The Hamantaschen Roundup: The Traditional And The Reinvented | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

The Hamantaschen Roundup: The Traditional And The Reinvented

The Hamantaschen Roundup: The Traditional And The Reinvented

Rainbow hamentaschen, Cocktail Infused fillings, Savory Varieties and so much more from our favorite kosher bloggers.

Facebook icon
Twitter icon
Digg icon
e-mail icon

The most poignant moment in Fiddler on the Roof is when Tevye says “without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as ... as... as a fiddler on the roof!” Tradition is what keeps us grounded and gives us something to hold on to even when circumstances are difficult. “On the other hand,” as Tevye also says, we all come to realize that as the world changes, we must change as well.

We Jews hold fast to our traditions, even when it comes to what we eat. But foods also change with the changing times. Today there’s whole wheat matzo balls. Beet and goat cheese latkes instead of potato. We might still choose cholent for Shabbat, but maybe now we add faro, or Serrano peppers, or some other global ingredient grandma never knew of.

So, as Tevye asks, “where does it stop?” Some of our traditions are immutable. But how far can we go when it comes to recipes?

 Purim is coming, and in the food world that means zillions of hamantaschen in the bakeries, and zillions of hamantaschen recipes for those who bake their own. If you stick to tradition you’ll eat poppy seed or prune hamantaschen, (although apricot and raspberry, which were “modern” once upon a time, have also become classics). 

Melissa Kaye, a pastry chef who creates gorgeous occasion cakes and confections has a website loaded with modern hamantaschen recipes (including pina colada and pumpkin chai), but she says she grew up baking traditional prune and apricot hamantaschen with her mother and “cannot let Purim go by without baking these nostalgic treats.”

Some of my other fellow kosher bloggers also confess to loving the traditional. There’s something comforting about that classic, sweet, cookie. And yet while Melinda Strauss of Kitchen Tested says “I love a well made hamantaschen with a soft dough and apricot filling,” she prefers to “try new flavors and see how far out of the box I can go.” Her children are so used to her creative recipes they “don't even realize that I'm experimenting with traditional foods,” she says, so when Purim comes they’ll think the Rainbow Hamantaschen or Black and White Cookie Hamantaschen are nothing unusual. Cookbook author Norene Gilletz also has fond memories of her mother’s hamantaschen with poppy seed filling, but her current favorite is the Five Fruit Filling from her food processor cookbook.

Those who aren’t familiar with traditional Ashkenazy food – like Vicky Cohen and Ruth Fox, who come from a Lebanese background and who grew up in Spain – don’t feel the pull of a classic hamantaschen. So, these two sisters, whose blog is loaded with innovative recipes, created Walnut and Orange Blossom Oznei Haman in memory of a friend’s mother. But even more untraditional is their recipe for savory spinach hamantaschen.

Savory hamantaschen?

Why not! Levana Kirschenbaum, restaurateur, cooking teacher and cookbook author told me. Levana bakes traditional hamantaschen, but the recipe on her website gives instructions for several variations, including gluten-free, and suggests that if you want to be adventurous, skip the sugar in the dough and fill the triangles with any meat or cheese filling that you might use in a boureka.

Asked about savory hamantaschen, Melinda told me that she definitely prefers the sweet kind “but I certainly wouldn't say no to a brisket hamantaschen if it was put in front of me.” That sounds good to me too. I’ve never baked beef hamantaschen but have made some with a spiced lamb, raisin and pine nut stuffing, inside a triangle of phyllo pastry, drizzled with lemon-tahini sauce. Chanie Apfelbaum takes savory hamantaschen even one step further – no pastry! But her triangular shaped Haman-hat sushi rolls are perfect for Purim.

Where does it stop?

Nowhere, not in the kitchen anyway, not for Purim, not for Alison Barnett Gutwaks, who bakes Hamantaschen with a different tradition in mind: the one in the Megillah that instructs us to make merry as we celebrate a victory over an enemy who tried to destroy our people. On Purim we are told to drink until we can’t tell the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordecai!” So Alison combines the two traditions, hamantaschen and liquor, to make “gourmet cocktail” filled hamantaschen. Thus far she has created the Mojito Hamantaschen, the Whiskey Sour, Tequila Sunrise and many more, recipes at her website (she also sells them at AliBabka@AliBabka.com). These are “adult” versions, of course, though Alison says the alcohol bakes out in the heat of the oven (and also that you can leave out the liquor).

So, tradition?

Yes, says Gloria Kobrin, who developed a popular kosher recipe app and hosts a Purim seudah every year. She offers an interesting, international menu, but for dessert she always chooses the traditional hamantaschen filled with homemade apricot puree, prune butter and poppyseed. “The new Hamantashen-both savory and sweet – all sound so creative and interesting; but I feel more connected to the old fashioned variety I had as a child,” she says.

No tradition?

Where does it stop? You decide.

Ronnie Fein is a cookbook author, food writer and cooking teacher in Stamford. She is the author of The Modern Kosher Kitchen and Hip Kosher. Visit her food blog, Kitchen Vignettes, at www.ronniefein.com, friend on Facebook at RonnieVailFein, Twitter at @RonnieVFein.

Join The Discussion