ONCE a year I bake. I mean really really bake. Yes, throughout the year I bake plenty. Brownies, bundt cakes all kind, challah and from time to time even a variety of cookie bars and cookies. But all this baking is mostly of the the lazy quick one bowl cakes variety. I am at the point where for the most part I don’t even use a hand mixer anymore. If it can’t be mixed up with just a bowl and a whisk, I pass. And the rare occasions when I bake cookies, they are the kind you roll into little balls in the palm of your hand.
But once a year I bake in true baking style. That means with a rolling pin. As well as with a little glass in hand to shape cookie rounds out of a sheet of dough. And scraping up scraps and trimming excess of dough over and over again, just to be rolled out and shaped into more cookies. The process is tedious, but wonderful.
What would beloved Purim be without a hamantaschen night of baking?
The truth is, for the longest time I didn’t have a handle on baking those ‘taschen. Either they tasted at best so-so or at worst pretty bland, or their shapes came out looking so funny you had to keep them and share them just for the laughs. Triangles, they weren’t.
But instead of tossing them, I couldn’t help but tuck them into the shoebox of hamantaschen I was mailing a dear one, already filled with the cookies that more closely resembled, but not quite there yet, triangles. So for a while there, me and hamantaschen, we didn’t get along so well. In fact, there were years when we didn’t even come into the presence of each other’s Purim holiday plans at all.
I DON’T know, maybe it was a math thing. Math was always my weak subject, and you know triangles and geometry. It must have been a subconscious association with tormenting math memories of endless homework problems asking for the area of said triangles.
Of course, somehow this didn’t stop me from getting the brilliant idea one year of not only baking triangular-shaped ‘taschen, but of baking the intricate math image of a Sierpinski Triangle hamantaschen as a center piece for a Purim se’udah (meal). I always thought those fractal units of a pattern of geometric triangles subdivided again and again into more triangles, down to the tiniest triangle, were very cool, and actually pretty, in a southwestern design sort of way. There’s a certain elegance to the order of the different-sized triangles almost making it into a modern form of lace.
In the spirit of origami, the triangular hamantaschen lend themselves to having some fun with creating different shapes. Depending on the direction, by putting two together, you can create a bow tie, a kite or, with a bunch of them a Star of David design.
So, one year, after many years of hamantaschen angst, I decided to tackle them. And not only after lots of trial and error (reader, we’re talking years) did I finally manage to bake up some pretty adorable doll house size ones (that remained sealed!), but tasty ones too.
When they are ooh’d and ahhh’d over, I just smile to myself, picturing, let’s just say, some of the more, ahem, modern art versions of triangular hamantaschen I had produced over the years. With hamantaschen, for all the successes, there are often batches and batches of messes.
THEN there are the fillings. Experimentation with different ideas is always a ball. The hamantasch cookie itself is pretty much the traditional part of this confection. If it looks like a hamantasch, what you put inside is pretty much a free for all.
The possibilities are endless. Basically, take any cake, cookie or filling you have ever liked and make it a hamantasch filling.
You name it, it works. You are a pumpkin spice latte aficionado? Go for it. A Samoas Girl Scout cookie addict? No problem. A lemon curd devotee? Sounds good to me. Chocolate ganache, peanut butter cups, smores, cheesecake, cappuccino, pecan pie, nutella, apple pie, coffee cake streusel, jelly bellies, alcohol or liquor spiked fillings, dolce de leche, chocolate with crushed peppermint candy, M & Ms, festive colorful sprinkles — you can dress up the triangled sugar cookie or shortbread dough in almost anything. I once even saw hamantaschen as toppers to cupcakes!
So this week I look forward to the annual patchka of taking out the brown wooden rolling pin with red handles on each side and having a little hamantaschen fest.
The pale pink and gold frosted tea glass I use for shaping the tiny hamantaschen (that or they are jumbo sized, because I am so tired of focusing on the small perfect shapes that by the end I just want to get rid of the dough and be done with it, and so the next thing I know I am supersizing them; I can’t seem to make regular, medium, normal sized hamantaschen) will make its annual appearance, too.
And of course the flour, sugar, eggs, butter or oil, oranges and lemons will be there.
I enjoy experimenting with a new filling here or there, but I also always use the traditional jewel tones of the fruit butters. You have to have the expected vibrant raspberry or apricot fillings, as well as the more humble muhn-poppy seed, encased by the sweet soft hamantaschen cookies.
Plus, the traditional hamantaschen are the most dependable for packing into shoeboxes between layers of wax paper, to be mailed off to dear ones for a homemade taste of Purim love.
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