Food

I Made Beth Lee’s Hamantaschen Cookies for Purim

Today is the Jewish holiday of Purim. Purim celebrates a time in history where an evil adviser to an ancient king tried to wipe out the Jewish people. The Jews prevailed and survived. In light of everything going on with the War in Ukraine and other world events, this feels like an especially salient Purim, and the traditional story feels very relevant.

One tradition of the Purim holiday is serving hamantaschen cookies. You may have seen these three-cornered cookies in local bakeries. They are meant to mimic the three-cornered hat of Haman, the evil character in the Purim story. Jews tell the story each year, and eat hamantaschen cookies as a way to metaphorically “stick it” to Haman.

Beth Lee’s Hamantaschen

When it comes to anything involving Jewish baking, I’ve lately been turning to Beth Lee’s Essential Jewish Baking Cookbook. Lee lives in San Jose, California and runs the OMG Yummy blog. She’s compiled an awesome cookbook of Jewish classics, both from her own experience and from family members and, crucially, their Bubbies (older Jewish grandmothers). Lee was kind enough to give me a copy of her book to review.

Lee’s book includes two different hamantaschen recipes. I choose to make her Hermione‘s Hamantaschen, which are a butter based hamantaschen cookie. These are tastier, but in a traditional Jewish context you couldn’t serve them with a meat meal because they use dairy.

The whole process of making the cookies took about three hours, but I let the dough chill for longer than Lee’s recipe required to ensure it was ready to roll out. You begin by creaming together butter and sugar. You then add flour and other dry ingredients and mix these up. The only real wet ingredients in the recipe are a couple of eggs and a little bit of orange juice. When I first made the cookies, I couldn’t believe this was all the liquid ingredients I would use. Something must be missing!

It turns out that nothing was missing. The fact that these cookies are mostly butter and flour, and that the dough just barely pulls together with a tiny bit of liquid, means that the resulting cookies are super buttery and delicious. Many hamantaschen can be dry and boring, and these certainly aren’t.

The dough is so buttery it just barely pulls together

After forming the dough into balls and chilling it in the fridge for about an hour, you roll it out to about a 1/8 inch thickness and cut circular rounds using either a cookie cutter or a glass. You can fill these with anything sweet. I used strawberry jam and apricot jam, which are two classic fillings. You also put a little egg wash on before adding the filling.

You then make the actual three cornered hamantaschen shape. This requires pinching the dough in three places to form a triangle. If you just put the cookies in the oven now, they’ll turn into a flat mush and fall apart. The secret to keeping the three-cornered shape is to chill the cookies in the fridge for about 15 minutes before baking them.

A second chilling of the unbaked cookies is the key to keeping their shape

After 15 to 20 minutes in the oven, the hamantaschen come out golden brown and delicious. After cooling on a rack, they’re ready to serve.

Tasting the Cookies

Again, hamantaschen are often dry and crumbling. Like a holiday fruitcake in the Christian tradition, they’re often something eaten more out of obligation than actual enjoyment. These cookies aren’t like that at all. They are buttery, sweet, rich–and some thing that you would actually choose to munch on.

Making hamantaschen felt like the perfect way to honor the Purim holiday. Baking also felt like a nice form of self-care in a world that can feel overwhelming and scary at the moment. Even if you’re not Jewish, I recommend grabbing a copy of Lee’s book and experimenting with some of her delicious recipes.

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times.

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