Purim really snuck up on me this year. What with the mad green frenzy last week, and the spring equinox, and even Easter in March, the hamantashen (3-cornered cookies symbolizing the hat of Haman, the villain in the biblical story of Queen Esther) damn near didn’t happen this year. Even though I don’t have a big family for big Jewish celebrations, it has become increasingly important to me over the past couple of years to make sure that I at least acknowledge the prominent holidays. And really, I don’t actually do anything for Purim, save for shoving hamantashen in my mouth if I get the chance, so hey, let’s make that happen, shall we??
I tried several varieties last year for the first time, but I felt that they needed tweaking, so I’m revisiting a few of them this year, including these Fig White Chocolate Poppy Hamantashen. These came from one of my favorite bakeries, Ovenly in New York, published on The Kitchn, but the linked recipe seems to be online no longer, so I’m really glad I copied it when I had the opportunity. As is their hallmark, Ovenly’s recipes throw down an interesting twist on most everything they make– their cookbook is quite special. One of the most common traditional filling flavors is poppy seeds, which I’ve never liked, though I do love poppy seeds in general; so I was delighted to discover this version which incorporated poppy seeds as a supporting flavor, also lending a pleasing crunch. The dominant flavor is definitely the figs– white chocolate helps to bind the filling mixture, though the flavor gets a bit lost. For this reason, I decided to drizzle them with white chocolate this year. Also, I found the Ovenly hamantashen dough rather difficult to work with, and it was a flakier texture than I prefer for hamantashen, so I went on the hunt for a new dough recipe. I have never had a go-to recipe, thus a woeful lack of hamantashen-making during most of my baking life, but that changes now, thanks to the one and only Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen. I even tried Mindy Segal’s outstanding dough recipe for rugelach/kolaches, which seemed like a great choice for hamantashen, but while delicious, it still wasn’t quite the cookie texture I was looking for. A good hamantashen dough recipe seems to be one of those elusive things for many Jewish bakers– you want a cookie that is at once tender and crisp, something like a sugar cookie, but not quite. And damnit, why won’t they ever hold their shape?? That’s the other common grievance in the wild world of hamantashen-making– the dough often pops open at the seams. Sure, you could eggwash it, but I was hoping to find a recipe where that was not necessary, being that I’m already making dough and filling, rolling and cutting said dough, and filling and shaping the cookies. I’d prefer to skip the fuss of eggwashing the dough edges, thank you.
So, this dough. Compared to all the previous doughs I’ve tried, this one is positively dreamy to work with. Others were soft, sticky, and finicky– in and out of the freezer, for example. First of all (how did I not mention this earlier?), the dough contains brown butter. And that right there is reason enough to ditch all the others, if you ask me. In fact, it’s not even like a choice; it’s an imperative. The dough comes together in a snap once the butter has been browned, followed by a quick stint in the freezer to firm up, and then it’s ready for rolling, cutting, and hamantashing. Now, let me confess that it wasn’t without problems on my first attempt; the cookies held their shape perfectly– I mean, perfectly. Gorgeous, symmetrical triangles with a tuft of filling peeking out of the center. However… they were tough and under-flavored. I was able to identify the following possible culprits:
- The dough is mixed by hand and gets stiff while adding all the requisite flour, so I’m afraid that I might have overworked the dough while trying to incorporate the loose flour at the bottom of the bowl.
- I had the heat turned up too high on the browning butter, resulting in a mini butter explosion (not fun to clean…), plus I spilled a bit while pouring it out of the skillet (oy), so I lost a little butter, which might have affected both the texture and the flavor.
- The recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and the seeds of ½ a vanilla bean; I substituted vanilla bean paste for both, but I think I didn’t use enough.
- After many past batches of unsightly opened-up hamantashen, I finally heeded the usual instruction not to overfill the cookies, but I think I erred on the side of too little filling this time.
- In what I *thought* was a clever move based on other recipes, I froze the shaped hamantashen for 15 minutes before baking, but this may have contributed to drying them out, though that trick did yield the prettiest and most uniform triangles of all the batches.
- It’s best to roll the dough very thin for hamantashen, like under ⅛”, but some of my dough was thicker, which, when coupled with the tough texture as described above, made for a mouthful of dry crumbs.
Sigh. So I set out to correct all these possibly minor/possibly major problems, with the hope that the second round would produce a more tender cookie, while retaining the pleasing aesthetic of the first batch.
And??… Nailed it. I made sure to get all the butter into the proper vessel, added more vanilla bean paste and salt, rolled the dough very thin, filled the cookies just right, and nixed the pre-baking freezer nap. I also cut back on the flour by 2 tablespoons– this seems to have made a huge difference in the texture of the dough; it was still very much a workable dough, but with a noticeably softer consistency. Furthermore, I divided the dough into 4 smaller pieces to minimize re-rolling the dough scraps.
The result was a crisp, but not tough, cookie with light notes of vanilla and brown butter– just what I wanted! The only slight compromise was, without freezing the shaped cookies, the thinly-rolled dough corners flopped over sometimes, creating slightly twisty triangles, but I decided that this was a-okay because each one is different and quirky. Next time I will pop them in the freezer for 5 minutes before baking to see if that makes a difference in holding their shapes, but you absolutely don’t have to do this.
