Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Grandmother's Recipe for Hamantaschen

by EP

Readers should note that the title of this post is not "MY grandmother's recipe for hamantaschen," but rather "A grandmother's recipe."  Our grandmothers didn't make hamantaschen (ruggelach is another story), so when I decided I wanted to make hamantaschen for Purim a few weeks ago, I had to find someone else's family recipe.  I found this NY Times recipe, which won me over with the author's sweet story about her grandmother and the adaptations she made to the recipe after WWII (the heaping tablespoons of lemon zest in the dough didn't hurt either).

So, while visiting the BCD parents out at Blackacre, BCD Mom and I set to making these three-pointed cookies made to resemble the hat of Haman, the bad guy in the Purim story who tried to kill all the Jews (what else is new?).

Hamantaschen can be filled with a variety of fillings, which I have divided into three categories:
  1. Old School (our parents and our parents' parents ate these fillings): prune jam/butter, mun (poppy seeds)
  2. Hebrew School (our generation ate these fillings): apricot jam, raspberry jam, cherry jam
  3. New School (hip and cool for today's young Js): Nutella (Italian chocolate-hazelnut spread)
Neither Mom nor I was interested in prune or mun, so we went with one of our favorites, apricot, and the hip new kid on the block, Nutella.  (Side note: I am apparently the only person on the planet who doesn't love Nutella, probably because I don't love hazelnuts.  So, I thought about making what sounds like the best thing ever: Smitten Kitchen's chocolate-peanut spread (aka Peanutella), but then since we were cooking about 5 other things that weekend, we just decided to buy a jar of Nutella and call it a day.  But I'll be seein' you soon, Peanutella...)

So, we were all set to make these cookies.  The recipe calls for you to make a well of the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt), and then add half the wet ingredients (eggs, oil, water) and half the sugar and lemon zest into the well, and stir with a fork to combine, bringing in parts of the walls as you go. 

Fort o' flour

The recipe warns, "do not break the flour walls."  Well let me tell you, immediately upon adding the wet ingredients, I saw a stream of liquid escaping the flour fort - BREACH!!  Oh crap.  Let's just say it was a messy job.  And then you added the second half of the remaining ingredients...more breaching, more mess...more cursing.  Damn you, Haman!

Once the dough came together, I needed to knead it, but it was so sticky - imagine kneading peanut butter.  I know you are thinking, "just add more flour, EP!" but the recipe said not to add too much more flour than what was called for, so I was timid.  Anyway, I tamed the beast the best I could and once it had come together a bit more, I wrapped it up and put it in the fridge overnight. 

Only that trusty bench scraper from BCD Dad kept me sane during this process.  A kitchen must-have!

The next day, after a yummy breakfast of bagels and lox, I got started on the cookies with Mom's supervision. (Note that amongst these delicious Jewish treats of bagels and lox and hamantaschen, we also made Buccatini all'Amatriciana (pasta with pancetta), fried oyster po boys, and a fried pork we're not kosher, to say the least.)

The recipe called for a pretty small cutter (2-3 inch diameter), and instructed you to roll out the dough, cut out circles, paint an X of butter on the dough, and fill them with filling.  How much filling?  Doesn't say.  Do you fill them on the counter after rolling or on the baking sheet?  Doesn't say.  The dough is sticking to the counter - what do I do?  Doesn't say.  Do you line the baking pan?  Doesn't say.  You get my point, Dear Reader.

As experienced cooks, we made do, but I was pretty amazed at how many gaps there were in the recipe.  I think that's where the "grandmother" theme ties back in - when you're baking with Grandma, she knows all the steps, she knows what looks right, what tastes right, and you don't need to write them all down.  That is, until you publish her recipe in the New York Times. 

In the end, the cookies came out really well - the cookie part was not tough, and they were small enough to eat in a few bites, unlike the gargantuan versions coming out of Brooklyn bakeries these days -- they're as big as a scone!  As for the fillings, the apricot was a hit with friends and family and co-workers, and some folks really enjoyed the Nutella.  Interestingly, when baked, Nutella sets up into a solid (versus the smooth, spreadable form you know and love). 

I'm glad we did two fillings and experimented with the Nutella, but I'm not sure I would make these again.  I kind of just want some of my Grandma's ruggelach...

Happy baking -

ps. I'm headed to PARIS in a few days and while I won't be able to blog while there, I will be taking pictures of everything I eat and hope to share my great meals with you!  Plus, BFF Rachel and I are taking a cooking class where we'll learn to make macarons


  1. I dislike Nutella too, EP. Totally overrated spread!

  2. Yay hamantaschen! Good choice for filling. and have fun in PARIS!!!

  3. Love this post EP! Sorry I missed the cooking weekend at Blackacre, but I can't wait til you teach ME how to make macarons!


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