Thursday, February 24, 2011

Redux -- The Art and Science of Hamantaschen

Originally published on behalf of the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts for Purim 5770, on

Few, if any, fancy culinary arts textbooks include recipes for Hamantaschen, because, hamantaschen are sentimental little triangular trifles from the old country that are really only popular one day a year. And yet we all have Jewish moms and grandmothers who we have watched carefully as they rolled out delicious rounds to create the Jewish world’s most perfect cookie.

Hamantaschen are a unique and special thing, because, unlike rugalach or even babka, the best of the best simply cannot be found in professional bakeries. Rather, the most delectable and mouth-watering of these cookies are found perfuming the kitchens of Jewish homes throughout the world, during the few days preceding the Purim holiday, which will be celebrated this year March 19th and 20th, 2011.

Bakeries never get hamantaschen truly right because the recipes we have, which are overwhelmingly passed down from our European ancestors, were meant to be made in small batches, with attention given toward the inclusion of fresh ingredients and good tasting fillings, all designed to deliver a delicate, soft, sweet cookie.

I’ll share an amazing recipe for hamantaschen at the end of this article, but we also recognize that most people have a recipe from their own grandmother tucked away for this time of year. Therefore, we have found that the following five tips will provide excellent guidance when using any hamantaschen recipe.

1. Prepare hamantaschen Dough in Small Batches.

No matter how many dozens of hamantaschen you make this year, it is important to prepare your dough in small batches to ensure good consistency. Otherwise, you run the risk of a chalky, heavy, hard pastry; the kind most often found in bakeries. It is key to mix your wet ingredients very well, and then add the dry ingredients alternatively with liquid, and to combine everything well. And this is key: Don’t overmix the final product! As soon as the dough comes together, the mixer should be turned off. There are some baking recipes in which it is good to keep the mixer on to develop the strands of gluten in flour, like with many breads, but this is not one of those times. Like all pastry dough, it is best to handle hamantaschen dough as little as possible so that the dough keeps a light and airy consistency, not chalky, hard or chewy. The dough should also be chilled before you roll it out. This will make it less sticky and easier to manage, and it will ensure that each cookie rises and bakes evenly.

2. Shape and Seal.

Hamantaschen dough should be rolled out on a floured surface, very thinly, to approximately ¼ of an inch thick. Then, using a floured drinking glass or cookie cutter, cut a circle shape about 2 inches in diameter. After dotting the center of the circle with filling (approximately 1 teaspoon), draw up the bottom of the circle and then each of the two sides, to create an equilateral triangle with a little of the filling showing in the center. Dip your fingers in cold water, and then pinch the three corners with your fingers to seal and perfect the shape of the triangle. (For those who don’t know, the triangular shape is made to approximate the three-cornered hat worn by Haman, the bad guy in the Purim story).

3. Determine Your Precision Baking Time and Temperature.

Most recipes we see for hamantaschen recommend a 375 degree oven and a 15-minute maximum baking time. This means two things: First, make sure your oven does not run too hot, or else the edges of your hamantaschen will burn before the center is baked. And second, a 15-minute maximum means that there is a very small time period between the time your cookies are done, and ruined. The best way to solve this problem is to hover (like a Jewish mother!) around the oven from about the 12 minute mark until the 14th. To avoid making too crisp a cookie, take the tray out at about 13 minutes. If you do like a crispy cookie, it makes a difference to line your pan with white parchment paper. This will keep the bottoms of the Hamantaschen from being scorched when baking a few minutes longer to achieve a crispy cookie. I recommend using parchment paper either way, for easy cleanup.

4. Flavorful Filling, Measured Precisely.

In this day and age, we are very lucky that many kosher supermarkets carry good tasting fillings for hamantaschen throughout the year. But that does not mean that you should just add the filling from the container to the hamantaschen without tasting it. Take a sample, and remember that a squeeze of lemon juice or some freshly grated zest will take prune, poppy seed, and apricot filling to a gourmet level. Puree a mango and combine it with marmalade or raspberry jam for a tropical treat. Add a few drops of peppermint flavoring to chocolate filling for a refreshing “peppermint patty” surprise. Throw some dark chocolate chips and a dash of vanilla into your tart cherry filling, and your family will know you have baked up something special. Most often, very small changes to your filling will result in a big flavor bonus. Just make sure the filling does not have too much liquid, or else you will end up with hamantaschen soup. Achieving the consistency of paste or a very thick jam will be most successful.

Measuring exactly the same amount of filling into each cookie will also result in a nice looking plate or platter of evenly sized hamentaschen. A slightly heaping teaspoon is most often the perfect amount of filling for a two-inch-in-diameter cookie. You may decide that more or less is your speed, and that’s great. Just make sure to try to keep your measure precise for all your cookies, so that they all bake evenly and end up the same size. Measuring precisely will also cut down on leaky hamantaschen.

5. Airtight Storage.

This last piece of advice comes not from the hallowed halls of my culinary school, the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts, or from our grandmothers who grew up before Ziploc and Glad containers, but from my mom, whose fantastic recipe for hamantaschen has been in great demand for many years. If you want your hamantaschen to stay fresh and soft for several days, store it in a truly airtight container, and, as insurance, cover it with lots of waxed paper. My mom’s five children each live in a different state, and we all deeply believe Purim will not arrive until her hamantaschen have been received in the mail. The best way to mail these guys is to cover them under and over, with waxed paper, place them in an airtight plastic container, and fill to the top with more crumbled wax paper. This will keep them secure and soft until delivery!

