Class prepares pastry for Purim

Lesson: First-graders learn to make triangle-shaped cookies for the festive Jewish holiday

February 24, 1999|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,sun food editor

You roll it. You pat it. You squish it.

Then you giggle.

After all, making hamantaschen -- triangle-shaped cookies filled with fruit and other goodies like raisins and honey -- is messy fun when you're a first-grader, as a class of mostly 6-year-olds at Beth Tfiloh Community School in Pikesville found out last week. They were getting a hands-on lesson on preparing the traditional pastry for Purim -- one of the most festive holidays of the Jewish calendar.

The celebration, which begins at sundown Monday and continues through Tuesday, often is compared to Halloween because many children and adults wear costumes and share treats with friends and relatives.

"I like Purim because we dress up," said Joanna Rapoport, busily pinching dough filled with strawberry jelly at a table with her classmates. "I like everything."

Cookies included. And no wonder. Think edible Play-Doh.

Once the dough and fillings for hamantaschen (pronounced hah-mahn-tah-shun) are made (recipes follow), even little, flour-caked hands can squeeze the malleable pastry into shapes before they are baked.

"It is a wonderful holiday for children," said Faith Wolf, who led the 19 students through the noisy, cookie-making session. Her son, Gideon, who is in the class, was one of her assistants.

Today, Wolf, who teaches gourmet kosher cooking at the school and other locations, will demonstrate Purim cooking at Fresh Fields, 1340 Smith Ave., in Mount Washington from 9:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.

Many of the children in her class were familiar with hamantaschen, having made it at home in previous years. "I use a cup," confided Chaim Kalish about his method for getting a circle of dough, which he then folded into the three-cornered cookie. "It's fun."

The triangular shape is not by chance. It's symbolic. Just ask Elie Dickler, who was dropping miniature marshmallows and chocolate chips into the center of a chocolate version of the pastry.

"It's like Haman's hat," he shared. "He's the bad guy."

During Purim, just mentioning the name Haman signals the clattering of noisemakers by children. In ancient times, Haman, an evil prime minister, plotted to kill the Jews of Persia. He was thwarted by Queen Esther, who kept her Jewish ancestry a secret until her people were threatened.

The queen appealed to her husband, King Ahasuerus, who was unaware of his wife's heritage, to spare the Jews' lives and her own. Now, Purim begins with a reading of Queen Esther's courageous story.

By eating hamantaschen -- which also is said to represent Haman's ears (like a donkey's) and his purse or pocket (for his ill-gotten gains) -- "you get to erase, or swallow, his name," Wolf explained.

In addition to the sharing of pastry, Purim is marked by a lavish feast with such specialties as kreplach (stuffed won tons) in chicken soup; roast chicken; and sambusak, meat turnovers. It also is customary to give gifts to the poor during this time.

Rachel Cohen, a 10th-grader who was helping Wolf with the younger students, summed up the joyous meaning of the holiday, "We are celebrating that Jews lived when they were supposed to die."

Hamantaschen

Makes about 30 pastries

1 package active dry yeast

1/4 cup lukewarm water

1 tablespoon granulated sugar plus 3/4 cup granulated sugar

4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

2 large egg yolks

1 cup (2 sticks) pareve (a food made without animal or dairy ingredients) margarine, softened

1/2 cup pareve nondairy milk substitute or soy substitute

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon light rum

1 teaspoon lemon zest, freshly grated

pinch of salt

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in lukewarm water. Stir in 1 tablespoon sugar. In large mixing bowl, combine remaining ingredients, including the rest of the sugar. Stir in proofed yeast mixture until all ingredients are incorporated. Turn onto flour surface and knead with hands until smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes). Refrigerate until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a large baking sheet. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out 3- to 4-inch circles (jar tops or biscuit cutters can be used.)

Place about 1 tablespoon filling in center of each circle. Pinch one side together. Press together other two sides to form a triangle. Place on prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden (20 to 25 minutes).

-- From Faith Wolf

Poppy Seed Filling

1/2 cup liquid (pareve milk substitute, water or sweet wine)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup (about 5 ounces) poppy seeds

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon bread crumbs

1/3 cup dark red-flame raisins

1 tablespoon honey

Bring liquid and sugar to boil. Add poppy seeds and simmer over a low heat until liquid is absorbed (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients. Cool. May be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Prune Filling

1 pound pitted prunes, finely chopped

1 cup water

1/2 cup granulated sugar or honey

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 cup chopped nuts

Bring prunes and water to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer until very tender (about 1 hour). Add sugar or honey and lemon juice and simmer another 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in nuts. Cool.

Dried Fruit Filling

3 ounces dates, pitted

3 ounces dried figs

3 ounces dried apricots

3 ounces golden raisins

2 tablespoons orange liqueur

1 tablespoon amaretto

In a food processor, blend all ingredients until smooth. Fill already baked pastries and garnish with whole nut or sliced fruit.

Pub Date: 02/24/99

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