The Jewish holiday of Purim, which starts Wednesday at sundown, commemorates the rescuing of ancient Persia’s Jews around 400 B.C. from the evil Haman, who was king Ahasuerus’s prime minister and wanted them extinguished. Jews celebrate the deliverance to this day by wearing costumes, sending food to the poor and having a feast.
Because revenge is a dish best served sweet, Jews from around the diaspora make pastries that resemble or symbolize Haman’s features and clothes — as if, by eating them, they could get rid of this villain once again.
The popular Ashkenazi hamantaschen, a triangular pastry with a sweet filling, was adapted from a German pastry of the same shape and was meant to resemble either Haman’s pocket (“tasche”) or his hat. Some think the tricorn hat that was popular in parts of Europe in the 18th century might have been an inspiration. But Haman would not have worn a hat of that shape, since tricorns were not worn in the ancient Persian empire.
Such misperceptions we can live with; a popular Swedish pastry named Napoleonhattar (“Napoleon’s hat”) shares the triangular shape of the hamantaschen. But Napoleon famously wore a bicorn hat.
What we do know is this: Hamantaschen are delicious, especially when they are prepared at home and start with a rich dough. In the recipe after the jump, I call for two unusual fillings, both of which are Middle Eastern: a date spread mixed with chocolate and cardamom; and Turkish delight, a soft, gumdrop-like candy.
Makes 30 to 35 small pastries
It is important to roll the dough as thin as possible. If the surface you’re working on is floured well, you’ll be able to roll the dough to 1/16 inch.
Each of the two fillings is enough to make one batch (30 to 35) of hamantaschen. The dough recipe doubles easily.
Date spread is available in kosher markets. Pressed baking dates, almond flour (sometimes called almond powder) and Turkish delight (also known as lokum) are available in Middle Eastern markets; the specialty candy is also available at Rodman’s. Here, we used the rosewater variety, mainly for its beautiful color.
MAKE AHEAD: The dough needs to be refrigerated for 30 minutes. The hamantaschen can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
For the pastry
About 1 cup (5 ounces) flour, plus more for the work surface
Generous 1/4 cup (2 ounces) sugar
Generous 1/4 cup (2 ounces) finely ground almonds or almond flour (see headnote)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg
1 tablespoon heavy cream or milk
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)
For the date and chocolate filling
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
12 ounces date spread or pressed baking dates (see headnote)
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamo
For the Turkish delight filling
8 ounces Turkish delight (sold in 3/-inch-thick squares; see headnote)
For the pastry: Lightly flour a work surface.
Combine the sugar, flour, the ground almonds or almond flour and the butter in a food processor. Pulse until the butter is well incorporated, to create an evenly crumby consistency. Add the egg and the cream or milk; pulse just until the dough begins to form a ball. Turn the dough out onto the floured work surface; knead for a few minutes, then wrap the dough in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
For the date and chocolate filling: Place the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Melt it on LOW in 20-second intervals, stirring in between, until it becomes smooth. Stir in the date spread or press dates and the cardamom until well incorporated.
For the Turkish delight filling: Rinse the confectioners’ sugar from the outside of the cubes Turkish delight; dry well with paper towels. Cut each piece in half on the diagonal, to form 2 triangles.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 1 or 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Have a 3-inch cookie cutter or a drinking glass with a 3-inch opening at hand.
Divide the dough in half; refrigerate the half you aren’t using right away. Roll out the first half-portion of dough on the floured surface as thin as possible (as thin as 1 /16 inch, if you can). Dip the cookie cutter or glass rim into flour and cut out 30 to 35 circles of dough. Reroll the dough as needed.
If using the date and chocolate filling, use a teaspoon to mound a small amount of the filling in the center of each circle. If using the Turkish delight filling, put a triangle in the center of each circle.
Lift and pinch the edges of each circle in three places spaced evenly apart, to create a triangle; the filling will be partially exposed in the center. Arrange on the baking sheet, spacing them 1 inch apart. Bake one sheet at a time for 15 minutes or until the pastries are golden on the edges.
Transfer the pastries to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat to use all of the dough.
If desired, dust the cooled hamantaschen with confectioners’ sugar. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.