And finally, the fillings: Fig White Chocolate Poppyseed (below), this amazing Chocolate Chip Custard, rhubarb-raspberry jam, apricot preserves, and Brown Butter Hazelnut Paste with apricot. Have at it with the fillings– use anything you like!
To summarize, here are my tips for successful hamantashen:
- Don’t over-handle the dough
- Divide the dough into smaller pieces for rolling
- Roll the dough very thinly, no more than ⅛” thick, but more like 1/16″
- Don’t overfill the cookies– the fillings and dough tend to puff in the oven, leading to sad, busted-open seams and deformed triangles
- Freeze the cookies for 5 minutes on a baking sheet before putting them in the oven (optional– will help to retain their shapes)
- I prefer them without an eggwash on the outside, but you can certainly brush them with beaten egg or egg white for a shiny finish
- Feel free to experiment with fillings!
- If using a runny fruit jam, it’s best to boil it in a small saucepan for about 15 minutes, or until reduced and thickened
For the dough:
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ⅔ cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste, or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract + seeds from ½ vanilla bean
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2¼ cups cups all-purpose flour (omitted the additional 2 tablespoons in the original recipe)
For the fig filling:
- 3 cups dried black mission figs, chopped
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup water
- 4 oz white chocolate, preferably a 35% cocoa butter variety, chopped or wafers
- ¼ cup poppy seeds
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
For the topping:
- 4 ounces high-quality white chocolate, melted
Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a medium skillet (not nonstick). Continue to cook it for several minutes, stirring frequently; it will foam and spatter. To keep the spattering at a minimum, lift the pan off the heat an inch or two and swirl the butter gently. After about 10 minutes or so, it will start to smell warm and amazing, and golden brown flecks will appear in the bottom of the pan (toasted milk solids of the butter). You can take it off the heat once these reach a dark beige/medium brown color, or leave the pan on the heat a little longer for a darker amber color. I prefer this darker shade because it is even more flavorful, but you can’t take your eyes off it, because it will go from toasty to burned in a flash.
When you’ve achieved your desired shade of brown, pour ¼ cup of brown butter (there might be a little left over) into the bottom of a large bowl and allow it to cool slightly. Whisk in the sugar, followed by the vanilla bean paste. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, then the salt and baking powder together. Using a wooden spoon, stir in 1 cup flour until most of the white streaks have been absorbed. Add another cup of flour and stir, and finally the remaining ¼ cup. The dough gets stiff while stirring in the second cup; once all the flour has been incorporated as best you can with the spoon, lightly knead the dough with your hands to bring in any remaining flour and form a smooth dough. Take care not to overwork the dough– it should be uniform and flexible, but not too firm.
Divide the dough into quarters and flatten them into disks; wrap each one in plastic wrap and either chill in the fridge from 2 hours up to a few days, or stick them in the freezer for 20-40 minutes. The disks should be firm, but not frozen (though I imagine the dough freezes well if you are working ahead).
Meanwhile, make the fig filling. Combine the figs, sugar, and water in a medium saucepan, and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the figs are softened, the sugar is gooey and syrupy, and most of the water has dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and add the white chocolate; let it sit and melt for a few minutes, then stir the mixture with a wooden spoon to incorporate the chocolate. (It’s okay if some unmelted chunks remain.)
Transfer the fig mixture to a food processor, add the poppy seeds and salt, and pulse until a chunky paste forms. Let the filling cool to room temperature before using.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Retrieve one piece of dough from the fridge/freezer and allow it to soften slightly at room temperature for 5-10 minutes. While you wait, line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper. Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Roll the dough out no more than ⅛” thick, thinner if you can. Add a bit flour from time to time if the dough sticks to the work surface or rolling pin. Take another dough disk out of the fridge to start thawing.
Using a 3″ round cookie/biscuit cutter, cut rounds out of the rolled-out dough. Re-roll the scraps and continue cutting out as many circles as possible.
Place about 1 teaspoon of fig filling (or any filling that you’re using) in the center of each dough circle. Resist the urge to fill them more, as the filling may spill out or the cookies will open up. Pinch together two spots of the dough’s edge to form two sides of a triangle, and bring up the dough on the opposite side to meet the other triangle corners. Pinch the corners together firmly (but gently!) to minimize separating while the cookies bake. Place the filled cookies on the sheet pan. Put the sheet pan in the freezer for 5 minutes if desired, or straight into the oven.
Bake for 11-13 minutes, depending on how crisp and browned you want them. I like a little golden brown color on the edges, but not too dark. Set the sheet pan on a wire rack to cool for 5-10 minutes, then slide the pan out from under the parchment paper and let the hamantashen cool to room temperature on the rack.
Roll out the second dough disk and repeat the cutting and baking process, then do the same with the third and fourth pieces of dough.
Once cooled, drizzle the cookies with melted white chocolate and allow it to set at room temperature or place the pan in the fridge for a few minutes.
The hamantashen can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days at room temperature.
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2016.