The Only Hamentashen Recipe You’ll Ever Need

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!)
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Brooklyn Blackout Cake (AKA Happy Birthday, Willa!)

Brooklyn Blackout Cake

My mother turned 70 a few months ago. That’s, like, a really big number. Since she’s made it this far, I decided that I’d make her a raft of desserts that she grew up eating and I grew up hearing about. Though the list is long–Slovakian crispies, Charlotte Russe, rugelach, and more–the one that’s come up again and again is Ebinger’s Blackout Cake, a three-layered chocolate cake coated in its own crumbs.

Ebinger’s was Brooklyn’s bakery of record before it closed in 1972, the very year my mother moved out of Brooklyn. (Draw your own conclusions.) Its cakes were legendary and history vaunted. I assumed that the Blackout Cake was relegated to history until I realized I could probably bake it.

To look up this recipe online is to step into a debate that, barring the invention of time machines, may never die. There are two components upon which everyone agrees: the layered cake is chocolate and it’s filled with pudding. The outside of the cake, however, is open to interpretation largely based on hazy, chocolate-addled memories. Many people swear that Ebinger’s version was coated in even more pudding, a delicious but less stable topping than, say, a frosting. Other recipes claim an outer shell of ganache.

For my version, the pudding won out. It was one fewer thing to make during an otherwise baking-intensive week and a simple clue about the original–it had to be consumed within 24 hours–led me to believe that there was no need for a shelf-stable outside.

I’ve combined the cake from Epicurious and the pudding from one of my favorites, Brown Eyed Baker, for the easiest rendition of this cake. This pudding doesn’t require eggs, which, to me, made it less likely that something would go wrong (ugh, curdled eggs). Make the pudding the day before so it has time to set.

The recipe bakes up two cakes, which you then split into four. Horizontally halving cakes has never been my strong suit so I was grateful to find that someone had invented these layer pans.*

This is now my most requested cake and the version pictured here is for one of my dearest friends. Happy birthday, Willa!
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Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Vegan Oatmeal Cookies

Since my answer to the Vegend’s question of “Do we have dessert?” is rarely one he wants to hear (“We have grapes!”), I decided to clean up his favorite treat–an oatmeal cookie–so we can have them around the house without much guilt.

In the past, I’ve attempted to satisfy his oatmeal-cookie-specific sweet tooth with all sorts of alternatives–oatmeal cookie “nice cream” (mashed up bananas, frozen and laced with lightly toasted maple cinnamon oats) and whole wheat maple oat bread–with varying levels of success. I think we’ve found our winner after many, many test kitchen versions of this one. I really hope he still likes oatmeal cookies.

Though brown sugar is still a part of this version, I’ve cut it down by half. By using a combination of almond butter and applesauce to replace the butter, neither overtake the oaty, cinnamony flavor you’re going for. Plus, they each lend their natural sweetness to the cookie.

You’d be surprised how quickly you get used to less-sweet desserts but if you feel that this version is a bit too ascetic, replace the raisins with good quality semi-sweet chocolate chips and/or keep the original amount of brown sugar in the dough (total for the original recipe is 2/3 cup). After all, as the Vegend says about this recipe, “At its essence, it’s still a cookie” so by all means, have fun with it. Just don’t share with the Vegend.

Be warned: this dough gets a little bit of chill time before baking (figure an hour), so plan your craving accordingly.
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