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Math, art and Purim

I’ve always adored hamantaschen.

Over the years, I’ve experimented here and there, but usually I stick to the traditional old-school fillings of mohn (poppyseed), and the jewel tones of raspberry or apricot jam. Being of Hungarian stock, I always fill a few prune (lekvar) triangles too.

Nowadays, the variety of fillings is endless. Even the ‘taschen dough itself is not necessarily made of the classic vanilla cookie dough. From chocolate taschen dough to savory cheddar biscuit, the pastry itself holds many possibilities.

Whether it’s savory filling ideas of harissa, herbed goat cheese, spinach cheddar, spanakopita, lox and cream cheese, pulled brisket, pastrami or beef fry, franks and beans, balsamic infused onion jam, sunny side up ‘taschen egg nests, and I suppose any combination that you come up with . . or whether it’s sweet filling ideas, be they cheese cake, ganache, lemon curd, peanut butter, cherry, caramel, mint, s’mores, pecan pie, or sweet and salty tahini . . . whatever it is, the plain jane days of stirring and simmering warm milk, poppy seeds and sugar kissed with lemon, are over. Or, at least, dwindling. I’m holding out, though (I like to keep my hamantaschen humble).

I suppose you can’t go wrong by enfolding delicious fillings in luscious pastry dough; then add in the whimsical triangular ‘taschen shape and, viola, you’ve got a perfectly fun Purim party pastry.

The word for triangle in modern Hebrew is sourced in the wisdom of King Solomon, “A three-ply cord is not easily broken.” Whether King Solomon had a triangle in mind or just a strongly braided cord, I always associate a triangle with serious, unbreakable bonds of connection.

Of course there is also the “Purim Meshulash” association, when Purim falls in Jerusalem on a Friday. Purim then becomes a thre,e-day holiday, known literally as a “Triangular Purim,” meaning a triple Purim.

Triangles and Purim go beyond just the pastries.

There’s the math aspect of a triangle that I once fused with Purim. Years ago, I was inspired to make a Sierpinski triangle of poppy seed hamantaschen. It was a crude, primitive version, but still so pretty.

The idea of doing it developed rather organically. At the time, I was still in my “patchke” phase, and labored to create the teeny tiniest doll house size hamantaschen. They were as tiny as a magnet you would hang on a refrigerator (I also baked similar sized cinnamon sugar rugelach; these days if I cook more than a boiled egg and a pot of soup, it’s a good day). But back then, one day while baking, I noticed I had a variety of sizes of hamantaschen on hand, and I suddenly started playing with them and organizing them into a Sierpinski shape.

A Sierpinski is defined as “an overall shape of an equilateral triangle, subdivided recursively into smaller equilateral triangles.”

I’ve always loved the sierpinski, or of playing with a pascal’s triangle — if you color block the odd and even numbers on a Pascal triangle it resembles a Sierpinski.

While I’m terrible at math, I was always intrigued by the Sierpinski for its aesthetic properties. I love the idea of triangles within triangles, getting ever smaller. It has a quilt-like quality that I think is beautiful. And it’s always a fun mathematical challenge to count how many triangles there are in total. The concept of the Sierpinski is fascinating to me as well, the whole idea of infinite possibilities and infinitum iterations.

This year, on the one hand, I’ll be lucky if I get around to even knocking out one batch of my standard hamantaschen. On the other hand, I started having ambitious dreams of Sierpinski ‘taschen triangles.

With the current trend of abundant flavors and filling possibilities, wouldn’t it be so cool to create a colorful quilt-like Sierpinski hamantaschen? Set up a bar of colorful fillings, have various sized pastry circles on hand and start constructing sequences of color. You can prepare a dairy, meat or even a vegan one. Now, talk about a Purim Feast centerpiece. And the joy and surprise in picking random flavored ‘taschen. It can be the jelly belly culinary equivalent for Purim.

From a Navajo geometric style to a Gustav Klimt inspired Sierpinski hamantaschen, the kaleidoscopic hamantaschen arrangements of a shape within a shape can have a depth of beauty all its own. Certainly, the association of Purim and art go hand in hand. But math and art? And yet, a Sierpinski triangle is a wonderful art project. So here’s to a hybrid project combining all three: math, art and Purim.

I can see it in my mind’s eye already, a multicolor hamantaschen Sierpinski; a mosaic of little looking pebbles that would actually be eatable hamantaschen, the ultimate Purim prism.

Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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