Above & Beyond is thrilled to share this guest post from Cindy Feingold of the fantastic foodie blog, SaltandSerentity.com.
This year, the Jewish holiday of Purim begins at sundown on Saturday, February 23. Purim is one of my favorite holidays for two reasons: First, because it’s based on a really great story, and second, because more than any other Jewish holiday, the festival of Purim celebrates the pleasure of food and drink.
Heroes & Villains
Let’s start with the background. The Festival of Purim commemorates a time when the Jewish people living in ancient Persia were saved from extermination.
As in every good story, you have your heroes and your villains.
The heroes here are Esther, a beautiful young woman, and her cousin Mordecai. Esther became queen after she was taken to the harem of the King (his name was Achashveirosh). The tale’s villain is Haman, a rather arrogant, egotistical advisor to the King, who was secretly orchestrating a plot to annihilate all the Jews in Persia.
Now Queen Esther had her finger on the pulse of the kingdom, and when she discovered Haman’s plot, she and Mordecai decided Esther should go to the King and tell him about Haman’s plan (this was a huge risk, because approaching the King uninvited was punishable by death). Esther did, and she somehow convinced the King to save the Jewish people. (We’re never told exactly how she convinced him, but there are rumors!) The Jewish people were saved, and Haman was hanged.
That’s why Purim is a time for celebrating—and for really letting go. In fact, traditional Jewish learning requires a person to drink until he cannot tell the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordecai,” though opinions differ as to exactly how drunk that is—probably not quite as drunk as frat-party drunk, I’m guessing.
It’s also traditional to send food gifts at Purim (called mishloach manot). A great one is the traditional Purim treats, called hamantaschen. These little triangular cookies are typically filled with a fruit or poppy-seed filling. The name means “ears of Haman,” suggesting the origin of the cookie’s shape.
I grew up in Toronto, and in our family Purim was celebrated with hamantaschen from Open Window Bakery. They were huge with a hard, crumbly cookie dough exterior and either a prune or poppy seed filling. My sisters and I fought over the poppy seed ones. (Mom, why did you even bother buying the prune ones?!)
But when I met my spouse, I was introduced to a new world of Ottawa-style hamantaschen by my husband’s aunts, Jenny and Carol, who supplied the family with their version: Tiny little triangles of tender dough filled with a prune and raisin filling, dipped in honey and walnuts. Talk about culture shock!
After living here for almost 21 years, I have to admit that they’ve grown on me. I look forward to receiving my little package from my Aunt Carol. Every March she goes into factory mode and produces vast quantities of hamantaschen to send to her nearest and dearest across the city and continent. I convinced her to share her recipe with me (and now with you)—and I’ve scaled it down in case you don’t need to supply an army.
This year, don’t limit your giving to just friends and family. Add somebody new — maybe someone who just needs a little more attention at this time in his or her life, or someone you’ve had a misunderstanding with lately.
I wish you all a Purim filled with joy!
1⁄2 cup white sugar
1⁄2 cup vegetable oil
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1⁄4 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 pound pitted prunes
1/2 pound of golden raisins
1/2 cup strawberry jam
1 1⁄2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons pure almond extract
1 egg white, lightlly beaten (for brushing unbaked hamentashen)
2 cups honey, warmed in microwave for 1 minute on medium power
3 cups pecans or walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
- In an electric mixer, mix eggs and sugar until smooth, about 2 minutes. Pour in oil and mix to combine.
- Sift together flour, baking powder and salt and add to mixer. Mix just until dough begins to come together.
- Dump dough onto the counter and knead for about a minute. Flatten dough into a disc about 8 inches across and wrap and chill for about 30 minutes.
- Combine all ingredients in the food processor and pulse until finely chopped, about 20 –25 pulses.
- Divide dough in half and roll out the first half, about 1⁄4 inch thick. Rather than rolling out dough on a floured surface, I prefer to roll the dough between two sheets parchment paper. Use a 3-inch cutter to cut the dough into circles. Put circles onto parchment lined baking sheets.
- Brush the edge of the circles with cool water. Place a teaspoon of the filling into the center of each circle. I found it helps to pre-form the filling into a rough triangular shape before placing it on the dough. Fold up three sides of the dough against the filling, forming a triangular shape. Pinch the edges and corners gently so that the shape holds together. Repeat with remaining filling and dough.
- Brush unbaked hamantashen with lightly beaten egg white and bake, on the middle rack, for about 15-17 minutes until golden brown.
- Once the hamantashen have cooled, dip the topside of them in honey and then into the chopped pecans.
Hamantashen will keep well in an airtight container, for about a week.