Purim, sometimes called the Feast of Esther, is one of the happiest of all Jewish holidays. It marks the liberation of the Jews from the cruel prime minister, Haman, through the heroism of the beautiful and good Queen Esther. The story states that she was a vegetarian while in the king's court in ancient Persia. Yes, before it was the fashion, Queen Esther was a connoisseur of fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains, but poppy seeds were said to be her favorite. It is in her honor that on Purim, poppy seeds find their way into salads, kugels and pastries.
Hamantaschen are the traditional dessert served on Purim. These three-cornered pastries represent Haman's hat, pockets or ears, depending on which tale your bubbe told you. These delicious confections are served throughout Purim. They can be filled with a variety of mixtures, apricot, prune, or even peanut butter and jelly, but on Purim the preference is unequivocally poppy seeds. The hamantaschen recipes that I have included are my creations. One is based on a rich poppy seed cookie dough, flavored with orange peel. The other uses filo pastry as a wrapper for the fillings. After baking and while hot, a sugar syrup is poured over them, similar to the technique used for the Persian pastries called baklava.
When baking for Purim don't forget the ancient tradition of mishloach manot, which suggests that we share the holiday foods with the community. Arrange a batch of assorted hamantaschen in a pretty box or basket to take to friends and also share with others. You'll enjoy both the good deed and the compliments you receive.
Poppy Seed Hamantaschen
1/4 pound unsalted butter or nondairy margarine, softened
1/2 cup sugar; 3 eggs; Grated zest of 1 orange; 2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder; 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon poppy seeds; 3 8-oz. cans poppy seed filling or variety of fillings (recipes follow)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until well blended. Beat in two of the eggs and the orange zest, blending thoroughly. Add flour, baking powder, salt and poppy seeds and blend until dough is smooth.
Transfer to floured board and divide dough into three or four portions for easier handling. Flatten each portion with the palm of your hand and roll it out 1/4-inch thick. With a scalloped or plain cookie cutter, cut into 3-inch rounds. Place one heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of each round. Fold the edges of the dough toward the center to form a triangle, leaving a bit of the filling visible in the center. Pinch the edges to seal them.
Place hamantaschen 1/2 inch apart on a lightly greased foil-lined baking sheet and brush with the remaining egg, lightly beaten. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to racks to cool. Makes 5 to 6 dozen.
1/2 pound unsalted butter or nondairy margarine
1/4 cup oil; 1 package (1 lb.) filo sheets; 2 cups finely ground
almonds; 1/4 cup sugar; variety of fillings (recipes follow)
Honey-Sugar Syrup (recipe follows)
Heat butter and oil over low heat in medium saucepan. Place a damp towel on work area and cover with wax paper. Work with one sheet of filo at a time, keeping the remaining filo covered with wax paper and damp towel.
Combine almonds and sugar and set aside. Cut standard sheets of filo evenly into 2-inch strips. Work with each strip on top of a large sheet of wax paper placed on top of damp kitchen towel. Brush them with butter mixture and sprinkle with almond mixture. Place teaspoon of filling 1-inch from the short edge of each strip. Fold one corner over the filling. Fold up filo, flag fashion, in a triangle along its length to make a neat triangular package. Repeat with remaining strips and filling.
Brush baking sheets with butter mixture; place hamantaschen on baking sheets, 1/2-inch apart. Brush with butter mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown and crisp. Remove from oven and spoon syrup over each triangle. Cool on racks. Makes about 6 dozen.
1 cup sugar; 1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice; 1 tablespoon honey
Bring sugar, water and lemon juice to boil in heavy saucepan, stirring with wooden spoon until sugar dissolves. Boil briskly for five minutes. Stir in honey. Pour into heatproof pitcher.
Fillings for Hamantaschen
Apricot-Coconut Filling; 2 cups apricot preserves; 1/2 cup
shredded coconut; 1/2 cup toasted chopped walnuts or pecans
Grated peel of 1 lemon
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Makes about 3 cups.
Chocolate Filling; 1 cup cocoa; 1 cup sugar; 1/2 cup milk, cream
or coffee; 2 cups toasted chopped almonds
In a large bowl, combine the cocoa, sugar, milk and almonds and blend thoroughly. Makes about 3 1/2 cups.
Caramel-Pecan Filling; 3/4 cup sugar; 1/4 cup water; 2 cups
toasted chopped pecans; 7 tablespoons margarine; 1/2 cup
nondairy creamer; 1/4 cup honey
In heavy saucepan, bring sugar and water to boil, mixing with wooden spoon until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add pecans, margarine and nondairy creamer. Return to heat, stirring constantly, and simmer for 10 minutes or until thick. Remove from heat and stir in honey.
Transfer to ovenproof glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set. This will keep for at least one week.
Applesauce Filling; 6 golden or red delicious apples, peeled,
cored and cut into chunks ; Juice of 1 lemon; 2 to 3 tablespoons
sugar; 1/2-inch cinnamon stick or pinch of ground cinnamon
In a large saucepan, toss the apples and lemon juice. Add sugar and cinnamon. Cover and cook slowly until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and mash or puree the mixture. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill. Makes about 4 cups.
Quick Prune Filling; 1 15-ounce jar cooked pitted prunes,
drained, or 2 cups pitted stewed prunes; 1/4 cup sugar; 1/2 cup
toasted chopped walnuts or pecans; 1 teaspoon orange juice;
1 teaspoon lemon juice
In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.