They fill my dreams; they haunt my waistline. And each year, as Purim approaches, I am seized with fear: My name is Sarah, and I am a hamantaschen addict. Raspberry, cherry, apricot, strawberry or prune… once I start, I cannot stop (except for poppy seed). So this year, I took a new approach. Instead of denying my weakness, I embraced it. In order to better understand the beauty of the hamantaschen and its many magnificent — and vastly different — forms, I embarked on a hamantaschen tour of New York City.
My quest began on a bitter-cold evening in the far reaches of Brooklyn, on Kings Highway, where I visited the Bread Basket Bakery, a kosher shop owned by Mike Cohen, who immigrated to the United States from Iran some 20 years ago. In addition to traditional fillings, Cohen makes exotic blueberry, apple and mango hamantaschen. “A customer came in and requested mango filling, and I thought, why not? Let’s make it,” said Cohen, who had never heard of hamantaschen until he moved to the United States. To accommodate health-conscious clientele, all the fillings are offered in whole wheat, as well as in regular cookie dough. The hamantaschen were crunchy, mild and slightly salty, and not overwhelmed with too much filling. A person who lacks will power could eat many in one sitting without feeling entirely ill. This was only my first stop, so I held back.
My next stop was on Lee Avenue in the largely Hasidic Brooklyn neighborhood of south Williamsburg. After two unsuccessful attempts (these bakeries don’t start making hamantaschen until just before Purim, after my deadline), I stumbled upon the Hasidic-run Tiferes Heymise Bakery, where I (clad in jeans and sneakers) was coolly received and the only hamantaschen available were prune (and still warm!). The sugary morsels were crumbly and buttery, and similar in consistency to delicate Russian tea cakes. The hamantaschen were filled with large quantities of fruit, and would perhaps be most appreciated by a kid or an adult with an extreme sweet tooth. I loved them.
I continued my research on Manhattan’s Upper East Side at William Greenberg Jr. Desserts, an upscale kosher bakery co-owned by Judy Adler and Willa Abramson. Greenberg’s sells hamantaschen all year long, but increases its quantities significantly as Purim approaches. “Our production [for Purim] is unbelievable,” Adler said. “It’s like nothing you could imagine.” The golden dandies — which are available with apricot, cherry, poppy, prune, raspberry, chocolate and cheese — were exquisite. Cakey and rich, they melt in your mouth. The velvety, gooey filling was similar to that which one might find in a danish. Faithful to location, these hamantaschen are very “uptown”: sweet, yet sophisticated.
Curious to see how goyish hamantaschen compare with their kosher counterparts, I headed to the Sweetheart bakery in the West Village. Sweetheart sells hamantaschen year-round, filling them with apricot, prune, chocolate and a poppy seed/fig mix. “A lot of people asked for them, so we started making them,” said Egyptian-born co-owner Tarek Abouzied. “They’re very popular.” Though they sometimes make the small variety, the one I sampled was an intimidating 6 inches across. The dough was dense and heavy, and the filling unremarkable. Though the hamantaschen were not unpleasant, I prefer Sweetheart’s croissants, which are works of art.
My final stop was Moishe’s Kosher Bake Shop, the father of all hamantaschen bakeries. Located on Second Avenue in the East Village, Moishe’s was established in 1953, originally situated on the Lower East Side. Owned and run by Moshe, a spirited Satmar Hasid with the eyes of a sage, the bakery sells hamantaschen all year long, in raspberry, prune, apricot, poppy and chocolate (proudly displayed daily in massive piles on trays in the storefront window). “They are all handmade,” Moshe said. “These days, most people just add water to a mix. I make them the old-fashioned way. The dough is not too sweet, and very tasty.” Indeed. The ones I sampled set the standard by which all hamantaschen should be measured. Slightly crunchy but not dry, salty and savory with the perfect amount of zesty filling, these are earthy, old-world hamantaschen, made with love. As far as I know, my bubbe never baked hamantaschen. But if she did, they must have been exactly like Moishe’s.
Sarah Kricheff is the features editor of the Forward.