Purim starts tomorrow at sundown and Jews around the world are reading the Book of Esther, throwing big, rowdy Purim parties and eating hamantaschen cookies...
It's the most boisterous Jewish holiday (the Talmud basically instructs Jews to get super drunk) of the year and the biblical story goes that Purim is the day that Queen Esther of Persia, who was secretly a Jew, saved the Jews from persecution by the King and his evil political advisor, Haman. If you are seeing lots of triangular, jam-filled cookies on your newsfeed lately, it's because Purim is coming. Hamantaschen cookies are thought to symbolize Haman's ears or his 3-cornered hat.
Lately, I've been talking to friends about how they celebrate their culture(s). Like me, many of them only feel (insert culture here) when they eat. For years, the way we've celebrated Purim is by making and eating hamantaschen. Every year, I make a classic hamantaschen using homemade jam from our cousins in New York. This year, I decided to try something different in addition. In the spirit of blending our two cultures, I came up with the idea for matcha hamantaschen after seeing some in a French cafe in Jerusalem a couple of weeks ago. There, they were filled with marzipan. My version is filled with a Japanese black sugar and black sesame filling.
My first few times baking hamantaschen were total disasters. To be fair, I was naive enough to attempt lemon curd as the filling. It's extremely important to have a good dough recipe, proper filling-to-cookie ratios and folding technique. I started with Tori Avey's recipe, which I can attest is 100% Jewish mother-in-law-approved. I've made some adjustments to this recipe based on my own experience and changed some of the ingredients this year, but I credit Tori with helping me master hamantaschen. If you're interested in Judaism and cooking Jewish cuisine, her website continues to be an invaluable wealth of knowledge for me. As with most Japanese sweets, I've pared down the sugar quite a bit.
Things to know beforehand:
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, room temperature
2 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons matcha
With an electric mixer, beat softened butter and sugar together until light and fluffy- about 3-4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple of times. Add egg, about 2 minutes and beat until creamy. Scrape sides of bowl a couple of times.
In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and matcha until well-incorporated. Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet (in fourths) and mix on low speed until the dough looks more like it's sticking together than crumbly. Scrape down the sides a couple of times and mix for about 3 minutes.
Start to gather the dough in one ball with your hands until smooth and slightly tacky. You may need to add a little flour at a time if your dough is too wet and sticky. It should be tacky enough to stick together, but when smooth not stick to your fingers.
Form the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator to chill overnight.
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup milk
1/2 cup black sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten
4oz. whole black sesame seeds
Grind the sesame seeds in a large mortar and pestle or food processor in 4 batches, about 10 seconds per batch. They should be powdery and smell amazing! Beat eggs in a small bowl
Melt butter in a medium pot over medium heat. Very slowly whisk in the milk, black sugar and salt, whisk vigorously and continuously for about 5-6 minutes. Your milk may start to curdle a little, that's okay! Once black sugar has completely melted, turn heat to low and pour 1 cup of mixture into a liquid measuring cup. Very, very slowly (the process should take about 6-7 minutes), drizzle the hot liquid into the beaten eggs. You want to go slowly so you don't cook the eggs. Pour the egg mixture back into the pan and whisk constantly for 3-5 minutes until it starts to thicken.
Remove your pot from the heat and stir in the ground sesame seeds. Let cool and leave out over night.
When you are ready to assemble the hamantaschen, remove the dough from the refrigerator and set the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Lightly flour a clean surface for rolling- I like to use my countertop.
Roll the dough out. It will be very firm at first and will take some elbow grease. Cracks will form at the edges- don't worry! I like to roll out my dough until it's between 1/4-1/8" thick. When it's about halfway there, flip over with a pastry scraper- be sure to re-flour your surface. This is also when my rolling pin starts to stick to the dough, so flour it if needed. Continue rolling out the dough to desired thickness. Between 1/4-1/8" will give you cookies that are slightly crispy but still a little doughy.
Using your cookie cutter, cut as many circles from your dough as you can. Place the circles onto your cookie sheets. Gather the scraps and edges, shape them into a disc and refrigerate again. When dough has hardened (about 2-3 hours, this one will be stickier), roll it again and cut more circles. I usually end up with around 25-30.
Place only one teaspoon (and no more) of black sesame filling into the center of each cookie. Use Tori's technique to fold each cookie and place on cookie sheets, about 1" apart. Be sure not to over-fill. Too much filling= more difficult to fold.
Bake cookies for about 20 minutes, or until the corners start to slightly brown. Cool the cookies on a wire rack and enjoy!