Hamentaschen are my madeleines.
I was invited to a Purim party yesterday, and in preparation, I asked my mom to send the recipe she got from my grandma, which she used to make at the Talmud Torah of Minneapolis, baking with “the auxiliary ladies” as my mom put it in an email when she sent me the Word doc earlier in the week. On Friday night, I set about making two thirds of the dough recipe — otherwise I would have ended up with something like 6 dozen cookies.
My mom used to bake these every year. I remember helping her roll them out, and snitching bits of the sugary dough. When I was older and in college, she sent me a package that arrived just before Purim every year: layers of beautiful golden triangles placed carefully on wax paper, in a rectangular cardboard box. I can’t remember if I shared them with friends. I am sure I did, but I feel equally sure I would have hoarded them for myself. Even after sending me some, Mom probably still had enough to share if she made the whole recipe!
The cookies are mostly sugar, flour and vegetable oil (to be parve, neither milk nor meat and therefore kosher for any meal). But the key to this recipe is a whole orange, grated in its entirety. I used small blood oranges (still kosher!); after knicking my thumb knuckle on the second one (not kosher!), I gave up and added some orange juice. I was afraid I hadn’t added enough flour, but after a night in the fridge, and a little extra flour while rolling it out, the dough melded. The result: the cakey sweet cookie I remember from my childhood.
And, just like synagogues or Hebrew spellings, the Jewish folks who brought dough to the party, held in a suburb of Stockholm with a bunch of American expats, each had a different recipe for their hamentaschen. Typiskt! (Typical!) We discussed the lost culinary arts of our grandparents and the joy of the Internet for rediscovering recipes — and the inevitability of making them our own, with our own modern eating habits. We used a prune and almond filling. The women from the East Coast used more lemon in their dough. My grandma’s (or rather, the Minneapolis Talmud Torah ladies’ auxiliary) recipe was too cakey for some.
But I love it. I brought what was left of my dough home and made hamentaschen of my own last night. I rolled out the dough a bit more thick than we had done at the party, and added apricot-and-date filling. Matt had his first hamentaschen ever last night and didn’t like it — the orange flavor was too surprising. I’m waiting to see if they will grow on him. And if they don’t, I will only be half disappointed: there will be more for me!
However, I think he will come around. I got up before him this morning and made some coffee, and while I was waiting for it to brew, I bit into a hamentaschen from the stash on the counter. The orange-zested cookie and apricot-date filling melted in my mouth. I felt pleasantly homesick, with the first delicious bite.
[A note: Proust‘s mom was Jewish but never made him hamentaschen. Too bad.]
Here’s what I did:
4 eggs 1 1/2 tsps. vanilla
1 1/3 cups sugar 4 1/3 to 4 2/3 cups flour
1 cup oil (canola or safflower) 1 1/2 tbs. baking powder
2 small blood oranges, grated whole 1/2 tsp. salt
juice of 1/3 lemon
Beat the eggs and sugar together “until light yellow” (?); add oil “until sugar mixture is dissolved” (I thought about these directions for a while: I assume you mix the oil together with the egg-sugar goop to form an emulsion, and that the sugar already dissolved in the eggs, but I can’t figure out the chemistry here). Add the grated orange, lemon juice and vanilla (I added a splash of orange juice too).
I sifted the dry ingredients together into the wet mixture, about two cups at a time. The recipe directed, “Enough of the flour mixture has been added when the mixture no longer sticks to a finger poked into the dough,” but I never got it to that point. I put the still-slightly-sticky dough into the fridge to chill overnight (the recipe says 4 hours is enough, but overnight is best).
For the filling: I chopped up 10 dates and mixed them with about half a cup of apricot jam, lemon juice and lemon zest. When I ran out of this, I use some pear-and-ginger jam left over in the fridge with some crushed walnuts.
To make the cookies: Roll out a fist-sized lump of dough to about ¼” thickness. (Return the rest of the dough to the refrigerator to keep chilled.) Cut into 2” rounds using a flour-coated rim of a drinking glass. Forget the cookie cutters. Glasses are the way to go.
Place a rounded half teaspoon of filling in the center of each round and pinch the sides into a closed triangle. (That’s easier than it sounds. Sticky dough and filling can get in the way. My grandma and mom would make them perfectly pyramid shaped and closed at the top. Mine mostly ended up as isosceles triangles, gaping open in the middle.)
I love this sentence from the recipe: “Repeat process until dough and/or filling are depleted. (If run out of filling, can use jam mixed with chopped nuts.)” Merely depleted, not finished, mind you. That means there’s a liiiiiiittle bit left for you to eat raw.
Bake the cookies on a lightly greased pan at 350ºF for approximately 20 minutes (I baked mine in an oven with a fan, at 180ºC for 15 minutes — sorry to mix the temperature signs, but I’m in Sweden!). The cookies should be lightly browned on the bottom. Cool on racks, or stack on a plate and eat them warm right away, which is what I did.