NEW YORK — Just because they’re the same shape doesn’t mean they have the same soul.
Hamantaschen, the Purim season’s traditional triangle-shaped cookie, are conventionally filled with jam, but the pastry has come a long way since its namesake ruled in ancient Persia. From New Orleans, where hamantaschen centers are filled with pecans and honey, to Texas, where the cookies are stuffed with onions and chili, Jews across the country have revised, redacted and reworked the holiday treat to create a new core.
“The greatest thing about hamantaschen is that you can fill them with anything and they’ll taste great,” Gabi Moskowitz, a food blogger in San Francisco and author of the cookbook "Brokeass Gourmet," told JTA. “You can really stick anything in there and they’ll still keep the tradition of the Jewish holiday. Even something as simple as Nutella is good.”
Moskowitz’s latest creation is a pomegranate ricotta hamantaschen, which she says makes the perfect dessert. The cookie dough is made with cream cheese, giving the pastry a creamy consistency that is light and flaky, Moskowitz says.
Liz Alpern, a baking artisan from New York's suburban Long Island and co-founder of the Jewish foodie site Gefilteria, has created savory hamantaschen that are more side dish than dessert. These days she is filling her cookies with sauteed spinach, mushrooms, onions and cheese. The Gefilteria also makes a roasted beet and goat cheese hamantaschen.
“It’s something I’ve been playing with over the last few years because hamantaschen are a blank canvas you can just play with,” Alpern said. “My version is a savory sort of hamantaschen, and I’ve incorporated them in the last few parties we’ve catered as part of the meal.”
The variations on hamantaschen go beyond cheese and vegetables. Alison Barnett, a food blogger from Ohio, came up with an alcoholic version, fashioning a mojito hamantaschen after contemplating the different ways she could expand Purim’s drinking tradition.
“One of the focuses of Purim is to drink -- responsibly, of course -- so I thought this adult version could bring out the kid in all of us,” Barnett said. “I brainstormed some fun cocktails that I dreamed I could roll into a hamantaschen because I was getting bored of the same ones every year.”
Barnett’s cookie features mint leaves and a rum curd filling with fresh lime and a raw sugar coating. She said her cookies taste more like a sugar-rimmed mojito with a crunch.
Nechama Fiddler, a food blogger from Detroit who writes the Can’t Stop Baking blog, decided to incorporate an old dessert of apple pie into her cookie’s core.
“I find that many food blogs nowadays are more about twists on old recipes than creating brand new recipes,” Fiddle said. “Someone had asked me for a homemade filling recipe, so I figured this is a great time to bring a fresh take on an old recipe of apple pie.”
Fiddle noted that she never really liked to bake hamantaschen because she wasn’t a fan of the traditional recipes, but after playing with some batches, she created her apple pie version, as well as a brownie-filled one, and now happily bakes them for the Purim season.
Gabi Moskowitz's Ricotta Pomegranate Cream Cheese Hamantaschen
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange or Meyer lemon zest
1 1/3 cups plus 4 teaspoons flour (plus more for rolling)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups ricotta cheese
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup superfine sugar
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 level tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup dried golden raisins
Cream butter and cream cheese together until smooth. Add sugar and mix for 1 minute. Beat in the egg, vanilla extract, zest and salt. Add the flour, mixing until a sticky dough forms. Form dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour (up to 3 hours).
While the dough chills, make the filling: Place the ricotta in a mixing bowl. Beat in egg yolk, sugar, pomegranate molasses, vanilla, and cornstarch. Use a wooden spoon to stir in the raisins. Chill until ready to use.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly flour (or line with parchment) 2 baking sheets. Lightly flour a work surface, then roll out the dough with a rolling pin until it is about 1/4-inch thick. Use a floured 3-inch cookie cutter (or a wine glass) to cut circles of dough. Gather scraps and re-roll the dough until you have cut all of it into 3-inch circles. To assemble the hamantaschen, spoon about 1 teaspoon of filling in center of a dough circle and fold the dough in from three sides. Gently crimp the corners and twist to ensure they stay closed while baking. Arrange on the prepared cookie sheets and bake until golden-brown, 18 to 22 minutes. Cool completely before serving.
