At Grossinger's in the Catskills, there's only prune. At Ratner's in Manhatten, only poppy seed triumphs. Elsewhere though, there has been no resolution. Which should fill the hamantashen.
Eaten during the Jewish holiday of Purim, these triangular filled pastries were adopted to poke fun at the headgear of an ancient enemy, Haman, who unsuccessfully schemed to annhilate the Persian Jews. His failure was cause for celebration; now the only conflict on Purim is gustatory.
Before there was prune, there was poppy seed. Some theories say that pre-Purim, there were muntashen, the mun meaning poppy seeds or manna, tashen meaning pockets.
When the repertoire of fillings was increased, prune was a logical addition, given the problem of getting decent fresh fruit in February or March. Thus the sides were drawn.
In Washington, prune has a strong lead. At Posin's Bakery and Deli on Georgia Avenue, prune outsells poppy 2-to-1. (For the record, that means about 20,000 prune hamantashen sold during Purim to 10,000 poppy.)
Deluxe Bakery in White Oak: Owner Fred Loeb says prune is more popular; after all, "you do sell prune danish every day," and "poppy seed coffeecakes don't sell well."
According to local grandmother-folklore, the Russian Jews preferred poppy seed; Hungarians ate prune since the same filling was used in other dishes. Thick fruit preserves found themselves in Polish hamantashen; Lithuanian tradition dictated pot cheese and white raisins. And today in Israel, cream cheese with lemon and egg is as popular as poppy seed.
But nowadays in Washington, says Ann Brody, owner of Zeltner's, "almost everyone uses canned fillings." Homemade ones are too much trouble, some bakeries will tell you.
On a home-size batch, though, it's no large chore to pure'e a box of pitted prunes. And one can widen the argument with plum or pineapple. Even chocolate chips.
Invent your own combinations by pure'ing fruit with nuts, or using any fruit preserve. The only stipulation is to make sure the filling is thick--dense enough to hold its shape.
Before embarking on these un-traditional hamantashen, a word about the dough. Just as partisans are divided between prune and poppy, so there are cookie-dough versus yeast-dough prejudices. The cookie dough is sweeter and more crumbly, the yeast dough is puffier and more like a roll.
With either, it's important to roll dough thinly so as not to produce too heavy a pastry, but thick enough that it can support the filling. The filling shouldn't ooze, of course, but you should get a bite of it with each corner of Haman's hat.
To start, the doughs: COOKIE DOUGH (Makes about 2 dozen) 2/3 cup pareve margarine or butter 1/2 cup sugar 1 egg 3 tablespoons milk or water 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 2 1/2 to 3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
Cream the shortening with the sugar. Add egg and continue creaming until smooth.
Add the milk and vanilla. Stir in the sifted flour until a ball of dough is formed (a food processor is excellent for this). Chill for 2 to 3 hours, or overnight.
Taking 1/4 of the dough, roll out on a lightly floured board to a thickness of 1/8-inch. Cut into 2-inch circles. Fill with a teaspoon or more of filling and fold into three-cornered cookies. (Press two sides together; and then fold the third side over and press the ends together.)
Bake on a well-greased cookie sheet for about 20 minutes at 350-degrees, until the corners are golden. From Joan Nathan's "Jewish Holiday Kitchen"
BARBARA POSNER'S YEAST DOUGH (Makes about 2 dozen) 1 envelope dry yeast 1/4 cup lukewarm water 1/4 cup butter 2 cups sifted flour 1 teaspoon sugar 1/2 cup sour cream 2 eggs, well beaten 1/4 teaspoon salt
Dissolve yeast in liquid. Cut the butter into the flour until the mixture achieves the texture of split peas. Add the dissolved yeast, sugar, sour cream, eggs and salt. Mix thoroughly to make a smooth dough. Place in bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
Roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness on a floured board. Cut the dough into triangles. Put the filling in the middle of the triangle. Bring the 3 points together with 1 hand and pinch the seams together with the other hand so the hamantashe is closed and the points stick up. Place hamantashen 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Let the dough rise at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours or until each hamantashe has doubled in size. Brush the top with melted butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes.
HOMESPUN'S DAMSON PLUM CONSERVE 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 cup raisins 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped coarsely 1 small orange, chopped coarsely (skin included) Juice of 1/2 lemon 17-ounce can plums, drained and chopped coarsely
Place sugar, raisins, walnuts, orange and lemon in a saucepan and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Add plums and cook for another 15 minutes.
PINEAPPLE-LEMON-APPLE FILLING 1 1/4 cups pineapple, peeled and coarsely chopped 3/4 cup apples, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped 1/4 cup quartered lemon slices 1 1/2 cups sugar 1 1/2 tablespoons brandy 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
Place pineapple and apples into a large pot and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. While the apples and pineapple are cooking, blanch the lemon. To do this, bring a small pot of water to a high boil, turn off the heat and add the lemon. After 5 minutes, drain the lemon, being sure to shake off any excess water. Add the blanched lemon, sugar, brandy and cinnamon to the pineapple and apple mixture. Cook over low heat for 45 minutes.
PEAR AND GINGER FILLING 1 1/2 pounds ripe pears, peeled, cored and chopped 2 cups sugar or to taste 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely chopped Pinch salt Grated rind of 1 lemon Juice of 2 lemons 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
In a saucepan, combine all ingredients. Simmer the mixture, stirring often, for 30 to 45 minutes or until the pears are tender and the filling is thick.
APRICOT-ALMOND FILLING 12 ounces dried apricots 1/4 teaspoon almond extract 1/4 cup almonds, chopped 1/2 cup sugar
Place apricots in a saucepan, cover with water and simmer until tender. Drain and pure'e in a blender or food processor. Add almond extract and sugar and stir well.
PRUNE FILLING 12-ounces pitted prunes 1/4 cup sugar 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped coarsely
Place prunes in a saucepan, cover with water and simmer until tender. Drain and pure'e in a food processor or blender. Add sugar, cloves and cinnamon and stir until well blended. Add nuts and mix.
POPPY-SEED FILLING 1 pound sugar 1/2 cup water 1 pound poppy seeds 2 egg whites 1 teaspoon vanilla Rind and juice of 1 lemon Rind and juice of 1 orange 2 tablespoons rum 4 ounces raisins 2 ounces figs, chopped Cinnamon to taste 2 cups apricot or raspberry jam 1/2 cup unsalted butter or pareve margarine
Combine the sugar and water and simmer while stirring over a low heat. Grind the poppy seeds in a food processor or blender. Add to sugar mixture. Add the egg whites, vanilla, lemon rind and juice, orange rind and juice, rum, raisins, figs and cinnamon. Simmer over a low heat for about 5 minutes. Add the jam and butter, and continue simmering until the butter is melted and all the ingredients are combined. Use as is, or put in the refrigerator for a few minutes until the filling becomes a bit firmer. From "Jewish Holiday Kitchen"