(About 40 small pastries)
Shape is the underlying theme of traditional Purim pastries, thus symbolically erasing Haman’s name or identifying with Esther and Mordechai. Winding the dough to produce ear-shaped pastries, the most widespread Purim dish, is derived from the medieval custom of cutting off a criminal’s ear before execution, a reference to Haman’s fate. Middle Eastern Jews eat a date-filled cookie variously called menanas, ma’amoul, and makrud. Turkish and Syrian Jews prepare ring-like pastries such as ka’ak (sesame rings) or graybeh/koorabie (butter cookies) symbolizing Esther’s jewelry. Austrians and Hungarians make kindli (little children), resembling a baby wrapped in a blanket, a symbol of Haman’s large family. Ashkenazim from western Europe bake gingerbread men, while those from the East favor the triangular hamantaschen (Haman’s pocket). Of the many versions of hamantaschen made with a cookie dough, this is my favorite. If poppy seeds are not your ideal, substitute about 1 ½ cups lekvar (prune jam), povidl (plum preserves), or other filling.
11 tablespoons (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons) butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
3 tablespoons orange juice, sweet red wine, or water (or 2 tablespoons water and 1 tablespoon lemon juice)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
About 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
Poppy seed (mohn) filling:
1 1/2 cups (about 7 ounces) poppy seeds, ground in a food grinder or food processor
3/4 cup water or milk
2/3 cup sugar or honey (or 1/3 cup each)
1 tablespoon lemon or orange juice or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon or orange zest (optional)
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup finely chopped almonds, walnuts, or pecans (optional)
1) To make the dough: Beat the butter or margarine until smooth, about 1 minute. Gradually add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the egg. Blend in the juice, wine, or water, vanilla, and salt. Stir in enough of the flour to make a soft dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 1 hour and up to 3 days. (If the dough becomes too hard, let it stand at room temperature until malleable but not soft.)
2) To make the filling: Combine the poppy seeds, water or milk, and honey and simmer over a medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the remaining ingredients. Let cool. (Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)
3) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
4) For easy handling, divide the dough into 4 pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each piece 1/8 inch thick. Using a 2 1/2- to 3-inch cookie cutter or glass, cut out rounds. Reroll and cut the scraps.
5) Place 1 teaspoon of the filling in the center of each round. Pinch the bottom side of the dough round together over the filling. Fold down the top flap and pinch the other two sides together to form a triangle, leaving some filling exposed in the center. (Hamantaschen can be frozen at this point for several months. Defrost before baking.)
6) Place the hamantaschen 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake until golden brown, about 13 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.