(This article first appeared in the Canadian Jewish News Feb. 22, 2007)
The best-known treats for Purim are hamantaschen, the scrumptious three-cornered pastries shaped like Haman’s three-cornered hat. Everyone has a preference for a certain type of dough, either crisp cookie dough or tender yeast dough. The delectable dough encases a variety of fillings, depending on family traditions.
The best-known fillings are poppy seeds (muhn) or prunes (lekvar), which can be bought already prepared for those who are short on time. Other tasty fillings are finely ground dates or dried apricots, or thick jam or preserves. A mixture of three or four finely ground dried fruits, such as pitted prunes, dates, raisins and cranberries, along with a little lemon juice, rind and a drizzle of honey, also makes for a marvelous, tasty filling.
The food processor grinds the fruit filling mixture to a perfect texture in seconds – certainly a time-saver compared to using a “milchel” (an old-fashioned grinder), which my grandmother used to attach to her metal-topped kitchen table by turning the screws tightly to secure it, along with a little help from yours truly, holding on tightly so the grinder wouldn’t slip while my bubba diligently turned the handle and the golden filling was extruded through the small round holes.
It is a long-standing tradition on Purim to send mishloach manot, baskets containing food gifts of fruit, candy and cookies, to friends and family.
Last spring, I met Ellen Rosen of London, Ont., at a surprise birthday party for a mutual friend and she kindly shared the following food memory and her hamantaschen recipe with me.
Ellen wrote: “In my first year of university, I had a classmate who brought hamantaschen to school. They were the best I had ever tasted. My mother made them every year, but each time they turned out either too dry, too runny, or just not great. When I tasted these, they were as Goldilocks said – just right! I asked for the recipe and her mother gave it willingly. I asked my mother to make this recipe from then on, and I continued to use it for the next 38 years after I got married. I have altered it by using orange liqueur or even whiskey on occasions when I didn’t have orange juice. It seems to be foolproof if you know how to manage dough. My family who are quite fussy love them.”
ELLEN ROSEN’S ‘JUST RIGHT’ HAMANTASCHEN
1 lb. (500 g) pitted prunes
1 cup raisins (such as Thompson)
2 or 3 soda crackers (or melba toast)
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. lemon juice
orange liqueur or orange juice, to taste
Process the prunes and raisins on the steel blade of the food processor until coarsely ground, about 12 to 15 seconds. Add the crackers and walnuts, then process with 3 or 4 quick on/offs, until finely chopped. Add the sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice and process just until combined. Add liqueur to taste, making the filling smooth enough to be able to spoon onto the dough.
4 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups (approximately) all-purpose flour
1 beaten egg (for glazing)
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line baking sheet(s) with parchment paper.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat eggs and oil together until light. Gradually add the sugar, baking powder, salt and 2 cups of the flour. Mix on low speed to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Gradually add the last cup of flour, making a soft dough which is not sticky. If necessary, add a little extra flour.
Divide the dough into 4 sections and roll out each piece as thinly as possible on a well-floured surface into a large rectangle. Cut the dough into 3-inch rounds (or whatever size you like) with a round cookie cutter. Place a spoonful of filling in the centre of each circle. Shape into triangles by folding sides in towards the middle. Arrange the triangles on the prepared baking sheet(s), leaving 2 inches between each one. Lightly brush the tops and sides with beaten egg. Bake on the middle rack of the oven at 350 for 20 minutes, or until golden.
Makes about 5 dozen.
If you are looking for a unique item for a mishloach manot gift, be sure to make this giant chocolate chip cookie, which is a new spin on an old favourite. It’s so easy to make that even young kids can help mix up the dough, pat it into the pizza pan, and then decorate it, developing their creative skills. The recipe comes from one of my favourite cookbooks – Divine™ Kosher Cuisine: Catering to Family and Friends, compiled by two very talented, hard-working women, Barbara Wasser and Risé Routenberg, and their large group of dedicated volunteers. The beautifully designed cookbook is a fundraising project of Congregation Agudat Achim of Niskayuna, N.Y. [More Info]
The book is available at several Judaica gift shops in the Toronto area. Here is just one example from the hundreds of creative, delicious recipes in Divine™ Kosher that are ideal for every day use or for special occasions.
GIANT CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE
1/2 cup butter for dairy, room temperature (use margarine for pareve)
1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup chopped nuts
decorating icing (below)
Preheat oven to 350 F and grease a 12-inch pizza pan.
Cream butter or margarine with sugars at medium speed with an electric mixer. Beat in egg and vanilla. Mix in flour, baking soda and salt. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts. Spread into pizza pan and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown.
Frost and decorate if desired. Write “Chag Purim” or your desired message on the frosted cookie. Decorate with coloured sprinkles. Cut into wedges or break into pieces.
Makes 12 to 16 servings.
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. milk, as needed
Beat sugar, vanilla and milk at medium speed with electric mixer until smooth. Thin frosting with additional milk as needed. Tint frosting with food colouring.