Bon Appetit Wednesday! Ancient Hamantaschen for Purim

Homemade_hamantaschen2Purim begins this evening and we’re bringing you a recipe that is synonymous with the holiday, Hamantaschen. They are pockets of perfection filled with sweet fruit and stories of the past. You may have had these little filled cookies even if you’re not Jewish, but you may not know they have a deep meaning and ancient roots.

Purim is celebrated each year on the 14th of Adar, the 12th ecclesiastical month on the Hebrew calendar. It is a commemoration of the salvation of the Jewish people from a planned extermination. Told in the Biblical book of Esther, the story is one of profound spiritual significance. In the 4th century CE, Esther was a young woman married to Ahasuerus, King of Persia. Ahasuerus loved her so much more than his other wives that he decided to make her queen. Esther was Jewish, but her cousin Mordecai had encouraged her to hide that fact from the king since Jews were often persecuted in the empire. Haman, one of the king’s chief advisors, despised Mordecai and all of the Jews because they would not bow down to him, an honor that had been accorded to him by the king. Deeply offended, Haman plotted to rid the kingdom of the Jews. Mordecai convinced the king to allow him to exterminate the Jews because they were “different” and did not “observe the king’s laws.”[1] Discovering what was afoot, Mordecai asked Esther to speak with the king on behalf of her people, which was extremely dangerous because anyone seeking to speak to the king without being officially summoned could be executed. Esther prayed and fasted for three days before going before her husband and making her plea. King Ahasuerus accepted her words completely, called off the extermination and had Haman and his sons executed.

Esther Denouncing Haman, Ernest Normand, 1888

Esther Denouncing Haman, Ernest Normand, 1888

Hamantaschen is a Yiddish word that means “Haman’s pockets,” and the cookies represent the deception of Haman and the uncovering of his plot by Esther and Mordecai.[2] The shape of the cookies has various possible meanings. One belief is that the triangular shape represents the three-pointed hat that Haman wore, while another suggests it is emblematic of the three founders of Judaism- Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.        [3] A third, less appetizing option is that the shape is reminiscent of human ears, which were often cut off prior to execution by hanging.[4]

The cookies are filled with either fruit, cheese or a poppy seed mixture. The poppy seed is itself imbued with symbolism. Some say it is the only food Esther ate during her days of preparation before speaking with the king, while others suggest it points to the promise God made to Abraham that he would have numerous offspring.[5] Similarly, the plum fruit filling that is often used has its own interesting past:

As the story goes, in 1731 a plum preserve merchant named David Brandeis living in the Czech town of Jungbunzlau was imprisoned for allegedly poisoning plum preserves. Finally, he was acquitted. To celebrate his freedom, the Jews of Jungbunzlau filled their Hamantaschen with povidl, plum preserves (prunes are dried plums), and thereafter referred to the holiday as Povidl. When Rhineland Jews moved east to Poland, Russia, and Hungary, they brought this Hamantaschen tradition along with them.[6]

So, it is clear Hamantaschen is not just a scrumptious little cookie filled to the brim with gooey deliciousness, it is a tradition steeped in symbolism and history. Celebrate this most joyous and fun-filled holiday of Purim with your fill of Hamantaschen! (Click here to learn more about Queen Esther and Purim.)

*Also, if you like this recipe, check out a similar Hungarian recipe for a dessert called Kifli in our 2013 Recipes With a Past e-book.

Great-Grandmother Bubbie’s Hamantaschen

*Recipe courtesy of Aliza Finley on AllRecipes.com

Makes 3 dozen

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of pitted prunes, cooked, drained and mashed
  • 2 cups of dried apricots, cooked drained and mashed
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup of white sugar
  • 1/2 cup of safflower oil
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 1 orange, zested
  • 4 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts
  • 1/3 cup of white sugar, or to taste

Instructions

  1. Place prunes and apricots into a large pot filled with water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Cook the fruit uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is tender, about 15 minutes. Drain fruit in a colander and mash together in a bowl using a fork. Set aside.
  2. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  3. Whisk eggs, 1 cup sugar, oil, lemon zest and orange zest together in a bowl and set aside. Sift flour and baking powder together in a large bowl. Stir in the egg mixture, kneading with hands until the dough comes together. Roll out dough to about 1/4 inch in thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut circles out using a cookie cutter or the rim of a drinking glass.
  4. Mix prune and apricot mixture, lemon juice, walnuts and 1/3 cup sugar in a bowl. Place a tablespoon of the filling in the center of the cookie. Pinch the edges firmly together to create a triangle, leaving the center open to expose the filling. Repeat with the remaining cookies.
  5. Bake in the preheated oven until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack.

[1] Esther 3:8

[2] Wasserman, T. (n.d.). Hamantaschen: The First Thousand Ears | Reform Judaism. Retrieved March 2, 2015, from http://www.reformjudaism.org/hamantaschen-first-thousand-ears

[3] Pelaia, A. (n.d.). What Are Hamantaschen? Retrieved March 2, 2015, from http://judaism.about.com/od/holidays/a/hamantaschen.htm

[4] Ibid.

[5] Wasserman, T.

[6] Ibid.

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