My list of “gateway goods” to this whole baking thing could be quite long. There’s the apple pie I made from Epicurious.com way back during what felt like the advent of the internet. There are the rocky road brownies I baked with my mom, who guided me with a recipe handwritten on an index card. And those marshmallows I made from scratch, with gelatin, before I understood what gelatin was.
And then there are the hamentashen.
Hamentashen are triangular-shaped dough pockets (“taschen” is German for pockets) most often filled with fruit preserves. They’re eaten as part of the celebration of the Jewish holiday of Purim, which falls anytime between late February and mid-March. Nowadays, you can find hamentashen at many bagels places and supermarkets year round, especially in Jewish areas. I’ve eaten them in plenty of locales, including in Rome’s Jewish ghetto where they’re called Orecchiette di Haman, or Haman’s ears. (Haman is the bad guy in the story of Purim.)
Despite their availability, I have made over 200 hamentashen each year for the last 20 years. Let that sink in.
Each of those 4000+ hamentashen have been true to one recipe: the one on a ditto handed out by my nursery school over 30 years ago. When something is this simple, this buttery, and this satisfying, there’s no need to mess around.
Because of the butter, this version is more reminiscent of a shortbread cookie than those you might find at the local bagel shop, where they might use oil. If you’re following the laws of kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), you won’t want to serve these with a meat meal. The cookie is tender and melt-in-your-mouth crumbly, but sturdy, too. Importantly, the baked version freezes well for those times after the holiday when you need to get back into the Purim spirit. A 15-minute defrost on the counter will render them as good as freshly baked. (Note, bake extra and freeze!)
Regular jam or preserves tend to run out of the cookies as they’re baking, leaving behind a sugary, burnt trail on the parchment paper along with half-filled cookies. As such, I was a devotee of Solo brand fillings for years. They can be hard to find, especially in New York City, but the company’s website offers a “Find Us” feature that’s worth checking out. If you can’t find it anywhere, try Amazon.*
I now make my own fillings and it’s surprisingly simple and much less expensive than spending over $3 per can. I’ve used this Tori Avey filling for apricot, adding a little more orange juice at the end to keep the filling smooth; an easy cherry filling recipe from Witty in the City, using frozen cherries; and dulce de leche recipe from Serious Eats that should be required knowledge for any human on this planet. I’ve also made Sally’s Baking Addiction lemon curd for the Vegend’s mother and an almond filling that gets close-ish to marzipan. This year, I’m changing it up with frangipane and a strawberry filling but will likely still buy Trader Joe’s Cocoa Almond Spread (a much better version of Nutella, IMO) because even I have my limits.
I find the repetitive actions of measuring, mixing, cutting, filling, and shaping the triangles familiar and somewhat meditative, and I hope that you get there, too. Your dough will be smoother as you get the hang of things, your triangles more equilateral. Don’t forget to pinch the edges well. While opened-up hamentashen still taste great, you may want the pinched-perfect ones for treats for others.
Without further ado, the recipe.
3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
2 sticks butter, softened but still cool
2-3 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Combine nearly all of the flour (just shy of the 3 cups) and the baking powder in a bowl. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat until combined. Add vanilla. Combine wet and dry ingredients and mix on low just until the dough comes together. (A quick stir with a wooden spoon prior to mixing will give the flour a head start at combining with the butter. This can lessen the possibility of the mixer kicking up the loose flour all over your counter and your face.) Gather any crumbs and knead the dough on a lightly floured surface (use your remaining flour from your 3 cup total) just until it comes together in a nice, smooth dough. No need to overwork the dough.
If necessary, the dough can be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the fridge for a day or two. Bring to room temperature before working with it. I’m sure this dough also freezes well but I have not tried it.
Roll out the dough until it’s a bit more than 1/8” thick. You want it thin enough so it’s pliable but thick enough that it can still stand up to the filling. Using a regular drinking glass or 2.5”-3” cookie cutter, cut out circles from the dough.
Try to cut out circles as close to each other as possible so there’s less waste. You can scoop up the dough scraps and reroll it out for another go but know there’s a limit to how many times you can do this and still keep the dough fresh. (You can certainly get away with doing it twice, but likely no more than that.)
Spoon or use a piping bag to place a dollop of filling in the middle of the circle. You can be generous with the filling but remember that the dough circle still needs to become a triangle, which means folding up the edges and pinching them together.
- Fold the two sides at the top of the circle to a point and pinch well. You’ll now have an almost-triangle with a round bottom.
- Fold up the bottom and pinch all corners together. (If you’ve used too much flour and the dough is a bit dry, you can wet your fingers a little bit to help with the pinching.)
Place the shaped hamentashen on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 12-15 minutes, depending on your oven. When they’re ready, the bottom of the hamentashen will be golden brown–not too light and not too dark. Remove from oven and cool on a rack or a plate.
I find that hamentashen taste best when cooled, if you can wait.
*As an Amazon affiliate, I will get a small percentage of the sale if you purchase through my link.