Poppies And Prunes And Figs, Oh, my! Making Hamantashen


Some people think March Madness is an athletic event.  I think it’s a state of mind, altered severely by onset of spring weather.  I, too, got on this “I smell the spring is coming, I can almost touch it” madness wagon, and decided to join the crowd and celebrate…  Since I don’t follow college basketball (here goes half of my blog readers), I figured, I’d bake me some Hamantashen.

Couldn't resist posting this photo of Hamantashen, taken with the new camera

My family never celebrated Purim.  We weren’t religious in the first place, but there was something always made for Passover and Jewish New Year, never Purim.  I don’t know why.  For the most of my childhood, I didn’t even know what Purim was.  And then, I joined a Jewish theater and realized, I’d been missing out.  I missed all the costume parties, all the cookies, Purimshpiels, and reading of Esther’s scrolls.  Eventually, I had caught up on all the parties and costumes, and plenty of drinking, too.  The one thing I never (NEVER) tried was making Hamantashen.  I mean, I tried them, many different varieties made by many different people, but it never (NEVER) occurred to me that I can make them.

Cooking prune and apricot filling

After doing some research, and scanning my memory for all the times I tried these peculiar cookies, I noticed some common traits: jam or some kind of fruit preserves, and puffy dough which a lot of times puffs up too much and opens during baking, and sometimes melts too much and gets out of shape.  Majority of Hamantashen bakers don’t bother much with the filling, using the “simple and colorful” approach, namely, opening a few jars of different color jams.

I decided to address both of the tendencies head on and here is what I came up with.

Three fillings side by side

I used a great recipe for cake dough, based on honey, which lets the dough keep its shape, puffing up just a tiny bit, and also retain its chewy, not crunchy state. Because the dough is somewhat sticky, the problem of self-opening cookies was solved.  The dough bakes only 10-12 minutes at the most, and because it has honey and eggs in it, it doesn’t require egg wash – it turns very attractive golden brown all on its own.  Egg wash tends to make everything super glossy and shiny, and that would compete with the shiny filling peeking out of the cookie.

Poppy seed and honey filling on a regular size cookie round

For the fillings, I came up with three different ones.  One is a classic poppy seeds, honey and raisins — easy and flavorful. Another one is a mix of prunes and apricots, cooked in syrup and mixed with lemon zest and walnuts.  Finally, the third one was a spin on a classic Lebanese fig marmalade.  Lebanese fig marmalade is something out of this world. If you never tried it, you definitely should. It’s a jam made of figs, very thin lemon slices, anise seeds, toasted sesame seeds and lemon juice.  Since I didn’t have access to the real thing, I had to concoct my own, much simpler version, which worked out well, even though it was a far cry from the original.

Fig and sesame seed filling

After such a long explanation, you might think this was an ordeal to make.  No it wasn’t.  The dough only takes about 5 minutes to make.  The fillings, if you put them together and cook simultaneously, which is what I did, will be done in about 15-20 minutes.

Here are the What and How, for this (quite large) batch

Hamantashen

Makes about 60 regular size cookies.

Do ahead of time: Soak poppy seeds in water overnight. Drain before using in the recipe.

Poppy Seed Filling

  • 1 cup of soaked poppy seeds
  • 3/4 cup of honey
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup of golden raisins
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup of water
  • pinch of salt
Combine all ingredients in a thick bottom saucepan.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook on low, stirring periodically until it reaches a thick syrup consistency. Cool until manageable. Remove cinnamon stick. It will be quite thick when cooled off.

Prune & Apricot Filling

  • 20 pitted prunes
  • 20 pitted dry apricots
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup of water
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 of chopped walnuts
Combine all ingredients except walnuts in a saucepan, and cook until water is reduced to thick syrup, and prunes and apricots are soft. Cool off a bit. Remove cinnamon stick. Spoon filling into a food processor, add nuts.  Pulse a few times until uniformly chopped, but not minced (kind of like salsa chunks).

Fig & Sesame Seed Filling

  • 1 10 oz jar of fig marmalade (it was kind of watery)
  • 1/2 cup of white sesame seed
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 3 dry cloves
  • pinch of saffron
  • pinch of salt

Combine everything in a saucepan and cook until fig marmalade reduces to the consistency of thick syrup. Cool until manageable. Remove cloves.

Dough

  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), melted
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • about 4-5 cups all purpose flour

Use a double boiler.  I don’t have one. I placed a wide mixing bowl over a wok filled with boiling water, which worked just as well.  Combine first five ingredients in a double boiler and whisk until sugar is dissolved, for a minute or so.

Remove from the boiler, add soda, and 3 cups of flour right away. Then add remaining flour in small batches, constantly stirring, and then kneading the dough until it stops sticking to your hands, but is still quite soft. It’s possible that you won’t use all of the flour, or will have to use a little more. It’s better to err on a softer side.

The dough is best when worked warm.

Using about a fist size chunk of dough at a time, roll it out to 1/4″ thick on a lightly floured surface. Using a martini glass for large cookies, or a drinking glass for regular cookies, cut out circles.  Place 1 tbsp of filling on large cookies, and 1 tsp of filling on regular cookies. Fold and pinch the cookies to form triangles. I like to leave the corners open, and only slightly pinch the dough, leaving a little window for filling in the middle.  Even if the dough opens up just a little during baking, it will retain its triangular shape.  Save all the dough clippings, and instead of re-rolling it straight away, mix it with the next softer batch of dough and then re-roll.

Bake on an un-greased cookie sheet at 350°F for 12 minutes in the middle of the oven.

Half baked hamantashen

Hamantashen, lightly dusted with powdered sugar

Delicious shapely Hamantashen with grown up taste filling

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Categories: Baking, Jewish, Nostalgia

Author:Eat Already!

I am a cooking and writing addict born and raised in a cosmopolitan city on the Black Sea coast. Currently my interests include, but not limited to gardening, traditional nutrition, raw milk, fermentation techniques, books by Sitchin, Weston A. Price ideas, artisan bread making, anything handcraft, and many other, quite random, things. I believe in making things from scratch, in unpretentious dishes, visually un-altered food esthetics. I believe in reporting on daily cooking endeavors, not just on special occasion dishes. I believe everyone should learn how to cook at home because it's a great way to connect with your loved ones without saying too much, with your heritage without becoming an archivist, and with the world without learning languages...

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  1. Nostalgic Musings On Making Russian Napoleon Cake | Eat Already! - April 30, 2014

    […] after him? It already happened to Haman of Esther Scrolls after whom traditional Jewish treat Hamantaschen are named.  I sure hope they don’t come up with […]

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