Before I moved to Minnesota, my husband and I lived in Burlington, VT, which we considered a suburb of Montreal. When our small college town felt as if it would pop at the seams, we’d jump in the car and drive to Canada. We’d make the rounds of foods we couldn’t find in Vermont, like Montreal bagels at Fairmont, smoked meat at Schwartz’s and hamantaschen at a Jewish bakery, the name of which, I am sorry to say, has escaped me. The bagels and smoked meat are specialties of the city, and reason enough to visit Montreal. Hamantaschen can be found in any city, at most Jewish delis and bakeries, especially during the holiday of Purim. Making these triangular cookies is easy and in my humble opinion, better than most that I’ve sampled, including those in Montreal. The dough I use is the soft, rich, tender variety, the same one I use for rugelach, as opposed to the firm, crumbly, shortbread style dough, which is also common with this cookie. This dough is simple to work with and has a lovely texture and lemony flavor, which is a great partner to the poppy seed filling. Just like a rugelach, there are as many fillings as there are ovens, but the most traditional are poppy seed and prune. I went traditional here, but added some other dried fruits to the mix. If my fillings are not to your liking the cookies are fantastic with raspberry preserves, chocolate, apricot, lemon curd or anything else you are craving.
The shape of these cookies is said to represent the three-cornered hat of Haman, the diabolical villain who tried to take down the Jews in ancient Persia. Other stories say that hamantaschen (which translates “Haman’s pouch”) symbolizes his purse, which he tried to use as a payoff for permission to destroy the Jews. Haman’s sinister plans were thwarted and the story ends well with the celebration of Purim, where these tasty pastries are normally served. But, I think you should enjoy them way more often than that.
Dough inspired by Joan Nathan’s rugelach dough in Jewish Cooking in America:
8 ounces cream cheese
2 sticks unsalted butter
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar (powdered sugar)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups (10 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour (measured with scoop and sweep)
Poppy seed filling:
Poppy Seed Filling or make your own:
1 cup poppy seeds
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup raisins (finely chopped)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons Lyles Golden Syrup or corn syrup
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a saucepan, simmer all the ingredients until the liquid is absorbed and the mixture is quite thick, about 10 to 15 minutes.
1 cup pitted prunes, finely chopped
1/2 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
1/4 cup raisins, finely chopped,
1/2 orange, washed and finely chopped (peel and all)
1/4 cup sugar
Hot water or black tea to cover the fruit
In a saucepan, simmer all the ingredients until the liquid is absorbed, the fruit is soft and the mixture is quite thick, about 30 to 35 minutes minutes. If the fruit still isn’t soft, add more water and continue to cook until it is soft.
To make the dough:
In a Food Processor mix together the cream cheese, butter and confectioners’ sugar. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, pulse again to combine. Add the flour and pulse the dough until it comes together in a soft ball. Divide the ball in two discs and refrigerate until it is firm, for about one hour. Dough can be frozen for about 3 weeks.
To make the cookies:
Preheat the oven to 375°F
On a well floured surface, roll the dough to about 1/8-inch thick. use a 3-inch round cookie cutter to make the discs of dough.
Transfer the discs to a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
Fill with 1 to 2 teaspoons of poppy seed filling.
Or the dried fruit filling. Form the dough into a triangle by pinching three corners and folding the sides up onto the filling.
Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown along the bottom edge.
Allow to cool slightly or the pastry will fall apart when lifted.