Today is the anniversary of the night the Mensch proposed to me. Over a plate of snails at Peter Havens, a lovely restaurant in Brattleboro, Vermont, he asked me to marry him, and I asked if this was a joke, and he said no, and I said, “Okay.”
Our courtship was one that had a distinct emphasis on food. Actually, our entire friendship, even before we were a couple, had two threads running through it: food and music. We bonded over our loves of aioli and Lou Reed. Early in our courtship, the Mensch came to visit me one weekend and I’d made hamantaschen, and he broke out into a crazed jig. “What the hell is that?” I asked, and he said, “It’s my Hamantaschen Dance!” For a Gentile, he sure loved hamantaschen.
So I’ve been baking hamantaschen a long time, is my real point here, and in all these years I’ve never found a recipe or technique that made me happy. I am a believer in Solo Poppy Seed-filled hamantaschen, and I don’t mind buying cans of it at all. The fact that it is poppy seed in high fructose corn syrup glop is completely fine with me. I love it. But the cooky part has always stymied me. I have a lot of cookbooks, as you can imagine, and I probably have more than a dozen hamantaschen recipes under my belt, and none of them have been what I wanted. What I wanted was to be able to replicate, at least sort of, the kind of big fat cookies I used to be able to get at the Westville Kosher Bakery. I am sure you know the kind I mean. In real bakeries, hamantaschen are always huge, it seems, with these soft, crumbly cookies, and the filling always has this slight, slight crust on top of it, and then underneath that crust is just a big fat blob of wonderful goop, your choice of poppyseed, prune (yuck), raspberry, or apricot (neither of which I would ever eat, left to my own devices). I know recipes nowadays talk about things like chocolate filled hamantaschen or Nutella-filled hamantaschen, but these things are uncool and I will never make them, so don’t even ask.
While the Mensch has always happily eaten whatever hamantaschen I put on a plate, the fact was, I was never happy with them. But today. Today. TODAY, I did a Google search and landed on the recipe that I believe will be the recipe I use for the rest of my life. I found it by Googling “hamantaschen like bakeries sell” and at http://www.joyofkosher.com , my friends, is the recipe that changed my life.
You might ask, “Darling, is it so hard? Why are you so picky about your hamantaschen?” But it’s like anything: we like what we like, we don’t like what we don’t like. I have found that most recipes call for orange juice to go into the dough; I don’t like oranges, or orange-flavored things, and there’s no way I’d want an orange flavored hamantaschen. (One of the reasons I am so partial to the Solo brand of poppy seed filling is that it does not have any citrus in it; most recipes for poppy seed fillings call for citrus. This leads us into the stupid problem of poppy seed muffins and cakes, which foolish people are always putting lemon or orange in — we’ll tackle that another day.) The recipe at joyofkosher.com is flexible enough to let me avoid citrus, and, more crucially, it explained a step that I think makes all the difference in how the cooky turns out. I will explain.
Most recipes tell you to make your dough and roll it out and cut out your circles and put your filling on and then fold the sides up to make the triangle. At this point, some recipes demand an egg wash, and some don’t. Then you bake.
If you are me, you’ve turned out endless trays of cookies that — while they taste good — are basically round circles of unfolded hamantaschen dough with a spread-out blob of filling on top.
Here’s the thing. Joyofkosher tells me this essential fact: you have to brush the circles of dough with egg wash before you put the filling on. This is not a joke: this is a detail that makes all the difference in the world.
So here is what I did. As per Joyofkosher, I took two sticks of butter and creamed it in a mixer, and I added 1 1/4 cups of granulated sugar, and I blended them together until pretty smooth. They ask you to mix in three eggs; I used two jumbo eggs, and blended until fairly smooth; it was pretty lumpy, to be honest with you — I think the eggs were perhaps colder than they should have been when I added them to the bowl. A quarter cup of milk also went in (2%, for those of you keeping track at home, but I don’t think it would matter much).
I then added vanilla (they suggest orange juice OR vanilla, good souls that they are), about 1 1/2 teaspoons, and then slowly mixed in about 4 cups of flour (NB: EDIT MADE in MARCH 2016: there is no way I added four cups of flour; that’d be a massive quantity of flour. The original recipe, which I’ve relocated at http://www.joyofkosher.com/recipes/elaines-hamantashen-hamantaschen/ , calls for 2 1/2 cups of flour, which is a much more reasonable quantity to match against 2 sticks of butter, 1 1/4 cups of sugar, etc. etc. However, this dough is VERY tender, and you will want as much as a cup of extra flour to help you work with the dough when you go to roll it out, etc. etc.,) to which I’d added 2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. I mixed this all together. It made a very thick dough, which was pretty messy to handle. I turned it out onto my countertop, which I’d dusted with flour, and then spent a few minutes trying to get the dough stuck to the bowl out (I did this by using flour, tossing in some flour and rubbing the sides of the bowl until the dough just kind of flaked off on its own, and then I just added those flakes into my big ball on the counter). At this point, I turned on the oven to let it heat to 350, and let the dough rest. I set up my little bowl of egg wash (egg mixed smooth, maybe a teaspoon of heavy cream splashed in) and opened my can of poppyseed filling, and was ready to go.
Roll out; cut, set aside on parchment paper. When you have a trayful of cooky circles ready, take a little brush (I have a silicone brush I like for this) and brush egg wash lightly onto each circle. Then put a teaspoon of filling onto the circles, all of them; and then fold all the circles. I found that about 14 cookies fit well onto a tray, but it obviously depends on the size and shape of your cooky sheet. When you’ve got them on the tray, brush them with the egg wash again, and put them into the oven. The recipe says to make for 18 to 25 minutes; I found 18 to be nowhere near long enough, and 25 minutes was the way to go. At 25 minutes the dough that had egg wash on it had turned a lovely golden color. Whisk them from the oven, move to cooling racks, done.
The mensch had been out of the house while I made these today, but he came home when they were in process, and let me tell you: he was not at all annoyed to walk in the door and smell hamantaschen baking. I ran out of poppyseed filling and so the last tray and a half was, I’m sorry to report, filled with Bonne Maman raspberry jam, but it’s ok: the mensch will eat those happily. And he concurs with me: these are the best hamantaschen I have ever made. It is nice to finally feel, after all these years, that there’s something I’ve learned to do right. Why did it take so long? What book was I not reading that had this recipe, this piece of advice about the double egg wash? Am I stupid? I don’t know; I don’t know. All I know is, I am not looking back. In fact, I am looking over at the kitchen counter, thinking, “I am going to go eat another hamantaschen now.”
(Dedicated to Bekah, who understands what it’s like to be the kind of person who would eat Solo Poppyseed Filling out of the can with a spoon.)