active: 30 min
total: 2 hrs
Welcome to our new series, in which we seek to gently tweak the anachronisms of the Jewish culinary canon (shav, we’re looking at you). With a little bit of love, we’re convinced we can reclaim the dishes that seem the strangest to the modern palate. Sweet and sour tongue, anyone?
First up, because it’s that time of year: hamantaschen. They’re cookies, so what could be bad, right? Sadly, plenty. They’re bland. They’re dry. And all too often, the traditional prune and poppy seed fillings are sickly sweet. This disappointing dessert is especially painful on a holiday uniquely dedicated to pleasure.
The origin of the cookie’s name is a mystery. As kids, we’re fed the theory that hamentaschen are named after the three-cornered hat Haman wore, and that we eat them to celebrate his demise. Nu, we would celebrate more if they tasted better! Another possibility is that the cookies are shaped like his ears, not his hat. The Hebrew for hamentaschen is oznei Haman, or Haman’s ears. Criminals' ears were often cut off before they were executed, so that makes sense. But then we’re eating ears—ugh! Finally, there’s the Biblical explanation: that the three corners represent Judaism’s forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
What makes the most sense is the theory that the word hamentaschen comes from the German words mohn (poppy seed) and taschen (pockets). An article in Reform Judaism magazine speculates that because the popular poppy seed pockets of about a millennium ago sounded, in Ashkenaz, like Haman’s name, they became the designated treat of the holiday.
A thousand years later, poppy seed is still the go-to filling, but why stop at upgrading the dough? Halvah, the sweet Middle Eastern sesame paste, is a great addition to this version of hamentaschen, which is neither dry nor bland thanks to a drizzle of orange juice in the dough. Sesame and orange bring a welcome Sephardi spin to a traditional Ashkenazi food, making these cookies the perfect treat for any Purim table.