Haman’s hat revisited

In the nearly four years of writing the Passionate Palate column, I have only once written a column on Purim. Believe it or not, the topic of that column was kreplach. Yes, kreplach. And while kreplach are certainly a worthy Purim topic, even I was surprised that I have never mentioned hamentashen, the food most of us associate with Purim. Indeed, even if you are not a fan of poppy seed filling, it is hard to avoid those iconic pastries on Purim. They are tradition, the culinary essence of Purim.

Those three-cornered filled pastries are quintessentially Askenazic, and the tradition dates back to the 11th century in Europe. Translated from Yiddish, the word hamentaschen means “Haman’s pockets.” The unique shape is symbolic of the hat worn by Haman, who plotted to destroy the Jews of Persia centuries earlier.


Israeli Jews call their Purim pastries Oznei Haman, meaning “Haman’s ears.” The elongated shape of their triangular pastry evokes a vision of a cowering Haman, which is how he must have appeared at his sentencing before Persia’s angry leader, King Ahasuerus.

Hamentaschen are not Purim staples throughout the Jewish world. Sephardic Jews from Spain have their bischochos de huevo, ring-shaped butter cookies that are notched on the outside and dusted with powdered sugar. And, according to “The Hadassah Jewish Holiday Cookbook,” Sephardim also have a version of “Haman’s Ears” called Fazeulos, Figeolas, Mafis, or Orecchi di Ammon. These deep-fried pastries resemble butterflies.

In Kurdistan, families prepare kalda, which are cookies shaped and decorated like brides to honor Esther. And in some Dutch and German communities, gingerbread men are made to represent the image of Haman.

As with many other foods, tradition is an important consideration. Take, for example, the traditional poppy seed filling. In researching the topic, the only reference to poppy seeds I could find was that some scholars believe that Esther went on a diet of poppy seeds and chickpeas for three days before summoning the courage to reveal Haman’s plot to the King. Hmmm. Aren’t we fortunate that our hamentaschen are not filled with chickpeas?

Leaving poppy seed and chickpeas to the side, however, I propose we break from tradition and consider the myriad possible fillings for our Purim pastries. If you prefer fruit fillings, consider your favorite dried fruits: apricots, prunes, figs, raisins, cranberries or cherries. Add flavor to your fruit filling by plumping the dried fruits in warm juice or liquor for 5-10 minutes before mixing them into a paste. Add chopped nuts, if you like.

Imagine a delicious pastry filled with a sweet, creamy cheesecake filling, or one enveloping a rich brownie morsel. And to awaken the child in all of us, a hamentaschen oozing with peanut butter and jelly. If the jelly part is not your thing, combine the peanut butter with melted chocolate (think peanut butter cups). Or consider a sweet pecan filling. It tastes great in a caramel roll, why not in a hamentaschen?

The pastry for hamentashen can be made from sweet yeast bread dough or your favorite sugar or butter cookie recipe. My preference is for pastry that is simple to make, easy to use, retains its shape when baked, is crisp rather than soft, and has a citrusy flavor. In my search for the perfect dough, I tried four different recipes. One produced pastries that were too hard, one came apart as it baked, and one came out flat as a pancake. Dough No. 4 met all my requirements. I’ve included it below.

I have also included recipes for some new-fangled fillings. All can be prepared in less than 15 minutes and leftovers can be stored for a few days, tightly covered, in the refrigerator. There should be enough to fill another batch of hamentashen later in the week. Let your imagination run wild. The filling possibilities are endless.

Chag sameach!

Hamentashen Dough

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter or margarine, at room temperature

1 cup powdered sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon fresh squeezed orange juice

Grated zest of orange

1 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

Water for brushing onto pastry

1 egg yolk lightly beaten with teaspoon water for egg wash

Combine butter or margarine and powdered sugar in the bowl of a mixer. Mix until light and fluffy. Add egg, extract, orange juice, and orange zest and continue mixing until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute.

In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. With mixer on, gradually add dry ingredients to butter mixture. Mix until dough comes together. Remove dough from bowl and divide into two pieces. Flatten each piece and wrap it in plastic wrap or place in an airtight bag. Refrigerate dough for at least one hour and up to two days.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or a silpat.

Unwrap one piece of dough and place it onto a lightly floured counter. Roll dough into a circle 1/8 inch thick. Using a 3-inch cookie-cutter, cut out dough and place circles onto prepared pan.

Place filling into center of each circle.

*Using a pastry brush or your finger, moisten the edges of the circle with water. Pinch together two ends of the circle and then bring up the remaining edge of dough and pinch together the corners to form a triangle. The center of the triangle should remain exposed.

**Brush each triangle with egg wash and bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove hamentashen from baking pan and place on a cooling rack.

Makes 18-20 cookies.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Filling

3/4 cup creamy peanut butter

1/2 cup blueberry or strawberry jam plus more for topping

3 tablespoons milk or non-dairy creamer

In a small bowl, stir together peanut butter and cup jam. Add milk or creamer and stir until mixture is thoroughly combined. Use 1 tablespoons of filling for each circle of dough and follow dough directions above for moistening, folding, and glazing.* Bake for 10 minutes, remove pan from oven and top the center of each pastry with a dollop of jam. Replace pan in oven and bake an additional 2 minutes.

Cheesecake Filling

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

2 tablespoons honey

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 egg, lightly beaten

Pinch of salt

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Grated zest of half of a medium orange

Beat cream cheese, honey, and granulated sugar together in the bowl of a mixer. Add remaining ingredients and mix well to combine.

Place 1 scant tablespoon cheesecake filling in the center of each circle of dough. Follow dough directions above for moistening, folding, glazing, and baking.* **

Dried Fig Filling

1 cup packed soft dried Mission figs (8 oz), hard tips discarded

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice, warmed

3/4 cup mild honey

2 teaspoons grated fr esh orange zest

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Cut figs in half and place in a bowl with warm orange juice. Allow mixture to stand for 5 minutes. Place fig mixture and remaining ingredients in bowl of a food processor. Mix until a paste forms.

Place 1 heaping teaspoon of filling in center of each circle of dough. Follow dough directions above for moistening, folding, glazing, and baking.* **

Chocolate Peanut Butter Filling

6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup chunky peanut butter

Melt chocolate in a small pan set over a larger pan of simmering water. When chocolate is melted, remove pan from heat and stir in peanut butter.

Place 1 tablespoons of filling in center of each circle of dough. Follow dough directions above for moistening, folding, glazing, and baking.* **

Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of two. A cooking instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is currently working on a project to preserve the stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at [email protected]