Confession: I like to know how to do things. This probably comes as no surprise to you, seeing as how I typically blog about how to do things like putting a crazy-tall layer cake or rolling out the perfect pretzel-shaped cookie. Also, I’ve noticed that the internets are awash with people feeling frustrated about things not working for them, and that bothers me; if I can, I like to help sort things out.
Some of you think I must be so kind, to spend all this time and energy on projects. Others remark on my seemingly limitless patience. I would love to tell you that I focus my efforts on undertakings out of the goodness of my heart, but people, that would be fiction. For what you see here is not necessarily patience, but rather a compulsive drive to know how to do things the best and the ability to ninja-focus until I get it right. It’s a little about learning, but it’s a lot about knowing lots of things. I like to master something, and I like to say “I know how to do that;” it’s just that simple. So, sainthood = over, let’s get on with how to make some excellent hamantaschen.
Hamantaschen, you say? Shannon, are you Jewish? No, I am not. However, I have long been fascinated by the Jewish culture and its traditions, and we’ll talk about that more as we go along. This year, I’d really like to learn more about the food surrounding Jewish holidays. I know some basic things, but I’ll need your help along the way. I’m starting with Purim, and these hamantaschen. I enlisted the help of two great blog friends, Faygie from Life Tastes Good and Amy from Elephant Eats, for hamantaschen recipes. Why? because I don’t know the first thing about these little cookies, but they do. Also, because googling something like this tends to yield my search nightmare: every recipe is entitled “The Best Hamantaschen Ever Invented.” Hopes for a decent search result? Crushed.
Dear Bloggers/Recipe Sites: we should all agree to stop doing that to the internets. It really muddies the waters.
So I trust these ladies, and they came back with two great recipes: one dairy (Amy), one dairy-free (Faygie). Amy gave me strict instructions and threatened me with hamantas-plosion if I didn’t listen, and after my internet wanderings, I found she wasn’t the only one who had issues making these. Seems as though they look simple, but tended to be pretty finicky. I love a challenge, so…Hamantaschen-Off 2013 was underway. I was going to learn how to make these correctly, period. But first, I had to make proper fillings for them.
Enter the jams: raspberry-basil and peach-rosemary. Perfect for jam cookies, perfect for the english muffins I would eat later out of frustration. Next came the doughs. I made both dairy and non-dairy versions, and they both came together without a hitch. Easy! I wondered why everyone was having so much trouble with these. I rolled them out, cut circles, filled, and folded.
And when my first batch came out looking like jelly-bellied farm animals, I realized precisely why everyone has issues with hamantaschen. I do not like to fail. I set out to master the hamantachen and to figure out what goes so horribly wrong between dough-making and oven-baking.
There were lots of test batches.
There were so many hamantaschen. If you want to see how the whole thing went down, head over to my Facebook page from Friday (2/22/13). You’ll also see Amy yelling at me every so often when she should have been at work. I have to hand it to her, though; her tips were completely on point.
Hamantaschen-Off 2013: The Results
Here’s the dairy-free version, batches 1-3 (left to right):
Notice the vast improvement from batch 1 to batch 3? No explosions here, but they were super-fat, misshapen, and the cookie-to-jam ratio was too high. I fixed those problems by batch 3, but they still needed fine-tuning.
These are the dairy version, and it only took me 2 batches to get these close to normal:
The first batch completely opened up on me, and were far too thick. The second batch, rolled out much thinner and pressed within an inch of their lives, stayed together. Close, but not perfect.
I noticed in working with these simultaneously that the doughs were utterly different from one another. They felt, handled, and baked differently from the other one, each having their own distinct set of issues. I thought I’d bake a few rounds sans jam to figure out what they were doing. This is a side-by-side of the non-dairy (left) and dairy (right) versions:
Same spread, same browning (the bottom starts to go first, then creeps up the sides, roughly the same texture. Now take a look at the side view, same position:
And therein lies the problem. The non-dairy version’s dough stays thin but sort of melts back into itself, where the dairy version poofs up when baking – thus explaining the explosion issues with the dairy variety: they simply poof out of their shape and volume opens them up like a lily during the baking process.
I’ll spare you the details of all my trials and just give you the way to make both versions perfectly; oddly enough, the same set of rules apply to both doughs. My fiercest thanks to Amy for advice, because some of these tips are hers. Both doughs come together simply using my instructions below, so we’ll begin with apres-dough. Here we go:
- Chill Time Is Essential – allowing these doughs at least 2 hours in the fridge (or preferably, overnight) will give them time to firm up. You’ll have an easier time rolling, cutting, and transferring them to their sheet pans.
