What do you think of when you think about the happy Jewish holiday of Purim? Costumes, Esther megillah, gift baskets, but also and above all, these delicious pastries with three corners called the hamentaschen (המן-טאַשן in Hebrew or homentashen in Yiddish), called oznei Haman (אוזני המן) in Hebrew, literally meaning “Haman’s ears”.
What are Hamentaschen?
You will find them under several other names and spellings like hamantash, hamentasch, homentash, homentasch, homentaschan, and umentash. The Yiddish word is pronounced huh-min-tah-shun.
The word hamantash is singular while hamantaschen is the plural form, the most commonly used form. Indeed, many call these pastries hamantaschen and this, even in the singular. Often, you will hear: “I ate a hamantaschen”.
Circles are cut from a shortcrust pastry and the sides are folded around a spoonful of filling. Hamantaschen dough can be made with oil, with butter, and sometimes even with cream cheese.
They can be filled with many different fillings. The two most traditional fillings are mohn, a paste made from poppy seeds and levkar, a kind of jam made from prunes.
But today they are also very commonly filled with chocolate spread, chocolate ganache, nut paste, almond paste, raisins, apricot, cherry or fig jam, dulce de leche, halva, and caramel.
In Israel, all flavors and fillings are allowed, from the most classic to the most surprising such as cheese.
The consistency of hamantaschen can vary from a hard dough to a soft and chewy dough. With the addition of baking powder, they will be tender and without baking powder they will be sandy and brittle.
The story of Purim
The story of Purim is older than that of Hanukkah, the festival of lights. While Hanukkah is around the time of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, Purim dates back to Babylonian exile, which lasted from the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem until the construction of the Second.
The story of Purim happened 2,500 years ago and is fully told in the Megillat Esther (Book of Esther), one of the 24 books of Tanakh. It is the 21st book.
Tanakh (in Hebrew תנ״ך) is the acronym for Hebrew תּוֹרָה – נביאים – כתובים (Torah – Nevi’im – Ketouvim) formed from the initial of title of the three constituent parts of the Hebrew Bible:
- Torah תּוֹרָה (the law and the divine teaching transmitted by God to Moses)
- Nevi’im נביאים (books of the Prophets)
- Ketouvim כתובים (all other writings or hagiographers)
The festival of Purim begins on the evening of 14 adar and ends on the evening of 15 adar (which falls in March or April) and therefore commemorates all the events described in this Book of Esther, the writing of which can be approximately dated in the 4th century BC.
After the destruction of the first Temple in Jerusalem, the Jews lived in exile under Persian rule, whose empire extended over all of the ancient world. The capital of this empire was Chouchane (or Susa, current Elam, in Iran).
The story of Purim takes place during the reign of Ahasuerus (Ah’achveroch). Ahasuerus, who reigned over 127 provinces, prohibiting the further construction of the Temple, one day decided to organize a great feast for his subjects, and asked his wife, Queen Vachti, to participate in this banquet where all the prominent people of these provinces were invited. Vachti refused and Ahasuerus got angry and immediately repudiated his wife.
A search was therefore organized to find a new queen for King Ahasuerus. The most beautiful girls in the city of Chouchane were summoned, and among them, a very beautiful Jewish girl whose name was Esther.
Mordecai, a pious Jew and spiritual leader of the Jews in exile, worked at the court of King Assuerus. He then lived with his orphaned niece, Esther, who was none other than this beautiful girl who was also graceful and brilliant.
Mordecai feared the day when Esther would be called to appear at the court of Assuerus in this great beauty contest to find a new wife for the king because he knew he could not hide her for long.
Eventually, Esther was brought to the royal palace, and chosen by Ahasuerus as the queen, out of thousands of beautiful women. On the advice of her uncle Mordecai, Esther then kept her Jewish identity secret.
Then arrived Haman, a wicked man, deeply anti-Jewish, who became the vizier and prime minister of King Ahasuerus and who urgently decreed that everyone should bow down to him.
Mordecai refused, believing that he would bow down only before God. Haman then decided to exterminate all the Jewish people, complaining to the king about the behavior of the Jews, who refused to comply with the laws.
Haman, with the king’s agreement, then prepared a decree to kill all Jews with the following objective: “destroy, exterminate and annihilate all young and old Jews, children and women, in one day”. He even randomly picked the date: the 13th of the month of Adar.
When Mordecai, the queen’s uncle learned of this, he turned to Esther to intervene with King Assuerus on behalf of the Jewish people.
