Saturday, March 15, 2014

Rebecca's Hamantaschen

Happy Purim, everyone!

As a kid, I used to love being invited over to my friend Sarah and Allison's houses, especially when a Jewish holiday was coming up. Their moms were both really passionate about making sure their kids didn't feel strange for practicing a different faith from the majority of their classmates, and loved educating their non Jewish friends about different customs and stories that went along with being Jewish. I loved hearing different stories and learning about foods and traditions I'd never experienced before, and really appreciate being given the opportunity to learn so much about a culture different from the one I grew up with.

One of my favorite memories of visiting with Sarah's mom was when she had Sarah and I help her make hamantaschen, a treat traditionally eaten on Purim. Since Purim is today - March 15th - this year, I have been eagerly awaiting sharing this tasty cookie with all of you guys! It's a little time consuming to make, but it is absolutely worth it. They've been some of my favorite kinds of cookies ever since Sarah's mom let me steal some of the dough, something that was strictly forbidden at my house during my childhood!

Purim celebrates the story of Esther, a Jewish woman who married the king of Persia and became queen. She hid her identity as a Jew from him until one of the king's advisers - a man named Haman - tried to orchestrate a plot to exterminate the Jews from Persia. After fasting for three days to prepare herself, Esther risked her life to convince the king to save her people and thanks to her courage, Haman's plot was foiled. After a relatively brief fast the day before Purim, Jews are encouraged to listen to a reading of the Book of Esther, give gifts of food to friends and family, make gifts of charity to the less fortunate, and to enjoy a very festive meal.

Other festivities can include burning effigies of Haman, participating in or watching plays recreating Esther's story and dressing up in costumes. This last tradition probably dates back to Italian Jews in the 15th century who were influenced by their Christian neighbors' celebration of Carnival, and has spread to be pretty common practice among Jews from all over the world. It's supposed to reference how God disguised his presence in helping the Jews behind naturally occurring events, and your choice in costume can be pretty much anything you want!

Although Purim itself isn't referenced in any of Rebecca's stories, in A Bundle of Trouble, A Rebecca Mystery, the story of Esther is referenced several times, and Rebecca credits Esther's story as what gave her the courage speak up and stop the kidnappers even when her life was in danger. It's a nice nod to an important story that otherwise isn't talked about much in her series.

Hamantaschen (one cookie is a hamantash, two or more are hamantaschen, although the spelling can vary) are triangle shaped cookies with a filling that are supposed to represent Haman's hat or pockets, depending on which origin you find most suitable. Apparently archaeologists have also suggested their shape is similar to the dice Haman would have used to cast the fate of the Jews, and for the most part, their exact origins have become obscured over the years. Regardless of what they were initially meant to symbolize, it's cool that there are so many different equally meaningful interpretations of the shape, which kind of just makes the cookies all that more perfect, in my opinion. Traditionally, hamantaschen contained a poppy seed filling, although more modern traditional fillings include prune and apricot jams.

While some recipes include steps that make the dough a little citrusy, the recipe I use makes a plainer sugar cookie, which I tend to prefer. They're a very easy to customize cookie - I even found a list of 32 crazy hamantaschen recipes last year, and not going to lie, several of them sound absolutely delicious. Sarah's mom made prune and apricot cookies, but also included some that had chocolate chips in the pockets to make them more kid friendly. That's actually my favorite kind of hamantaschen, but I decided to go a little more traditional this time and make mine with apricot.

You can make your own filling, but I'm kind of lazy and decided just to use some apricot jam we had in the pantry for exactly this reason.

The recipe I use is pretty simple, even if the cookies can be a little bit labor intensive. You take three eggs, one cup of white sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla and one cup of vegetable oil, whisk them together, and then add a mixture of four cups of flour and two teaspoons of baking powder to the resulting yellow goo.

This is the part that totally freaked me out when I first made them: you have to use your hands to mix the dough!

Well, okay, you probably don't have to, but this is how I was told to do it and so it's how I do. It actually feels really cool at first, because the egg/sugar/oil mixture is a lot thicker than water would be, and the flour feels nice and fluffy, but my least favorite part is cleaning off my hands afterwards. I always feel like I'm losing a fair amount of dough because I can't quite get everything to scrape off in a timely enough fashion before I lose my patience and run to the sink.

Anyway, it mixes up pretty quickly, and you're left with a nice, workable dough that should look something like this:

The dough can be handled immediately and is pretty easy to work with right out of the mixing bowl. It also doesn't stick to a surface as much as some other doughs do, which is great because I'm always concerned I'm going to over flour a cookie.

