hamantaschen redux, part one

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Among Jews of my acquaintance, I am seriously, seriously old school when it comes to Purim pastry because not only do I make my own hamantaschen, but I also make them completely from scratch. No jams, no canned fillings, no shortcuts.

Of course, according to my father I am a dangerous innovator for branching out beyond the poppy and prune that every Ashkenazi knows and either loves or hates. To which I must reply that I have peanut butter filling and chocolate filling recipes and those are disturbing innovations.

All that being said, just because I follow the old school approach doesn’t mean that there can’t be changes or improvements. I made three this year, one from necessity and two because they seemed like good ideas. More on them later.

Old school hamantaschen takes a bit of planning because they take a lot of time. The fillings need to be done in advance and both they and the dough benefit from a stay in the fridge. The preparation is more involved than your average drop cookie and they spend a fair bit of time in the oven. I spread the process out over three days during the course of a week, for example.

Hamantaschen dough

4 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1 cup sugar

4 cups flour + more for rolling out
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder

Tools: bench scraper, drinking glass/biscuit cutter

Beat the eggs, oil, and sugar together until pale lemon-colored and frothy, a few minutes. Add flour, salt, and baking powder and mix to combine.

The dough will be very soft and sticky, which is why I recommend chilling it for a few hours (or overnight) in the fridge. Cold, it will remind you of play-doh.

When you are ready to start making the hamantaschen, preheat the oven to 350F and generously flour your work surface.

Working in batches, roll out the dough to about 1/8-inch thinness or better. You’ll get a feel for how thin you can go as you work, but thinner is better. Cut out the circles with your glass or cutter, making sure the dough is moveable before you start cutting out circles – you’ll have to use the dough scraper to get them up, but you want to be able to lift them without destroying the circles. Re-roll the scraps, adding fresh dough if the scraps are drying out from the flour on the bench.

When you’ve accumulated a half-dozen or so discs, fill and form them before moving on.

Egg wash

1 egg + 1 egg yolk
2 TB milk or water
pinch of sugar

Whisk until thoroughly combined

Tools: pastry brush

On a separate surface – either another counter or on a cutting board – brush the top side of the disc completely with the egg wash.

Place a teaspoon (heaping or scant, depending on the size of your circles) of filling [recipes to follow] in the middle. To fold, pinch in the top to form the first corner, then do the next two simultaneously.

Place on a parchment/silpat/greased pan. These don’t expand too much, but don’t crowd them. Brush again with egg wash if desired.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the bottoms are deep golden. The tops won’t change color much, so be mindful.

Remove to a rack and let cool completely before storing.

I got 52 hamantaschen out of this batch, but your total will vary depending on how thin you roll and how big you cut the circles.

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The cast of characters, including a very shy rolling pin, all collected. You’ll need a lot more room than this.

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These look bigger and thicker than they really are. The hard part of rolling the dough is getting a feel for how much flour to use to keep the dough from sticking while also not drying it out too much. Not enough and you’ll be scraping up sticky blobs, too much and it gets papery.

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I have a fancy silicone pastry brush, but I just went with the half-inch bristle brush that I got at Janovic Plaza. Because there’s no reason that clean paint brushes aren’t perfectly good for the kitchen.

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You’ll start to use more filling the more confident you are in folding. Also, the later it gets into the process, not only will your comfort level rise, but you’ll just want to get the whole thing over with.

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I haven’t figured out how to take pictures and show my hands at the same time, so you’ll have to settle for a description: using both hands, push the top of the circle together and pinch.

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Do the next two corners at once; it’s easier. Once you’ve got all three corners sealed, you can do any minor shaping necessary to make sure there’s no gap between corner and filling.

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The cookies will swell up while baking, but they won’t spread out, so this is perfectly acceptable spacing.

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This is the batch I tried with the extra egg washing. I can’t say I like the look – they seem dirty to me. But they had a nice texture to them and nobody else seemed to think they needed to bathe.

Fillings – orange-prune, lemon-poppy, and ginger-apricot – will follow in a separate post.

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