How Did Bubbe Bake it? – Part 1

From my last post about banana chocolate chip loaf, you might presume that I am a good baker. But that is hardly the case. When confronted with the option to make dough or buy it in some frozen form, I will frequently choose the latter, justifying the decision with “I’m too busy to make my own”. The real truth – I’m petrified of dough, especially if it has yeast in it. (that will be Part 2)

But a greater purpose is pushing me to face my fears. My maternal grandmother was a fabulous baker – making challah (Jewish egg bread) year round for Shabbat and also Hamantaschen – the traditional 3-sided, filled cookie eaten for the Jewish holiday Purim. What I remember about the hamantaschen is the dough. All 4 kids in our family liked to eat the extra dough that she made just as simple plain cookies with no filling. It’s one of those comfort food memories from my childhood.

My handwritten version of Grandma's recipe.

My grandmother had 6 children but none of them became bakers. And my grandmother was so skilled at her craft that she baked perfection with no recipe at hand. So when I was a teenager, I made my grandmother bake her challah and hamantaschen for me so I could write down the recipes myself.  I still haven’t taken the time to practice these quasi-recipes but I’ve decided I better get started. Since we just celebrated the Jewish holiday called Purim, I’m starting with a version of her hamantaschen.

After reviewing several of my Jewish cookbooks and many versions of the recipe online, I’ve discovered that Hamantaschen dough falls into about 3 categories: the yeast-based dough; butter or margarine-based dough; and an oil-based dough. My grandmother made the oil-based version, which generally has orange juice in it for flavor. But my imprecise write-up doesn’t show her using any egg in it, which I found hard to believe. So while searching through recipes, I found one on a wonderful blog called Bamitbach (in my kitchen in Hebrew) by Irene Saiger. This is her mother-in-law Lil’s recipe, and it looked very similar to my grandmother’s but used eggs.

So a couple of days ago I faced my fear of dough and made hamantaschen. I also prepared a home-made filling (also from Irene Saiger’s recipe but slightly modified) combining dark raisins, golden raisins, prunes, dried apricots, cinnamon, sugar, and orange juice. I left it on the stove a bit too long, losing a little too much moisture which I replenished with a little orange juice and hot water when I put the mixture in the Cuisinart.

Hamantaschen filling before Cuisinart

Hamantaschen filling looking "poopy" after Cuisinart

Although family comments about the color of the filling were not appetizing, the taste was fine. If I had enough time, I think I would make an apricot filling and a prune filling but not combine the two. I also used a jar of Maman Peach preserves as a filling. I didn’t have the energy to make more fillings – the dough was stressful enough. Other popular fillings for hamantaschen include poppy seed, chocolate, or almost any kind of fruit jam.

After making the dough, which seemed too supple to possibly be workable, I refrigerated it. When I had gathered enough courage, about an hour later, I took it out of the fridge and made one cookie to see how it would come out. I used a 4-inch diameter can of tomatoes to cut out a round piece of dough after rolling it out on my flour-covered granite counter with a piece of wax paper between the rolling pin and dough. I placed the very malleable piece of dough on my silpat-lined cookie sheet, brushed it with Marcy Goldman’s (http://www.betterbaking.com/) version of egg wash (whole egg, egg yolk, a little milk and a little sugar), put a small teaspoon of the prune/apricot filling on it and pathetically folded up the sides to create a triangle.

First attempt - not pretty.

I brushed the outside with egg wash, sprinkled a little sugar on it and put it in a 325 degree convection oven. Fifteen minutes later I took it out, not believing for a minute that it could actually taste good, let alone taste anything like the dough I remember my grandmother making. To my complete surprise, the dough tasted just as I remember my grandmother’s!

Grandma would be proud.

I must admit, I was as giddy as my daughter currently gets when she is let loose in Abercrombie with her girlfriends (and that’s pretty giddy). I called over the troops (husband, daughter, son) for a taste and confirmation that the hamantaschen really were OMG! yummy. Believe me, if they weren’t deserving of praise, this group would let me know. With confirmation in the form of “When are you making more?, I attempted round 2.

I knew I needed to make the dough a little easier to work with so I downsized my cutout to a 3-inch circle with a real cookie cutter that had a sharp edge. I also made sure to put lots of flour on the granite surface and rolled out a small piece of dough again. With enough flour and the smaller-sized circle, the second batch was much easier to work with and the size of each cookie was just right. Not too big, not too small. Goldilocks would approve.

Round 2 - off to a good start.

Baked and ready to eat!

And my mother did as well. I received the following email from her shortly after I called her to tell her of my success:

“Congrats for being so daring and making grandma’s version of a great Purim delight. I am more than sure that they came out delicious. One of the reasons everyone used to come to our house in Brooklyn for almost every holiday and every Shabbat was grandma’s great cooking and baking. I can taste it all now.”

Photos courtesy of Douglas Lee

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11 Responses to How Did Bubbe Bake it? – Part 1

  1. sandy corman March 2, 2010 at 6:13 pm #

    they look great and can’t wait to eat them. I know grandma would be very proud of you. She is looking down from heaven wishing she could eat one. Keep up the good work!!!

  2. sarene March 3, 2010 at 5:51 am #

    Yum! Send some down this way. We’d love to sample the fruits of your labor.

  3. Irene Saiger March 3, 2010 at 9:33 pm #

    Hi,

    Just wanted to share my own experience with this dough. It is very soft but I have never refrigerated mine, of course it can’t hurt. I do think that a smaller size is easier to work with.

    All the best,
    Irene
    http://bamitbach.blogspot.com

  4. Georgia B. March 5, 2010 at 4:20 pm #

    Well, Beth, you got me so inspired I went home Wednesday night and made a batch. Since I got home pretty late, I only made up half the batch and used some good peach-apricot preserves I had. Although they didn’t look quite as nice as yours or Irene’s, they did taste good. Thursday night I went home and made the second half with a different preserve (a berry blend) and managed to make them look a little better. Everyone loved them! Thank you.

    • omgyummy March 5, 2010 at 5:01 pm #

      Georgia – I’m so glad you tried them. My grandmother has a really big smile on her face and so do I! I had a store-bought box of hamantaschen in the freezer that I had purchased a few weeks ago. I took them out a few days ago and everyone who had a chance to try my homemade version and the store-bought said there is no comparison. Homemade version is just so much better! I’m glad I am facing my fear of dough (finally) and inspiring others to enjoy the OMG! Yum moment of baking at home.

  5. Serene - momfoodproject.com October 23, 2010 at 7:34 pm #

    Oh, wow, that is SO exciting! It’s a true Mom Food moment — sorry, Bubbe Food moment. I love those moments, I truly, truly do.

    I remember the first time I got my mother’s knaidlach soup right, I almost cried. Good on you for figuring out your Bubbe’s hamantaschen!

  6. Srivalli October 25, 2010 at 3:38 am #

    Your Granny sounds wonderful. hope you will try all the recipes that you have written down from her..:)..

  7. Christa the BabbyMama March 1, 2012 at 8:15 am #

    Aw, amazing! Isn’t it sweet when you can recreate something like that? This past Christmas we made molasses cookies using my grandmother’s recipe and it was just the best thing ever!

  8. Kristen @ Mind Your Bees and Trees March 4, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    Awww so sweet that you challenged yourself to recreate your Bubbe’s cookies. They look really yummy! I know the giddy feeling you got…my husband laughs at me every time, but it really is SO exciting to have that kind of success!

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