Hamantaschen cookies rise to occasion of Purim in old and new ways

February 23, 1994|By Leslye Michlin Borden | Leslye Michlin Borden,Special to The Sun

Hamantaschen, triangle-shaped, fruit-filled cookies, are traditionally served for Purim. Shaped like the three-cornered hat worn by Haman, they fulfill the holiday's admonition to mock the prime minister whose plot to murder the Jews of ancient Persia was foiled at the last minute.

Traditionally, they have been considered treats to share with friends and family as "shalach monos," (small gift packages of food) and also part of the attempt to use up all the flour in time for Passover, four weeks later. Hamantaschen are filled with poppy seeds, mohn in Yiddish, a pun since mohn sounds like part of Haman's name. They also are filled with cooked prunes (lekvar), other dried fruits and nuts in consideration of Queen Esther's vegetarianism when she lived at King Ahasuerus' court.

In traditional Eastern European baking style, housewives made their pastries light by using either eggs or yeast. In the 19th century in the United States, Jewish cooks were able to take advantage of baking powder developed here as a byproduct of the industrial revolution. They began using the double-acting, fast-rising baking powder, but they filled their hamantaschen as they always had, with poppy seeds or cooked prunes.

As modern Jewish women, we have the best of both worlds. We can prepare hamantaschen made from cookie dough, like our grandmothers did. But we also can make the most traditional Eastern European yeast dough hamantaschen without having to spend all day in the kitchen. Electric bread machines have come to our rescue. We can just put in the ingredients, wait for the beep, then shape the dough just like our great-great-grandmothers did.

We can select from a variety of fillings, including the traditional lekvar or mohn. Even preparing these is speeded up with the food processor.

Preparing hamantaschen is easy. All you have to do is make a dough and prepare a filling -- or more.

Hamantaschen yeast dough

Makes about 100 cookies

1/2 cup warm water

2 packets yeast

1 cup warmed milk, orange juice or water

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs (or 1/2 cup nonfat egg substitute)

1/2 cup vegetable oil

up to 6 cups flour

1 tablespoon grated orange rind

Place warm water in a large ceramic bowl. Add yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar. Mix well and set aside until the yeast starts bubbling. Add the warm liquid, half the flour, the remaining sugar, salt, egg, oil and orange rind. Mix until smooth, adding a little more flour as necessary until the dough handles easily.

Turn out onto a lightly floured pastry cloth. Knead for about 5 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic, adding a little more flour if needed.

Coat a large ceramic bowl with vegetable oil spray. Place the dough in it. Cover with a dampened cloth and set aside to rise in a warm, draft-free spot until double in size. Punch down. Divide into fourths. Cover three pieces with the overturned bowl. Roll remaining piece to 1/8 -inch thickness. Using a 3-inch cutter cut as many circles as you can in the rolled dough. Place 1/2 tablespoon or so of a filling in the center of each round.

Fold edges over to make a triangle. Place on a cookie sheet that has been sprayed with vegetable oil, leaving space between cookies for rising. Gather up unused dough to roll out with the next quarter. Continue rolling and cutting until all the dough is used.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

When all the dough is shaped and filled, place cookie sheets in a warm spot, free from drafts. Let cookies rise about a half hour. Glaze with beaten egg white and sprinkle with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, if desired.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack. Store in airtight container. May be frozen.

Bread machine hamantaschen dough

Makes about 65 cookies

1 packet yeast

4 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg (or 1/4 cup nonfat egg substitute)

1/2 cup margarine, cut in pieces

1 1/3 cups milk, orange juice or water

Place all ingredients in machine. If your machine has a manual setting, set at "manual." Let machine mix and raise the dough. (If your machine does not have a manual setting, be sure to remove the risen dough before the baking cycle begins. After the dough has risen, punch down. Shape and bake as above.

American hamantaschen cookie dough

Makes about 100 cookies

3 eggs (or 3/4 cup nonfat eggsubstitute)

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup orange juice

4 1/2 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt grated rind of 1 orange

In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs (or egg substitute), adding the sugar as you beat. Continue beating, adding the oil and orange juice. In another bowl, combine the dry ingredients, mixing well. Add these to the beaten egg mixture. The dough will be a little sticky, but don't add too much flour in rolling or the pastries will come out hard.

Shape and bake as above, except use a scant teaspoon of filling for each instead of 1/2 tablespoon.

Poppy seed filling (mohn)

Makes enough for 60 pastries

2 cups poppy seed

1 cup orange juice or water

1/2 cup honey

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