Mom-daughter team rises up to bake hamantaschen for Purim

NEW YORK — Because my mother hated baking, she cluttered our kitchen cabinets with store-bought cookies. We never had fewer than two dozen boxes of them on hand: chocolate chips, gingersnaps and Oreos. Although Mallomars were my favorite, they were a sorry substitute for hamantaschen when Purim came around.

When I grew up during the 1950s and '60s, hamantaschen were consumed only at Purim, and we waited all year for them. Back then, you had to make them yourself, which my mother was not about to do, or buy them at bakeries in Jewish neighborhoods.

Because the suburb where we lived was not very Jewish, I'd get a taste of hamantaschen only if my father carried them home from his office in Manhattan, or if friends arrived with square boxes of them tied tightly with string. Inside I'd find triangular confections filled with poppy seeds or prunes. Maybe I was unsophisticated, but I loved their inky black fillings, as mysterious as the spiral turrets of Eastern Europe from where this pastry came.

It was this void from Purims past, a feeling that the cardboard cookies my mother palmed off on us had left me incomplete, that spurred me in the 1980s to suggest to my daughter that we bake hamantaschen. At 14, Allissa was game.

Within minutes, fine flour fogged our kitchen, and we were elbow-deep in a mixture of wet and dry ingredients. When I went to roll the dough, it didn't cooperate. It was sticky and clung in clumps to the counter and rolling pin. My fantasy of overcoming the disappointing Purims of my childhood by baking with my daughter had failed.

"Let's just dump this mess in the trash," I said, shoving the rolling pin toward the mixing bowl.

"Can I try?" Allissa asked, picking up the rolling pin.

"Good luck," I said, washing gooey white paste off my hands.

Because Allissa was adept at taming clay for sculpting and ceramics, she also had a knack with dough. Moving the rolling pin back and forth, she coaxed it into a thin circle.

"Why don't I roll the hamantaschen and you fill them," she suggested with a patch of flour on her cheek. I was thrilled since I didn't want to waste the four jars of preserves I'd opened for this bake-off.

We spent several peaceful hours and made eight dozen hamantaschen that afternoon.

The word hamantaschen derives from the German and Yiddish mohn, meaning poppy seeds and taschen, pockets. It's been speculated that the pastry's first five letters "Haman,'' represent the wicked vizier who planned to annihilate the Jews of Persia.

Although hamantaschen took their shape from the three-sided hats Haman purportedly wore, there is no proof that his hats were triangular. Centuries after his demise, Jews on another continent, inspired by a German confection, began baking miniature three-cornered cakes filled with poppy seeds. Hamantaschen spread like wild fire.

Originally made with yeast, the dough, similar to modern-day Danish, was as soft as a cushion.

In 20th-century America though, cookie-style dough beat out yeast hamantaschen, which are more complex and time-consuming to prepare.


Makes 48

1 egg

1/2 cup margarine

1 Tbsp. orange juice

1 tsp. vanilla

2 tsp. lemon juice

1-1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

1-1/4 tsp. baking powder

1/8 tsp. cinnamon

Install metal blade in a food processor. Into its bowl, place wet ingredients and process until well blended. Mixture resembles orange cottage cheese. Sift dry ingredients and add to wet ones. Blend well until mixture clumps and forms a ball. Wrap dough in foil and refrigerate for 2 to 12 hours.

To assemble, place racks in center of oven. Preheat to 350 degrees. Coat 2 cookie sheets with no-stick spray. Dust counter and rolling pin with flour. With a serrated knife, cut dough ball into quarters. Wrap three of them in foil and return to refrigerator.

With your hands, form first dough quarter into a ball and flatten with palms. Using rolling pin, roll dough to 8 inches in diameter and about 1/8-inch thick. An amoeba-shaped circle will form

Using a 2-1/2-inch cookie cutter, cut several circles and move to the side. Pick up remaining dough, form another ball, and roll into a smaller circle. Repeat one or two more times, until only scraps remain.

Place 1 tsp. of jam or your favorite filling inside each circle. With fingertips, pick up rim of dough and pinch in three places to form a triangular cookie with a filled center.

Place on cookie sheets and bake for 5 minutes. Open oven and move upper tray to lower rack and vice versa. Bake 5 more minutes or until edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and cool for 2 minutes. With metal spatula, move cookies to platters to cool completely. Follow the same procedure for remaining dough in refrigerator. Store baked Hamantaschen in airtight containers or freeze and defrost.