I love poppy seeds, but I never enjoyed bakery hamantaschen because I didn’t like the sturdy, sweet dough. I therefore decided to create the hamantaschen of my dreams with dough that is tender, slightly flaky, very buttery, and vanilla imbued (pictured on page 380). Elliott and I like the crunch of poppy seeds, so I do not cook the seeds into a smooth paste, but I do offer directions for those who prefer it. Solo makes a good quality poppy seed filling; if you substitute it, be sure to add the lemon zest and apricot lekvar or preserves. — Rose Levy Beranbaum, The Baking Bible
I find that whole poppy seeds have a bitter quality when used in this quantity, which is why they need to be ground. Because I like a slight crunch, I heat the poppy seeds only for a short time. For a smoother poppy seed paste, in a poppy seed grinder, spice mill, or blender, grind ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon poppy seeds. (There will be about ¾ cup.) Place the ground poppy seeds in a small saucepan. In place of the milk, add ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons hot water to the poppy seeds. Cook over low heat, stirring often, for about 3 to 6 minutes. The poppy seeds will gradually absorb the water, swelling and becoming more paste-like. Add water, by the tablespoon, as needed, to keep the paste from scorching. When the poppy seed paste has the consistency of peanut butter, remove it from the heat and add the sugar, honey, and lemon zest. Cool completely. (There will be a little less than ¾ cup; use 1½ teaspoons per cookie.)
Poppy seed paste can be stored in an airtight container in the freezer for several months.
If using apricot preserves instead of lekvar, place about ¼ cup apricot preserves in a microwavable container and bring it to a boil in the microwave. Alternatively, place it in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium-low heat on a cooktop, stirring constantly. Using the back of a spoon, push it through a fine-mesh strainer into a small bowl, and discard the small amount of pulp.
Highlights for Success
Poppy seeds have a high oil content and are therefore prone to rancidity, especially if purchased already ground. When poppy seeds start to become rancid, they taste very bitter. Store both whole and ground poppy seeds in the freezer. If you are purchasing ground poppy seeds, and don’t have a scale, measure out ¾ cup.
The best way to grind poppy seeds is in a specially designed poppy seed grinder. A spice mill or blender will work, but not quite as well — a food processor not at all.
Apricot Lekvar Filling (Makes 2¾ cups)
2⅔ cups dried apricots
2 cups water
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons loosely packed, finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon apricot or peach brandy
In a medium saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, combine the dried apricots and water and let them sit for 2 hours to soften.
Bring the water to a boil, cover the pan tightly, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes on the lowest possible heat until the apricots are very soft when pierced with a skewer. If the water evaporates, add a little extra.
In a food processor, process the apricots and any remaining liquid, the sugar, lemon zest, and brandy until smooth.
Scrape the apricot mixture back into the saucepan and simmer, stirring constantly to prevent scorching, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until deep orange in color and very thick. When lifted, a tablespoon of the mixture will take about 3 seconds to fall from the spoon.
Transfer the lekvar to a bowl and let it cool completely. You will need only about 2 tablespoons (30 ml), but it keeps just about indefinitely refrigerated. Making a smaller amount risks scorching the lekvar.
Store in an airtight container: room temperature, 5 days; frozen, 6 months.
Excerpted from The Baking Bible, © 2014 by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
Cut the butter into ½ inch cubes and refrigerate until ready to use.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.
In a food processor, process the sugar until fine. Add the cold butter cubes and pulse until the sugar disappears. Add the flour mixture and pulse until the butter is no larger than small peas.
In a small bowl, stir together the egg yolk, cream, and vanilla. Add it to the mixture and pulse just until incorporated, about 8 times. The dough will be in crumbly pieces.
Empty the dough into a plastic bag and press it from the outside of the bag just until it holds together. Remove the dough from the plastic bag and place it on a very large sheet of plastic wrap. Using the plastic wrap, knead the dough only a few times until it becomes one smooth piece. There should be no visible pieces of butter. (Visible pieces of butter in the dough will melt and form holes during baking. If there are visible pieces of butter, continue kneading the dough or use the heel of your hand to press them in a forward motion to spread them into the dough.) Press the dough together to form a ball.
Divide the dough in half, about 7.4 ounces each. Wrap each piece loosely with plastic wrap and press to flatten it into a disc. Rewrap tightly and refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes, or until firm enough to roll. It can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 6 months.
In a poppy seed grinder, spice mill, or blender, grind the poppy seeds. They will fluff up to equal about 1 cup.
In a small saucepan, heat the milk. Add the poppy seeds, stirring for a few seconds until the milk is absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sugar, honey, lemon zest, and 1 tablespoon of the apricot lekvar until incorporated. Cool the filling to room temperature. Place the remaining apricot lekvar in a small bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and reserve for glazing.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and milk. Strain the mixture into another small bowl, pushing it through with the back of a spoon or letting it sit for a few minutes to flow through the strainer. Discard the thicker part that does not pass through the strainer.
Set an oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Remove a disc of dough from the refrigerator. If the dough has been chilled for more than 30 minutes, let it sit for about 5 to 10 minutes, or until it is malleable enough to roll.
Using a floured rolling pin, on a floured pastry mat or counter, roll out the dough into a rectangle, ⅛ inch thick, rotating the dough often and adding flour as necessary to be sure it is not sticking. Cut out 3-inch discs of dough. Use a thin knife or spatula, if necessary, to loosen the discs from the surface. Place them on the prepared cookie sheet. Gather up the scraps and knead them together lightly. Shape the dough into a flat patty, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate it until firm enough to reroll.
Repeat with the remaining disc of dough. Gather up the scraps and add them to the scraps in the refrigerator. Once all the hamantaschen have been shaped, the dough scraps can be used to make more, but reroll the scraps only once.
One at a time, brush the outer ½ inch of each dough disc with a thin coating of the egg glaze. It is not necessary to brush the center. Place 2 teaspoons of the poppy seed filling mounded in the center. Firmly pinch the dough together in three equally spaced places to form the three-corner hat effect (alternatively, water will also work well to seal the dough). For a lovely color and slight shine, brush the outside of the dough lightly with the egg glaze.
Arrange the hamantaschen about 1½-inches apart on the prepared cookie sheet. Refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight, or until firm.
Bake for 8 minutes. For even baking, rotate the cookie sheet halfway around. Continue baking for 7 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned.
Set the cookie sheet on a wire rack. If any of the sides of the dough has collapsed, use two metal spatulas to lift in any filling that may have leaked out and re-form the shape of the hamantaschen. Use a pancake turner to transfer the hamantaschen to another wire rack to cool completely. When cool, brush the poppy seed filling with the remaining 1 tablespoon of apricot lekvar or sieved apricot preserves (see Notes). If necessary, stir in a little apricot brandy or hot water to make it more liquid.