Because the Purim story is laced with intrigue, the holiday’s traditional pastries are often filled with hidden delights.
I love when Purim falls on a Sunday, because it’s a perfect day for a party. I start with glasses of prosecco, a sparkling wine that adds an elegant touch. I serve homemade cookies connected to Purim.
I also encourage the children to act out the Purim story — in costumes, of course.
Because the Purim story is laced with intrigue, the holiday’s traditional pastries are often filled with hidden delights. Just as Queen Esther kept her religion a secret in the court of King Ahasuerus of Persia, so there is a surprise inside Purim cookies.
With their fillings of preserves and chocolate, hamantashen are the most famous Ashkenazi cookie associated with Purim. Triangular in shape, they symbolize Haman’s three-cornered hat. He was the wicked vizier who attempted to annihilate the Jewish people.
Traditional hamantashen recipes call for ground poppy seed fillings. Mohn means poppy in German and these pastries were originally called mahn-tashen.
Any recipe exuding tiny black seeds is welcome at Purim. Lemon poppy seed cookies are a holiday treat hailing from Hungary.
Jews from the Middle East bake cookies called ma’amoul, made of short pastry dough concealing sweetened ground nuts inside. The dough is pressed into ma’amoul molds, giving the cookie’s surface an intricate design.
While ma’amoul molds can be purchased online at gourmetsleuth.com, the tines of a fork will do.
I always bake more cookies than anyone can eat at one sitting. I send my guests home with an assortment of cookies and with the hope that Purim will fall on Sunday next year.
(Dairy or Pareve)
1 egg, beaten
1 stick sweet butter at room temperature, or cold margarine
2 Tbsps. orange juice
1 and 1⁄2 cup flour, plus extra for dusting
1⁄2 cup sugar
1 and 1⁄4 tsps. baking powder
jam for filling: apricot and plum are traditional, but strawberry, blackberry, black currant and seedless raspberry are fine, too.
In a large mixing bowl, beat egg, butter (or margarine) and juice until blended. The mixture resembles orange cottage cheese.
Sift the 11⁄2 cups of flour, sugar and baking powder. Add to the egg mixture in 3 batches, mixing after each addition.
Divide dough into 4 quarters. Roll each quarter into a ball. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours. One ball of dough makes 12 hamantashen.
Preheat the oven to 350˚.
Dust the counter and rolling pin with flour. Remove 1 ball of dough from the refrigerator. With the rolling pin, roll the dough ball into a circle, about 1⁄8-inch thick. The circle will be amoeba shaped.
With a 21⁄2-inch cookie cutter, cut as many circles of dough as possible. Dust a platter with flour and move the circles to the platter. Pick up the remaining dough on the counter and form it into another ball. Dust the counter and rolling pin again, if needed. Roll out the ball of dough and cut out as many circles as possible, moving them to the platter. Repeat until you use up the dough.
Place 1⁄2 teaspoon of jam in the center of each circle. Pinch the edges of dough circles in three places, equal distances apart. Push into a triangular shape with your fingers. Spread parchment paper on 2 cookie sheets.
Move the hamantashen to the parchment paper.
Repeat with the remaining balls of dough.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the edges brown.
Makes 4 dozen hamantashen.
Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies
1 and 1⁄2 cups flour
1⁄2 tsp. baking soda
1⁄4 tsp. salt
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
3⁄4 cup sugar
zest from 1⁄2 lemon
1⁄4 tsp. lemon extract
3 tsps. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. poppy seeds
Preheat oven to 350˚. Cover each cookie sheets with a piece of parchment paper.
In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda and salt. Reserve.
In a large bowl, beat with an electric mixer the butter and sugar until well combined. Add the egg, lemon zest and lemon extract, beating again until creamy.
In three batches, add the reserved flour mixture, alternating with the lemon juice, until incorporated. On low speed, mix in the poppy seeds until evenly combined.
Drop by teaspoonfuls onto the parchment paper. Bake for 12 minutes, or until the edges turn golden brown. Wait 1 minute and move cookies to a platter to cool.
Makes 2 and 1⁄2 to 3 dozen cookies
2 cups flour (to be sifted before measuring)
10 Tbsps. unsalted butter at room temperature
1 tsp. sugar
1⁄4 tsp. salt
2 tsps. vanilla
3 Tbsps. water
1⁄4 cup walnuts
1 Tbsp. sugar
1⁄2 tsp. cinnamon
1⁄4 tsp. cardamom
To make the Dough: Place the first four ingredients (flour through salt) in a food processor. Process briefly until a coarse dough forms that is beginning to hold together.
Add the vanilla and pulse a couple of times. Pour the water into a cup. With the processor running, pour in the water and process until the dough spins into a hunk, about 1 minute.
Remove the dough from the processor bowl and roll into a ball. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
To Make the Filling: Place the filling ingredients in a mini food processor or nut chopper. Chop ingredients until the walnuts are as fine as sand.
Preheat oven to 350˚. Cover 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Form the dough into golf ball sized balls by rolling it in the palms of your hands. Place on a platter.
Press your thumb into the center of each ball. Further spread open the well made with your thumb.
Fill each well with 1⁄4 tsp. of the nut filling. Using your fingers, close the dough, concealing the filling inside. Make sure ma’amoul dough is well sealed all the way around, or cookies will open during baking.
Place ma’amoul on parchment paper-covered cookie sheets. Press a design into the dough with a ma’amoul mold. If you don’t own a mold, press the tines of a fork in a cross hatch pattern across the top of each cookie.
Bake for 25 minutes, or until ma’amouls feel firm to the touch. They don’t brown. Move them to a wire rack to cool.
When cool, gently roll ma’amoul in confectioners’ sugar. The design on top should be shown to advantage.
Makes 20 cookies.
Linda Morel is a writer based in New York City. Email her at: [email protected]