Ruth Book’s Famous Hamantaschen

My mom has generously given her daughters and daughters-in-law her best recipe for Hamantaschen, and we provide it to you here. But we have all made it our own by adding or deleting certain ingredients. For example, I add a teaspoon of cinnamon to my dough, while my sister-in-law replaces half the water in the recipe with lemon juice. We encourage you to develop your own flavors and tricks for this delicious treat, and we wish a Frielichen Purim to all!

4 cup sifted all-purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted margarine
1 ½ cup sugar
2 eggs
4 tsp milk/rice milk/water
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup of your favorite filling

Cream together margarine and sugar, then add the eggs and vanilla. Separately, mix flour, baking powder and salt. Add dry ingredients to the egg mixture with the mixer on low, alternately with water or rice milk. Chill the dough for 1 hour to overnight, then roll out to ¼ inch thickness, and using a water glass or round cookie cutter, cut into 2'' rounds.
Fill with 1 heaping teaspoon of your favorite filling, and draw up sides for triangle. Seal edges with cold water. Bake at 375° for about 12 to 15 minutes.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hungarian Shepherd's Pie

This great winter classic is a twist on the old standard British shepherd's pie, and was made with leftover sliced London Broil from the previous Shabbos. London Broil, even when marinated, is a slightly tougher cut of meat, so it can stand being cooked longer with the shepherd's pie veggies to soften and carmelize. I have made the same dish before with ground turkey, ground chicken, ground beef, and leftover sliced chicken. You may have to amp up the spicing to give a little more pop if you do it with chicken.

The pie also stands up great to reheating, which is pretty important to me these days, considering that my two-month old babies aren't yet on the same dinner schedule as their father and me!


2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup oil (I use, and recommend Mazola Corn Plus+ with Omega Threes)
5 tbsp water
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp caraway seeds (optional)
1 tsp dehydrated or granulated garlic


1 to 2 pounds cooked london broil beef or similar already cooked roasted or ground meat, in bite-sized pieces
1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cups onions, minced
2 cups carrots, chopped fine in food processor
2 cups celery, chopped fine in food processor
2 cups sweet red, yellow or orange bell peppers, chopped fine in food processor
2 packages mushrooms, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbsp sweet Hungarian paprika
1-2 tbsp smoked paprika (optional)
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp caraway seeds (optional)
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper (or less, to taste)
1-2 tbsp kosher salt (to taste)


2 large baking or yellow potatoes (Yukon Gold or Idaho)
2 tbsp margarine (I use and recommend Earth Balance Soy Veggy Sticks)
salt and pepper to taste

Mix crust ingredients together and press into a non-stick pan (I use my favorite pie pan but I line it with Reynolds Non-Stick foil), approximately 1/4 inch thick. Press up the sides of the pan for a more attractive look. Prick all over with a fork. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until browned.

In one pot, peel and boil potatoes with salt. Drain and mash with margarine and additional salt, garlic powder and pepper as desired.

In a deep saute pan, carmelize the onions with olive oil until soft and browned, at least 10 minutes on medium heat. Add the meat in bite-sized pieces, or simply cook ground meat with the carmelized onions. Add carrots, celery, peppers and garlic, and cook until all are softened before adding the mushrooms. Let the mushrooms cook down until they produce liquid. Take mixture off flame. Do not drain liquid.

Spoon meat/veggie mixture on top of the crust, then top with mashed potatoes. Bake at 400 for 15 minutes or until potatoes are browned. Serve piping hot!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Cinnamon Streusel Challah

I've been working on my old cinnamon brioche challah recipe and tinkering around with it for each of the last three shabboses. I've finally come up with a totally different product from the brioche; it's still cinnnamon, with a very nice challah-like consistency, but I think it has a nicer balance between the sweetness of cinnamon with the slight saltiness one expects in challah. This is truly a great challah for every week (if you have family members with a sweet tooth) or for a special occasion like the high holidays.

4 eggs (plus one beaten egg for later to brush on top)
1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (2 packets)
4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted margarine, melted (oil may also be used -- I recommend Mazola Corn Plus+)
7 cups all-purpose flour


4 tsp oil
8 tsp flour
8 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water by mixing gently and add a dollop of honey if you like (it helps the yeast rise faster). Beat the four eggs, and combine them with the other ingredients except for the flour. Mix in the flour without kneading in a stand mixer (fitted with the dough hook attachment). If you’re not using a machine, you may need to use wet hands to incorporate the last bit of flour.

Place dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap that you have sprayed with non-stick cooking spray (again, I recommend Mazola Corn Plus+). Allow the dough to rest at room temperature until it rises and collapses (or flattens on top), for approximately 2 hours. You can speed up this step by placing the bowl on a warm surface, or by the previously mentioned dollop of honey in the yeast water mixture.

You can now refrigerate the dough for up to five days, or bake it off. To bake, add flour to the surface of the dough and shape as usual. I cut off a baseball-sized piece to make two large-ish loaves and four small loaves. Take about half the dough if you are making two large loaves. It is initially quite sticky, so dust the piece with a little more flour if necessary and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides.

How to make the traditional challah shape: Divide a ball into thirds. Roll the balls between your hands, stretching, to form each into a long, thin snakelike rope. If the dough resists shaping, let it rest for a few minutes and try again as the gluten relaxed. Braid the ropes, and place either in a tin pan or on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Brush with a beaten egg and sprinkle with streusel.

Allow the bread to rest and rise on the pan for 1 hour and 20 minutes (or just 40 minutes if you’re using fresh, unrefrigerated dough).

Bake at 350 degrees near the center of the oven for about 25 minutes. Smaller or larger loaves will require different baking times watch closely. The challah is done when golden brown. Be sure to cool the loaves before moving them from the sheet pan.