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I came across numerous Jewish recipes during my search for poppy seed filled bakes which I desperately wanted to make last Christmas*. Hamantaschen reoccurred again and again so I made a note to explore those rather lovely looking triangular cookies.
They are traditionally eaten at Purim, the Jewish holiday commemorating the defeat of evil vizier Haman in ancient Persia, who planned on killing all the Jews in the Persian Empire. His plans came to naught thanks to the hero Mordecai helped by the Queen Esther. Haman hung from the gallows, having allegedly had his ears cut off first.
And there we have it: Haman’s Ears, or Oznei Haman, later mispronounced to Hamantaschen as it sounds quite like the German description of the cookies: Mohntaschen - poppy pockets.
Hamantaschen always have the cute, triangular shape with the filling peeking through the pastry in the middle, but the fillings can be various. Here, the traditional poppy seed as well as the not so traditional marzipan. Apricot can be nice, pastry cream studded with chocolate sounds good, jam or preserve too (but it spreads a bit too much in the pastry) and dried fruit which will almost take us round full cultural circle to mince pies…
*and I did! I made a gorgeous poppy filled stolen, yeasty sponge rolled around sweet, spiced poppy mixture.
hamantaschenServings: 35 biscuitsTime: 2 hours plus chilling pastry overnight
- For the pastry:
- 170g (1 cup) icing sugar
- 2 large egg yolks
- 227g (8 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature, in small pieces
- grated zest of 1 lemon
- 360g (2 ¼ cups) plain flour
- dash of salt
- 1 large egg, beaten, for the glaze
- For the poppy seed filling:
- 1 cup milk
- ½ cup sugar
- zest of ½ orange
- 1 vanilla pod, cut open and seeds scraped out
- 1 cup poppy seeds
- ½ cup raisins
- juice of ½ lemon
- ½ tablespoon brandy
- For the marzipan filling:
- 100g ground almonds
- 100g icing sugar, plus extra to dust
- 2 free-range egg yolks
- 2 tbsp. lemon juice
1. To make the pastry, beat the icing sugar and the egg yolks in a food processor or with an electric mixer. Add the butter and lemon zest and beat to blend. Gradually add the flour and the salt, mixing until it forms a ball. Wrap it in cling film and refrigerate for an hour or overnight.
2. To make the marzipan, put the ground almonds, icing sugar and egg yolks in a bowl. Mix with a spatula, gradually adding the lemon juice, until the marzipan is smooth with a doughy consistency. Form a ball or a long sausage shape on a surface liberally dusted with icing sugar, wrap in cling film and refrigerate.
3. To make the poppy seed filling, grind the poppy seeds in a coffee grinder almost to a powder. Put the milk, sugar, vanilla seeds and the pod, and orange zest in a pan and bring to the boil. Fish out the vanilla pod and discard. Pour in the poppy seeds and raisins and turn the heat down so it just simmers. Stir every now and then and cook for about 15 minutes until almost all the liquid is absorbed and the poppy seeds thicken considerably. Add the lemon juice, the brandy and the butter, stir in and cook for another 3-4 minutes until the mix reaches thick, spreading consistency. Leave to cool.
4. Each of the above amounts of filling is enough to fill all the cookies so if you’re making a mix, you’ll have quite a bit of leftover filling, which can easily be frozen. Otherwise halve the ingredients. When you’re ready to make the biscuits, bring the pastry to almost room temperature, otherwise it will be impossible to roll out.
5. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Line at least 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (this amount makes 35 biscuits so you’ll probably need to re-use the sheets).
6. Roll out the dough to about 3mm thickness – if it’s too thick it will crack when folding the edges.
7. Cut out circles with a 3 inch pastry cutter. Put a heaping teaspoon of the poppy seed filling or a blob of marzipan the size of a walnut in the centre of each. Brush the edges with the beaten egg and fold the sides to form a triangle.
8. Brush the tops with beaten egg. Bake until golden and firm all the way through, about 15-20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.