If it's Purim - which it will be at sundown on Wednesday - then it's time to make hamantaschen. A perfect weekend project!
Hamantaschen are the filled, triangular cookies that are a tradition for this holiday which celebrates the story of Queen Esther. Purim is the happiest day on the Jewish calendar.
Esther was married to King Asahuerus, whose evil Vizier, Haman, wanted to have the Jews killed. It wasn't known that Esther was Jewish, and she agonized over whether to risk death by telling her husband; she fasted and prayed. Her uncle Mordecai supported her, and Esther ultimately decided to inform the king that if he killed the Jews then he would be killing her, as well. In the end, the old Jewish adage proved true: They tried to kill us, we survived ... let's eat!
Because there was no kosher food in the king's court, Esther is said to have eaten seeds and nuts; therefore, it's traditional to cook with poppy seeds at Purim, in Esther's honor. The triangular hamantaschen - shaped to resemble the ears or the hat (or both) of the evil Haman - often contain a poppy seed filling. Others feel that prune, an Old World favorite, is the most authentic and their favorite.
And then others, like me, always have to tweak traditions.
So this year's flavors are my classic cherry, made with Balaton cherries that I pitted myself in July. And also a new one: s'mores. Yup - s'mores. Why didn't I do this before??? They don't look pretty, as the marshmallows puff up and push on the dough before melting, leaving it a bit distorted; but who cares how they look when they taste so good???
It's traditional to give mishloach manot [mish-loh-AHCK mah-NOHT] to loved ones - small goodie bags filled with hamantaschen and at least one other ready-to-eat treat. Many people add tea bags, candies, even stickers ... just something fun. And even more importantly, it's a mitzvah - commandment, good deed - to give money to the poor, as well.
Chag sameach! [hahg sah-MAY-ahck] Happy holiday!
1 cup butter or margarine
4 ounces cream cheese (dairy or soy)
1/2 cup sugar
splash of vanilla extract
pinch of kosher salt
2 cups flour
In a large bowl, cream together butter and cream cheese; stir in sugar. Stir in egg, vanilla, and salt until well combined. Stir in flour, and knead until the dough comes together.
Divide the dough in half and wrap each portion in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
To finish cookies:
1 tablespoon water
filling of choice
Preheat oven to 350F.
Take one piece of dough at a time and roll it out thin (not paper thin) on a floured countertop. Using a 2-1/2" cookie cutter, cut out circles; place them onto a baking sheet lined with parchment or with silicone liners.
Mix together the egg and water to make a wash. Brush lightly onto one row of dough circles at a time (so the others don't dry out while you work on filling and shaping cookies).
Take a scant tablespoon of chosen filling (see below) and place onto the center of one circle of dough. Fold two sides up and pinch them, to form a corner. Bring up the third side and pinch at the corners, forming a triangle. Repeat with more filling and the rest of the dough circles on the baking sheet.
When the cookies are filled and shaped, brush them lightly with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until just golden at the edges. Remove to a rack to cool and continue with remaining dough and fillings.
Makes 3-1/2 dozen hamantaschen.
If making s'mores hamantaschen, let the cookies cool; the fillings will sink, leaving a cavernous hole. Fill the hole with 3 mini marshmallows each, and place the cookies back on the cookie sheet. Bake at 350F for 5 minutes, just to burnish the marshmallows a bit and toast them very lightly. Remove to a rack and cool completely.
1 cup chocolate chips
1/8 cup half-and-half
1 cup marshmallow Fluff, slightly warmed to soften it
1 cup mini marshmallows
8 graham cracker squares, crushed fine
In a medium saucepan, melt the chocolate chips and the half-and-half over very low heat, stirring frequently, until smooth. Stir in the Fluff, marshmallows, and graham cracker crumbs.
Yield: enough for 3-1/2 dozen hamantaschen.
2-2/3 cups cherries, chopped
2/3 cup sugar
splash of almond extract
4 tablespoons cornstarch
In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. As soon as the mixture turns thick and gelatinous, remove from heat and stir until thickened. Place into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 30 minutes or until cool.
Yield: enough for 3-1/2 dozen hamantaschen.