Every year, I dedicate numerous days of baking to certain holidays on the Jewish calendar. Sugar cookies are a once per year occurrence, taking place only around Chanukah; cheesecake is for Shavuot; and Hamentashen are for the upcoming holiday of Purim.
Over 2,000 years ago, after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish people were exiled to live in ancient Persia. During the time that the Jews lived there, the King’s adviser, Haman, convinced King Ahasuerus that they should assassinate all of the Jews because they followed their own laws and customs, instead of the laws of ancient Persia. The king, who was something of a womanizer, was preoccupied with hosting parties, getting drunk and finding a new queen, so he told Haman to do as he pleased with the Jews. When the leader of the Jewish people, Mordechai, got wind of the plot to kill the Jews, he sent his beautiful niece, Esther, to meet King Ahasuerus, in the hopes that the king would find her attractive enough to make her queen. When Esther became queen, she explained the plight of the Jews to the king (the king didn’t realize that Esther was Jewish herself), who put the kibosh on Haman’s plan to kill the Jews. In short, everyone lived happily ever after.
The holiday of Purim commemorates the saving of the Jewish people from death, and is celebrated by giving baskets of food (usually treats) to family and friends (mishloach manot), giving charity to the poor, and public recitation of the Scroll of Esther. Other customs include drinking wine, dressing up in costumes, and general partying.
It’s also customary to eat triangular shaped cookies filled with fruit and other fillings. Enter the hamantashen! Named for the villian in the story of Purim (Haman), these pastries are shaped like a triangle, which is reminiscent of the hat that Haman wore.
The dough itself is actually quite simple- the tricky part with this treat is the folding and pinching, and ensuring that when baked, they don’t open up into a giant mess! The recipe that I use is from a really old cookbook, called The Spice and Spirit of Kosher-Jewish Cooking, out of my mom’s collection. I’m sure there are many variations on this recipe available online, but I’ve been using this one since I began baking as a teenager and it has always served me well.
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup shortening
3/4 cup orange juice (without pulp)
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
fillings of your choosing (here I used blueberry pie filling, chocolate chips, and sprinkles!)
1. Cream the sugar and shortening. Then add remaining ingredients and mix together well.
2. Preheat oven to 350. Section off about 1/6 of the dough, and roll it out to about 1/8″ thick on a floured board. Using the rim of a glass that has been floured, cut out circles, and then transfer them to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
3. Put a small amount of your filling in the centre of each circle, making sure not to over fill, to avoid spillage.
4. To shape the triangular hamantashen, refer to the diagram below, then join side AB with side AC at the top to create one point, and then fold BC upwards toward the middle to create the other two corners.
5. Repeat with remaining dough, and then bake for 15-20 minutes, until bottoms are slightly browned.