Euphoric Hamantaschen

hamantaschen cookies

Imagine the old-world pastry shop of your dreams. Inside, a kindly gray-haired lady makes the sweetest, softest, most majestic confection you’ve ever had. A pastry cobbled together from age-old recipes of French, Viennese, Russian and Polish Jews. Comforting, crumbly cookie goodness filled with sweet, tart, life-affirming indulgence. Oh, and they’re free.

For a few days every March, this is the small miracle of being in my family. It’s Purim. Queen Esther (aka my Mom) is spending all week in the kitchen churning out some 200 magnificent hamantaschen, shaping and baking them in tiny batches, hand-wrapping each separately, and sending them off to family and friends. Mazl!

You’re grimacing a little, because you’ve tasted hamantaschen before: That dense, chalky dough took forever to chew and swallow (if no one was looking, you spit it out); the sickly-sweet glob of strawberry jelly in the center made you somehow despise sugar for a few minutes. A small shudder went down your spine, and you wondered for a moment why your parents—or anyone—would decide to be Jewish.

I suppose Dreadful Hamantaschen is so prevalent simply because it’s a lot easier to make. Euphoric Hamantaschen requires a serious time comittment. You prepare the buttery dough in advance, refrigerate it overnight, then roll it out when it’s just the right temperature. The filling—prune, plum, poppy seed, red tart cherries, lemon zest, lemon juice, and chopped pecans—also takes effort to prepare, and then there are the hours of wrapping the dough around the filling. The dough-to-filling ratio has to be right on, and then you’ve got to watch the cookies like a foygl to make sure they don’t over-bake. The job is best given to a mom who, in her heart of hearts, truly believes her mothering responsibilities are far from over. You may have left the nest 23 years ago, but she still has so much to give!

It’s a blessing to receive a handful of these triangular marvels in the mail. But they also arrive with a small curse: Suddenly my two brothers and I are a lot more popular with “friends” and neighbors. People we haven’t seen in months—sometimes exactly 12 months—stop by our homes just to see what’s going on, or invite us over for dinner and add, “Oh, and bring a little something for dessert.”

There’s also the inevitable family strife. With so few to go around, shouldn’t the grownups get more than the kids? Shouldn’t the blood-son get more than the measly daughter-in-law? To preserve our relationship, my wife and I long ago adopted a simple and sacred pact: It is strictly forbidden to have even one bite of hamantaschen while not in the other’s presence.

Now let us all go forth and re-populate the world with first-rate hamantaschen. (See recipe, next page.)

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