- Thin, Thin, Thin – seriously, you will fail if these aren’t thin enough. The non-dairy ones will be huge, and the dairy ones will look like ugly tulips. Spend the extra few minutes making sure your dough is as thin as you can get it (and I’m talking like an 1/8 of an inch here)
- Assembly Lines Equal Similarity – so you want all your cookies to look the same? Repeated movements will allow this to happen. Follow my directions below for folding below, and your cookies should come out looking identical to each other instead of like aliens.
- Don’t Shortcut the Freeze – Amy will get you, and she’s well within her rights to do so. Freezing these cookies post-fold and pre-bake is the best way to get these to come out perfectly. If you don’t believe me, look at the photos above of the last batches of trial cookies and the final ones; the freezing was a big component to their success.
If you follow both the recipe instructions and the tips above, here’s what you can expect from your hamantaschen: the top ones are the non-dairy version, and the bottom ones are the dairy version.
See the difference? I never knew until these how differently dairy versus non-dairy-based cookies acted. If you look at the recipes, you’ll notice not much differs except using either butter or oil. As you can see, the non-dairy ones still melt into themselves slightly, whereas the dairy version fluffs up, but now you have control over how much this occurs. You’ll find that your hamantaschen will look much more like what you scooted into the oven initially.
So the big moment: which one is better? I did a little pros/cons rundown for myself to figure it out. Both doughs come together easily, chill well, and roll out nicely (although the butter one is a bit harder to roll out because it’s tighter.) Cutting is the same with each, but the transfer goes slightly better with the butter version (the former “con” makes it a “pro” here: tighter dough means a more sturdy transfer.) Folding seems equally easy, but you do have take extra care to be sure the butter ones don’t open up on you. So I suppose it comes down to taste and texture.
When all is said and done, I would most likely choose the non-dairy version. The dough was easy to work with, you get a nice, smooth (albeit flatter) cookie, and I love that they remind me a little of my orange roll macarons without me having to spend who knows how much money on ground almonds. I think they lightness of them really highlights the jams I paired them with. That being said, if I were to make them with a more robust filling, like a chocolate ganache*, I may want the sturdier dairy version. So it’s up to you: I made them both foolproof so you could pick which one you want.
Also, because I wanted to know how to do both versions the best.
*so I should tell you: I made this very excellent chocolate bundt cake that I’m posting soon, and I may or may not have saved some of its chocolate honey ganache in a jar to eat with a spoon. I tried it out in a few of these, and it was incredible, especially with the hint of orange in the cookie. I’ll post that next, and just know you can make the chocolate honey ganache as a filling for these as well.
Adapted from all over the place. The dairy-free version is out of a book Faygie suggested called The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-Free Recipes from Traditional to Trendy by Paula Shoyer. I’m putting this one on my list of “to rents” at the library because I think adding it to my own collection would be a good idea. The buttery version is one Amy had tried from Stef over at Cupcake Project that had worked well for her. The jams are my own design, based on how I make every sort of fruit sauce and filling around here, altered to fit the sweetness of what I’m working with.
I’ll begin with the fillings, because maybe you have a favorite hamantaschen recipe you would like to try out using my method instead of the ones I give you. I’ll lay it out by doing filling recipe and directions on how to make both, then I’ll list each cookie with the instructions immediately following (so you can skip to the one you like and not lose your place.) When you get to the post-fridge rollout, the directions apply to both, and I’ve indicated where there are differences.
- 1 pound peaches (3-4 peaches), pitted and skin removed
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1 sprig of rosemary (use 2 for a more pronounced rosemary flavor, or even 1/2 a sprig for starters)
- 4 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- juice of 2 lemons
- 2 tablespoons thinly-ribboned basil leaves, lightly packed (measure after chopping the leaves)
These directions work for either jam. Place fruit, sugar, lemon juice and herb into a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally until mixture begins to bubble, then turn the heat down slightly to medium low and continue to simmer until reduced and jammy, about 20 minutes (for the peach-rosemary) and between 20-25 minutes (for the raspberry-basil). While your jam is cooking, stir frequently and press down on your fruit to smoosh it and help it cook down.
