this the recipe? The one that finally matches my childhood expectations and brings back a flood of memories? No, sadly, it is not. But it is very good, so I decided to go ahead and share – after all, I may never perfectly replicate the hamantaschen in my mind. This is a little more cookie-like than I prefer… a little crunchier and not quite crumbly enough. But the dough itself is very good and the hamantaschen mostly held their shape in the oven (see below for tips on this). Would I make this recipe again? Absolutely. Will I make this recipe again? Probably not – I’m still on the quest for that perfect dough recipe. Have a good cakey hamantaschen recipe? Send it my way, please!
Makes 30 (3.5-inch) cookies
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup butter, room temperature
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 4.25 cups flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 20 ounces fruit preserves for filling
- In a large mixing bowl, beat together sugar and butter until pale and fluffy. Add in the oil, followed by the eggs, milk, and vanilla; mix well.
- Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Slowly incorporate this into the wet ingredients, one cup at a time. The dough will be soft and slightly sticky. Roll into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.
- Preheat oven to 350F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Divide chilled dough into 4 portions. On a generously floured surface, roll out each piece to a 1/6” thickness (much thicker, and the hamantaschen will open during baking; much thinner and the dough will break when you try to fold the corners -- 1/6” is the sweet spot). The dough will be fairly sticky, so continue to flour as you work with the dough.
- Use a 3.5” circle cutter (you can go larger, but I don’t recommend going any smaller than 3” at the minimum to prevent the filling from spilling out while baking) to cut out as many circles as possible from the dough; gather up scraps and continue to roll again.
- Move the circles of dough to the prepared baking dishes. Spoon one tablespoon of filling into the center of the circle (I know it’s tempting to add more, but once again, the cookies will open while baking and spill the filling everywhere). Shape into triangles by folding up three sides over the filling and push down on the corners.
- Refrigerate the cookie sheet with unbaked hamantaschen for at least 20 minutes before baking – this will help prevent the dough from spreading while baking. I do not recommend skipping this step!
- Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until the cookies are barely golden. Cool on a wire rack. Best consumed within 3 days – the cookies will get a little soggy after that, thanks to the fruit preserves.