Although the Jewish holiday of Purim is sometimes compared to the nonsecular, pagan-rooted holiday of Halloween, dressing up in costume is where the similarities end. The celebration honors Queen Esther who stopped an evil plot by Haman, a court official, to wipe out all the Jews in the Persian Empire.
Festivities include telling the story, booing any time Haman's name is mentioned, noisemakers, costumes, distributing food gifts to loved ones and those in need, plenty of booze and hamantaschen.
The word hamantaschen (sometimes spelled hamantashen) means "Haman's pockets," and they are triangular cookies with fillings like poppyseed or apricot that are eaten primarily on Purim. The three corners are said to resemble the three-pointed hat Haman wore. The cookies probably evolved from a medieval German pastry colled mohntaschen, which translates to "poppy seed pockets."
Don't be intimidated by shaping hamantaschen -- they are no harder than any other rolled cookie and are a great baking project with kids. Our dough is a simple one, made with flour, sugar, butter and cream cheese that is mixed in the food processor. After shaping the dough into disks, you refrigerate it for an hour then roll it out and use cookie or biscuit cutters (or even a small cup!) to cut out circles.
Choosing your hamantaschen filling is the best part! A poppy seed mixture is the most traditional choice, thugh apricot is also very popular. But you're not limited to those choices. Use your favorite jam, chocolate chips, date puree, sprinkles or anything else you can dream up as your filling. Just put a dollop in the center of your dough circle, and feel free to experiment.
Getting hamantaschen to have their characteristic points is easy once you get the hang of it. There are two methods. You can simply pinch the edges together to form three points. Or you can fold one side of the circle slightly over the filling, then a second side slightly overlapping the first, and finally the remaining portion to create a triangle shape. Then all you have to do is bake and enjoy!
Recipe by Leah Eskin, adapted from her grandmother
Step 1: Set up your food processor (this recipe fits nicely in an 11-cup model. If yours isn't that roomy, make pastry in 2 batches). Measure 2 cups flour and 3 tablespoons sugar into the food processor.
Step 2: Add 2 sticks worth of butter cubes and 8 ounces cream-cheese chunks. Pulse until pastry comes together in clumps; do not over-process.
Step 3: Gently shape two disks; wrap in plastic and refrigerate 1 hour or more.
Step 4: Preheat oven to 350F.
Step 5: Roll 1 pastry disk out on a floured surface until about 1/4-inch thick. Punch out circles, using a 3-inch fluted cookie cutter. Transfer circles to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Step 6: Drop 1 teaspoon apricot filling (or jam) into the center of each circle.
Step 7: Fold edges of circle in over the filling, forming a triangle-shaped cookie, with apricot center showing. Press corners to seal. Repeat with remaining dough.
Step 8: Bake until just golden, about 15 minutes. Cool. Enjoy.