The Gefilteria's Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Hamantaschen
2 small beets, roasted, peeled and finely chopped
2 1/2 cups white flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
4 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (about 6 twigs, stripped) plus more for garnish
1 cup butter, chopped into 1-inch squares and left in the freezer for at least 30 minutes
1 4-ounce block of goat cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place beets, unpeeled and wrapped in aluminum foil, on a baking sheet in the oven and cook about 40 minutes, or until a fork can easily be inserted into the beet. When beets have cooled slightly, use foil to peel off skin. Chop finely and set aside.
To make the dough: Combine flour, 1 teaspoon salt, sugar and thyme in a food processor. Pulse lightly to mix ingredients. Add frozen butter and pulse processor until dough becomes crumbly and butter is in small chunks. Slowly add 1/2 cup water, pulsing once between each addition. The goal is to not overwork the dough. Pour mixture into a large bowl and form into balls. Wrap each ball in plastic and place in refrigerator for at least 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out one of the balls on a floured surface until dough is about 1/8-inch thick. Work quickly, and keep the other dough balls in the fridge so they stay cold. Press out rounds using cups with about a 3-inch diameter, or larger if you prefer. Combine scraps into a ball and repeat the process. Make filling by placing chopped beets, crumbled goat cheese, 2 teaspoons of thyme leaves and 1 teaspoon salt in a bowl. Mix ingredients together and place 1 teaspoon of the mixture in the center of each dough circle. Wet your hands slightly and pinch up 3 points to make a triangle. Repeat with the other ball of dough. Arrange hamantaschen on an oiled baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the hamantaschen have a golden brown hue. Serve warm.
Alison Barnett's Mojito Hamantaschen
2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup Earth Balance or butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg yolk (reserve the egg white for assembling the cookie)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1 1/2 teaspoons peppermint oil
1 tablespoon Fresh Mint Leaves, minced
Raw sugar (optional)
Lime-Rum Curd Filling
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup Earth Balance or butter
1/8 cup corn starch
3/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon lime zest
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons rum
Stir together flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, beat butter until creamy. Beat in sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg, egg yolk, vanilla, peppermint oil and mint leaves. Beat in flour mixture until combined. Divide dough in half and wrap each half in plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 375 and line 2 large cookie sheets with parchment paper. Roll out refrigerated dough on a lightly floured surface, about 1/8-inch thick. Cut rounds until dough is finished. Fill the rounds with the lime-rum curd filling and with your pinky, dip in egg white and lightly wet the edges around the hamantaschen. Make the hamantaschen triangle shape by folding the bottom to make two corners and folding the top to make the third (requires both hands). Brush the outer part of the hamantaschen with egg white and sprinkle on the raw sugar. Bake for about 12 minutes until lightly browned.
Filling: Place the sugar, Earth Balance, corn starch, lime juice, lime zest and rum in a saucepan. Heat the mixture till the butter melts. Pour some of the lime mixture into the eggs and stir together to temper the eggs. Pour the egg mixture into the pan and whisk constantly till mixture starts to boil and thicken. Whisk for about a minute, take off heat and strain into a bowl (this will separate any egg that may have curdled from the curd itself). Refrigerate the curd till ready to use.
Nechama Fiddle's Apple Pie Hamantaschen
1 1/2 cups butter or margarine, softened
2 cups white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon lemon juice
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 apples, shredded (about 2 cups packed)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Cream together the butter/margarine and sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs, vanilla and lemon juice, scraping sides occasionally. Reduce mixer speed to low and stir in flour, baking powder and salt. Cover and chill dough for at least 1 hour (don't skip this step!) or overnight. Combine all filling ingredients in a small bowl; mix well. Lightly flour your work surface. Roll out dough to the same thickness as sugar cookies or slightly thicker. Place a very small spoonful of apple filling in the center of the circle.
Arrange on a lined cookie sheet, bake in preheated oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.