Thursday, March 13, 2014

Old-School Hamentashen

In most cultures, food equals love. From our grandmothers urging us to finish giant platefuls of pasta, or showering kids with cookies, or coming home to Mama's house for a favorite dinner, the food we grew up with represents comfort, warmth, and being 'home'. When you have enough to not only nourish but to relish... well, that's how food memories are born.

I have distinct memories of cooking by my Mum's side: learning the ins and outs of stews, casseroles, and other very typical weeknight dinners. My favorite type of cooking, though, is baking. Cakes, brownies, muffins, cookies... I could go on. Puffs of flour and batter splattered cookbooks mark some of the greatest afternoons of my childhood!

Since the Little Man has started to take an interest in learning how to cook, I find myself flashing back to our tiny kitchen table that saw so many breads kneaded and cookies cut. This weekend we decided to make a special themed cookie together: a triangular jam-filled cookie treat known as "Hamentashen". This cookie is associated with the Jewish holiday of Purim, the Biblical story of Queen Esther.

This version is mildly lemony and somewhat soft-textured when you bite into it, but hamentashen dough can be made in a variety of flavors, and the filling is as flexible as your imagination. I've seen double chocolate hamentashen and even savory hamentashen filled with blue-cheese and dates. But my favorites are the apple, prune-, or apricot-filled little lemon scented triangles. The tender and not too sweet cookie is a perfect match for these sweet traditional fillings!

Hamentashen Cookies
based on an old family recipe
makes about 40 smallish cookies

2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 stick (or 8 tablespoons) salted butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 lemon, zested and the pulp scraped out, remove seeds
2 tablespoons water
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt

Assorted jam fillings like apricot, apple, lemon, prune, raspberry jam mixed with chopped walnuts, cherry or poppy seed.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla, and water. 2 minutes on medium speed. Add the lemon zest and lemon pulp and mix on low speed, 1 minute. Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix until combined.

Remove the dough from the bowl and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Preheat your oven to 375F. Prepare 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

After chilling, unwrap the dough and cut into thirds. Place 1/3 of the dough on a well floured surface and begin to roll the dough out with a floured rolling pin. Continue to roll into a loose circle, about 1/8 of an inch thick.

Take a 3 inch diameter round cookie cutter (or drinking glass, as I did here), and begin to cut out circles. Be mindful of where you choose to use your cutter, to minimize waste. Once all the circles have been cut, reserve the scraps for one more roll out. You can get another couple of cookies out of the scraps, but I wouldn't recommend a 3rd roll out with the same dough, because the texture gets rather tough.

Place a heaping teaspoon of your filling into the middle of each circle. Pinch 3 corners (very tightly) with slightly water dampened fingers, to create the 3 sides. Place carefully onto your prepared cookie sheets.

 Repeat the rolling/cutting/filling/pinching process with the rest of the dough.

Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until the edges are slightly crisped and the bottoms are lightly browned. Once baked, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Can be stored in a covered tin or tea cloth draped plate for about 3 days, before going stale. May also be frozen.

Apple Cinnamon Filling

3 red delicious apples, washed and peeled
1-2 tablespoons of brown sugar (really, to taste)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Wash, peel, core, and coarsely chop your apples. Place into a medium saucepan filled with 1/2 cup of water.  Set the pot on the stove at medium-low heat. Cook until soft, add an additional tablespoon of water if needed. Once the apples are able to be mashed by a fork, remove from the heat and drain away the excess water.

Add the brown sugar and cinnamon. Adjust the flavors to taste. Let cool and refrigerate until needed.

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