Once the peach-rosemary jam has thickened, fish out the rosemary sprig and any stray leaves and set aside to cool.
Once the raspberry-basil jam has thickened, press the jam through a fine mesh strainer using the back of a spoon to strain out the seeds. Set aside to cool.
Once jams are at room temperature, you can use them for the hamantaschen. However, I think the jams are best chilled because they firm up a little more and are easier to work with because they stay in the center of your cookie while you’re folding. Ideally, you’ll chill them in the fridge for at least 1 hour prior to using.
Both of these recipes make about 1 cup of jam; perfect for either hamantaschen recipe below.
On to your hamantaschen of choice:
- 3 cups all-purpose flour (I use unbleached)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 3 eggs
- zest of 1 orange (optional in this recipe, but I like the flavor it adds)
- 1 cup of your favorite filling
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl using an electric mixer) beat the butter and granulated sugar together on high speed until fluffy and light, 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition for about 20 seconds. Once all the eggs are in, turn up the mixer to medium high speed and beat until incorporated and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again.
Add your flour mixture to the butter mixture in three parts (to avoid flour-poof), stirring on low speed after each addition for about 10 seconds or so, and keep on low speed for a total of no longer than about 60 seconds or just until everything is homogenous. Scrape down the sides of your bowl as needed to check for dry patches.
Remove from the bowl and shape into a ball. Split in half to form two equal balls, and shape each ball into a disk. Wrap each disk tightly in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill and firm up, at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
- 3 cups flour
- 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup oil
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- zest of one orange
- 2 teaspoons orange juice (from your zested orange)
- 1 cup of your favorite filling
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, sugar, eggs, orange juice and zest until combined. Tip the flour mixture into the wet ingredients in two parts, stirring with a rubber spatula after each addition to incorporate. Continue stirring and scraping down the sides of the bowl until your dough has formed and everything is homogenous and there are no dry patches.
Form the dough into a ball and split in half. Form two disks with your dough and wrap each one tightly in plastic wrap. Place in the fridge for at least two hours or up to overnight to chill and firm up.
To make either hamantaschen recipe:
Preheat your oven to 350˚F. Line two half-sheet pans (lipped or unlipped, it matters not) with parchment paper.
Remove 1 disk of dough from the refrigerator and place on parchment paper. If you’re working with the buttery version, sprinkle a little flour on the parchment (you shouldn’t need to do this with the dairy-free version), both below and above the dough.
Using a rolling pin and your patience face, roll out the dough as thinly and evenly as you can, to about 1/8-inch thick (or as close as you can possibly get it). Using a 3-inch biscuit or cookie cutter, cut out circles using the “press-and-shimmy” method: this is you pressing firmly down, then giving the cutter a little twist to loosen it from the dough sheet. Once you’ve cut all your circles, remove the dough around them and lift up each one, carefully transferring it to the prepared sheet pans and placing them about 1 inch apart. Ball up your dough scraps and re-roll, repeating until you’ve cut all the circles you can.
Once all your circles are on the sheets, remove your filling of choice from the fridge and use a teaspoon (an actual teaspoon measuring spoon, not just a spoon) to portion out the jam into the center of your dough circles. Note: don’t go crazy with the jam here. If anything, use a scant teaspoon, and please don’t overfill. If you do, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Assembly line time:
After all your jam is placed, begin to fold. Starting at the top of one sheet and working in rows, make one fold on each circle, towards you, using the three middle fingers on each hand to lift and fold, pressing down the sides firmly to seal. When your first folds are complete, turn the sheet around so the next side of the triangle can be folded it the same fashion, towards you. Turn your sheet again and finish the final folds of each triangle, double-checking the seams and tucking in any loose corners or edges.
Place completed sheets in the freezer for 20 minutes to firm up. You can do this one at a time: I made all my triangles and froze one sheet at a time (because I don’t have commercial freezer space), leaving the unfrozen sheet out on the counter until it’s turn came ’round.
Remove frozen cookies from the freezer and place immediately in the oven for:
- Buttery recipe: 12-13 minutes, checking at the 10-minute mark.
- Dairy-Free recipe: 10 minutes, checking at the 8-minute mark.
Either dough will be done when the bottoms are lightly golden brown and you just start to see the edges turn color. Don’t let that get too far; lift up one if you’re not sure and act accordingly, and try not to let them overbake.
Both recipes make around 45-50 cookies.