This gets rolled out to be about 1/4 of an inch thick on your countertop, and then it's time to start cutting out circles. I use a beer glass because it gives you a nice large circle of dough to work with, which means you don't really need to skimp on filling, but you can use pretty much any circular cookie cutter-like object you want to make these.

Depending on how big your dough circle is, you should put about a teaspoon of filling in the center of your dough circle. Don't overstuff, because they can and will bubble over in the oven and make a mess.

Once you've got a good amount of filling in, fold up the corners to make triangles.

Be careful to seal up those corners nice and tightly - they can and often do kind of explode out in the oven, which creates a bit of a mess and a not very pretty looking cookie. These then bake in the oven for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Since AG has apparently never seen the value of making doll sized versions of this cookie and I recently got my hands on Kit's Party Treats, I decided to try a little experiment and help Rebecca make some cookies that weren't the size of a pizza compared to her. We used the sorbet bowls to cut holes in the dough, spooned a teensy bit of jam into the centers, and popped them in the oven once the big cookies were done.

While the cookies were in the oven, it was time to get changed. Rebecca's modeling her new school play outfit, from when her class allegedly put on a performance of The Butterfly Queen, which I'm assuming is supposed to be Madame Butterfly? I don't know, unfortunately we didn't get a short story with the outfit.

It's still a great costume, though!

About twenty minutes later, and the first batch was good to go!

Warning: anything that uses jam as the filling - home made or not - is boiling lava hot when it comes out of the oven, so definitely do not pop one of these into your mouth until they've really had a chance to cool down if you value your taste buds or the roof of your mouth. Let them cool off on the cookie sheet for a couple minutes and then transfer them to a cooling rack, and be careful to hold them steadily so the jam doesn't spill down the sides and on your hands.

Once they're cool though, you're ready to dig into some deliciousness!

While taste and flavor can vary depending on a lot of things - again, these are a very customizable cookie even beyond everyone's family having a slightly different way of making them passed on through generations - if you follow the recipe I used, you're going to get a pretty basic, slightly sweet, fluffy cookie base with a nice pocket of apricot jam to help make them sweeter and less dry. This recipe makes about two dozen cookies depending on how big you decide to make them, and if you decide to go the beer glass route, you're going to wind up with a decent sized cookie to enjoy.

Mine came out kind of crunchy this time, which is okay. You can make a cookie dozens of times and come out with a slightly different texture and flavor each time. Still, next time I think I'm going to add a little more baking powder. I'm not sure I actually got two full teaspoons into there because our baking powder container is such a pain to work with.

On the plus side, Rebecca's turned out much better than I expected.

The mini cookies baked pretty identically to the big cookies - I checked them at five minute intervals to see if they were cooked and to make sure they weren't burning, and after about twenty minutes, they were ready to come out of the oven and get served! They're so cute, I almost don't have the heart to eat them. Maybe I'll have to try my hand at making some out of clay so Rebecca can have her own set to enjoy whenever she wants.

So, happy Purim everyone! I hope you had a good one if you celebrate it, and I hope you learned something new if you don't. And let me know if you have any votes on which crazy hamantaschen recipe I should try next, because I just can't pick between a few of them. The Thin Mints one looks particularly good!

Well, it definitely doesn't look like these kids are going to let how adorable the cookies are stop them from eating them...


  1. Mmmmm those look delicious! I will definitely need to make those some time.

    Also, Rebecca's room in one of the pictures is very realistic looking, it took me a moment to remember it was doll sized.

    1. Let me know if you do give them a shot! I'm always interested to hear other people's opinions on recipes. And thank you! Setting up scenes like that is one of my favorite parts of doing this blog. c:

  2. I'm glad to see this post! She's adorable and the cookies came out great! I love the changing Rebecca into her costume pic as well.

    1. Thank you! I think that's one of my favorite pictures I've taken for the blog so far, it's nice to finally have the sun out again to take advantage of decent lighting.

  3. I always learn something reading your blog! I was unfamiliar with this recipe and the celebration. Thanks for the education behind the cookie recipe. Your photographs are darling. You are very talented.
    I'm looking forward to your St. Patrick's Day blog, my father and grandmother always enjoyed the meal of corned beef and cabbage. I grew to like it, too - and now look forward to the leftovers made into hash!

    1. You're very welcome, and thank you for the compliments! I hope you like what we're doing for St. Patrick's Day, I've got a hopefully fun post in the works as we speak. c:

  4. I LOVE the doll sized cookies!! They came out terrific. I will go on record as being a fan of the apricot filled cookies. It is a favorite jam and what better way to enjoy it than in a yummy cookie.

    1. There is no better way! I think I've got to go out and buy some more.