Cookies to chase away a villain
It's Purim, a time to make noise, drink, bake hamantaschen, share food and drink some more
Purim, which has been celebrated by Jewish people for centuries, seems like the holiday made for this moment. Now, while it's Women’s History Month and a despot ravages Ukraine, Purim tells the story of how Queen Esther thwarted the tyrant Haman’s plan to kill the Jews of Persia. If only Queen Esther could wield her power now.
Purim is a celebration that reminds me of both Mardi Gras and Easter. Children dress in costumes and are encouraged to make enough noise to cover Haman's name when it's mentioned. Adults are encouraged to drink! Everyone is encouraged to make baskets of food to share with family, friends and especially those in need. And there are cookies. The traditional cookies of Purim are hamantaschen, named for Haman the villain, and shaped like his three-cornered hat.
If you would like to bake or buy hamantaschen to raise funds for refugees from Ukraine, take a look at this story
A COOKIE WITH A CAKEY DOUGH. MAYBE IT’S A PASTRY?
When I was writing DORIE’S COOKIES, I wanted to make hamantaschen for the holiday chapter. Just as I argued with myself about whether a brownie was a cookie or a cake, I debated whether hamantaschen belonged to the cookie or pastry clan. In both cases, the argument seemed silly and I included both in the cookie book. But I can see the pastry side of hamantaschen. While the dough is rolled and cut like a cookie, it's made with oil and bakes to a crumbly cake-like texture. And I fill the cookie with fruit that’s jammy and could easily be used in a tartlet.
A FRUITY FILLING
When I was a kid, the bakeries in my Brooklyn neighborhood made hamantaschen with three kinds of filling: prune, apricot and poppy seed, which, back then, was my least favorite. These days, I mix up dried fruit for a filling that can have apricots, prunes, apples, figs, raisins, pears – whatever you love and whatever you’ve got. Actually, now that I think about it, it could even have a few spoonfuls of poppy seeds. For this batch, I used apricots, figs and golden raisins, snipped into bits and plumped in hot water for a minute (the way I plumped the cranberries in Sasha’s Grated Apple Cake).
Whether or not you celebrate Purim, I hope you’ll bake these cookies and follow the holiday tradition of sharing. You might also consider making a ruckus. And even having a drink. Or two.
Bake and share. Drink and celebrate. Channel your inner Queen Esther and drown out hatred.
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Adapted from DORIE'S COOKIES
Photo: Davide Luciano
GOOD TO KNOW BEFORE YOU START
The dough: The dough is very easy to make and just a little frustrating to work with - it's soft! Even after chilling it forever, it stays soft and has a tendency to stick to the parchment. This is less tragic than it is annoying. Leave yourself time to move the dough in and out of the fridge or freezer if it gets fussy.
The size: I like what I think of as medium-leaning-toward-small hamantaschen and so I cut the dough with a 2 3/4-inch cutter (the yield for the recipe is based on that size cutter). I've seen bigger, and while I like the look of heftier hamantaschen, I think that small is better, since the cookie is a substantial one. I've seen smaller and liked them a lot, but I love the filling too much to have just a tad of it in each cookie. All this to say that hamantaschen don't have to be one-size-fits-all. Make the cookies whatever size you like (and if you change the size, remember that you might have to increase or decrease the baking time as well).
The filling: The texture should be jammy - you want it to hold together when you spoon it onto the dough. That said, what you put into the jammy filling is baker's choice. I always use dried fruit, but an apple-pie type filling could be fun - just keep in mind that the cookies bake for only 15 minutes, so you might want to start with a pre-cooked filling. Let me know what you try.
Makes about 24 cookies
FOR THE DOUGH
2 cups (272 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 cup (134 grams) sugar
1/2 cup (120 ml) canola or peanut oil
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
FOR THE FILLING
8 ounces (226 grams) plump, moist mixed dried fruit, such as apricots, prunes, figs, cherries and/or raisins (see above), snipped or cut into small pieces
About 3/4 cup (180 ml) orange or apple juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon jam, such as apricot or cherry, or orange marmalade
TO MAKE THE DOUGH: Whisk together the flour and baking powder.
Working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the sugar, oil, egg, juice, vanilla and salt on medium speed for about 2 minutes, until the mixture is smooth and shiny. Turn the mixer off, add the flour all at once and mix on low to incorporate, stopping to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. What you’ll have will look more like a batter than a dough, but that’s fine. Wrap it in plastic and refrigerate it for 1 to 2 hours, the time it takes for it to remind itself that it’s a dough. (Even after this time, it will be soft.)
Remove the dough from the refrigerator, divide it in half and form each half into a disk. Keep one piece in the refrigerator while you work on the other. Generously flour a piece of parchment paper, place the dough on it, flour the dough, cover with another sheet of parchment and roll it out to a thickness of about 1/8 inch (don't go thinner). Roll on both sides of the dough and peel away the papers a few times so that you don’t roll the paper into the dough. Flour the dough as needed — this dough is soft and sticky and needs (and can take) more flour. Roll out the second piece, stack one piece, still between the paper, on top of the other on a baking sheet and freeze for at least 2 hours.
TO MAKE THE FILLING: While the dough is resting, put the fruit and juice in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer slowly, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is soft and the liquid has been absorbed, about 12 minutes. If the liquid disappears before the fruit is soft, add a little more (the additional liquid can be water). Add the honey and jam and stir over low heat for about 3 minutes. Scrape the chunky jam into a bowl and cool to room temperature.
TO FILL AND BAKE THE HAMANTASCHEN: Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Have a 2 3/4- to 3-inch round cookie cutter at hand.
Working with one piece of dough at a time (keep the other frozen — even after chilling, the dough will be very soft), peel away both sheets of paper and put the dough back on one sheet. Cut out as many circles as you can. I find it best to transfer the rounds of dough to the lined baking sheet as they’re cut. (If you find the dough too soft to work with, just pop the sheet of circles back into the freezer for about 15 minutes.) Place a heaping teaspoonful of filling in the center of each cookie. Lift two sides of the cookie and pinch together the point where they meet. Lift the remaining side and pinch together the points where it meets the other two sides of the dough; you’ll have a triangle with a mound of filling peeking above the dough.
Bake the hamantaschen for 15 to 17 minutes, rotating the sheet after 8 minutes, or until the cookies are brown around the edges and the pinched-together points; they might be paler in the center. (While this batch is baking, you can form the second batch — stow them in the fridge or freezer until the oven is free.) Leave the cookies on the baking sheet for a couple of minutes, then carefully transfer them to a rack to rest until they are only just warm or reach room temperature.
Bake the second batch.
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