As a devoted, dessert-first, dentally-challenged lover of sweets I have often been disappointed by the hamantaschen. This iconic Purim cookie seems to me like a baked good whose main concern is its shape. The sweet center hardly ever extends itself past its expected core of apricot, prune, or poppy seed. The cookie crust that encloses its traditional center is often pale and plain in flavor and crumb, leaving nothing much to excited about beyond the triangle. I am calling for a hamentaschen makeover, because, really, a cookie is a terrible thing to waste.
Instead of using this Purim as an opportunity to try out chocolate fancies and other sweet ‘n creamy curiosities, I am dedicating it to the pursuit of delicious and different hamantaschen. I am devising a Purim baking plan. My goal is to come up with 3 or 4 uncommon, completely delicious, and totally fresh three-cornered holiday treats.
Using my Purim Package recipients as inspiration, I start my holiday baking exploration by considering a friend who has recently become a vegan. With a finely-honed sweet tooth that was trained on cookie jar favorites, any hamantaschen prepared for her will have to be positively yummy, as well as egg and dairy free. And wouldn’t you know that along with her vegan lifestyle, she has additionally embraced a diet free of refined sugar and flour ? It’s not quite as overwhelming as the challenges facing the Jews of Shushan, but in terms of making a delicious desert, it will be no small Purim miracle if I pull it off.
I begin with the cookie dough: It is wholesome tasting on account of the wholewheat flour that is mixed in equal measure with the all-purpose white flour (do I have to tell her?). The raw brown sugar (turbinado) lavishes the dough with a deep yet uncloying sweetness when mixed together with a teaspoon of cinnamon and the vanilla extract.
For the sweet filling: Turning to the past for flavorful inspiration was quite fruitful. Lekvar is an Eastern European fruit butter, traditionally made from prunes or apricots. In this updated version dried blueberries are boiled and plumped up in a mixture of equal parts lemon juice and sugar, yielding a gooey balance of sweet and tart.
Assembling the hamantaschen is the most challenging part of the process. The dough is on the sticky side. A well-floured rolling pin and work surface and a metal spatula or pastry scraper are helpful. But once the dollop of lekvar has been dropped in the center of each dough circle, the folding part is easy.
After removing the hamantaschen from the oven, breathing in its warm and sweet fragrance, and noting its golden brown complexion and familiar triangle form, I was feeling hopeful about my Purim Baking Project. Once I bit into a hamantash I was reassured. And when my kids begged for another, I was triumphant.
Rachel Harkham is a chocolatier and food writer who lives with her three children and husband in Rockland County, NY. Her cookbook “Get Cooking: A Jewish American Family Cookbook” written with Doni Zasloff Thomas will be available in Fall 2012.
Vegan Whole-Wheat Hamantaschen Dough
Makes 32-40 hamantaschen
2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup margarine or vegan buttery sticks
1 1/2 cups raw brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup apple juice or water
1) In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together on medium speed. Add additional apple juice or water if necessary to smooth out cookie dough.
2) Bring dough together with damp hands. Divide dough into 4 quarters, sprinkle with flour, and wrap each in plastic wrap and chill overnight in the fridge.
3) When ready remove wrapped portion one at a time and roll between 2 sheets of floured wax paper, or on a well-floured surface. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough from the center out into a large circle, about 1/4“ thick.
4) Cut out circles with a floured cookie cut or with rim of a drinking glass. Using a floured spatula lift the circles and place them on parchment paper lined baking sheets.
5) Spoon 1 heaping teaspoon of filling into the center of each circle. Fold over the edges to form three corners.
1 1/2 cups dried blueberries
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1) Place dried blueberries in a medium saucepan with fresh lemon juice, water, and sugar. Bring mixture to a boil, and then reduce heat to a low simmer until the liquid is three quarters reduced (15-20 minutes)
2) Remove from heat. Transfer to a food processor and blend to a coarse paste. Allow to cool completely before filling hamantaschen.
Makes about 1 cup of lekvar.