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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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