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.


  1. I just finished making 15 dozen tonight and checked about for the best way to keep for a few days. Found your article and love it. You will now be on my "favorite list". Thanks, SisP

  2. These sound great, but I am looking to replicate the kind of hamentashen that come in the package (usually a styrofoam tray, with plastic wrap on top), in which the cookie dough has a certain soft, crumbly quality. Not crisp or buttery. Any ideas? THANKS!

  3. Great recipe! Added some fresh orange zest to dough. Gave it an added personal touch. Dough very easy to work with. Grandchildren loved making them but eating them was even better.