But she feared to approach the king without being invited, because one could be put to death for such a fault. She agreed to risk her life and approached the king but asked Mordecai before that all the Jewish people pray and fast for 3 days.
Esther informed the king of Haman’s hideous plans and implored his mercy to save her people and therefore herself as a Jew. Thanks to Queen Esther, all the Jews were saved.
Esther then invited the king and Haman to two days of feasting, without revealing her reasons. On the eve of the first feast, troubled by the situation, Ahasuerus discovered that he owed a debt to Mordecai who had once saved his life after he heard two of his guards accidentally plotting his assassination. With the help of Esther, Mordecai foiled this assassination.
The king then asked Haman for advice: “What should I do to honor someone who has honored me?” Thinking that the king was talking about him, Haman suggested to him: “I would give him the most expensive clothes, sprinkled with precious stones and diamonds, and have him carried on the king’s horse in the palace courtyard, and we will announce: See, that’s what happens to a man whom a king particularly wants to honor! ”
Ahasuerus then listened to Haman’s advice, and therefore asked him to do all these honors to Mordecai, his worst enemy.
On the second feast day, Esther revealed to the king her Jewish identity and Haman’s decree for the extermination of the Jews. Ahasuerus, rebellious, immediately changed the decree and sent Haman to the gallows originally intended to kill Mordecai.
The 14th of adar, the day after the date of the extermination of the Jewish people picked by Haman, was therefore chosen by the sages as the date of celebration of the feast of Purim.
The origin of hamentaschen
The name hamantash is therefore considered to be a reference to Haman. This pastry is meant to symbolize the enemy defeated by the Jewish people.
The word tasche means “pocket” in German, and could therefore refer to the pockets of Haman, symbolizing the money that Haman would have offered to Ahasuerus in exchange for permission to destroy all the Jews.
Also, in Hebrew, tash means “to weaken”, and it is said that the hamantash could celebrate the weakening of Haman but also the hope that God will weaken all the enemies of the Jews.
Another possible source of the name is a popular etymology: the Yiddish word מאָן־טאַשן (montashn) for a traditional delicacy, corresponding to the German word Mohntaschen, the plural of Mohntasche, literally meaning “pocket of poppy seeds”. The word would have been transformed into hamantaschen.
In Israel, hamantaschen are called oznei Haman (Hebrew: אוזני המן), meaning “the ears of Haman” in Hebrew, referring to the ears of the defeated vizier.
As for the three-sided shape of the cake, it would be related to an old legend that Haman wore a hat with three corners.
Also, the Midrash, the third of the four rabbinical interpretations of the Hebrew Bible, says that when Haman recognized the merit of the Three Patriarchs, his strength immediately weakened.
Hamantaschen are also said to resemble the dice of the ancient royal Babylonian game of Ur, suggesting that the pastries are believed to symbolize the pyramid shape of the dice thrown by Haman to determine the day of destruction for the Jews.
Gil Marks, rabbi, historian anthropologist and author of an encyclopedia on Jewish cuisine discusses this sentence when speaking of the Roman scholar and poet Emmanuel ben Solomon (c.1261-1328) who, thanks to “a misinterpretation resulting from Italian custom medieval to cut off the ear of a criminal before the execution,” said that Haman’s ear had been cut off after he was hanged, at the end of the Purim story.
Purim is the happiest Jewish holiday. It is characterized by a spirit full of joy both in the evening and in the morning first by reading or listening to the Book of Esther. Gifts are made to the needy, food and drinks are sent as gifts to friends and family, people participate in a special festive banquet where everyone drinks wine at will until they are confused.
The mask, the concealment, the reversal of fate are the keys to this celebration. A masquerade party, in memory of this beautiful queen Esther who hid her identity from the king and of course, let’s not forget the delicious hamantaschen on all the tables and in all the gift baskets.
- ¾ cup unsalted butter (at room temperature), cut into small pieces
- ⅔ cup caster sugar
- 1 large egg (at room temperature)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
- 2¼ cups sifted flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon water (or more if necessary)
- 2 tablespoons icing sugar (optional)
- 8 oz. poppy seeds (whole)
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup milk
- ¾ cup caster sugar
- ¼ cup honey
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs , beaten
- 12 oz. pitted prunes
- 1 cup water
- ¼ cup orange juice
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup brown sugar
- 1¼ cup heavy cream
- 10 oz. dark chocolate (50% cocoa minimum)
- Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer.
- Add the sugar.
- Cream the butter and sugar together for 3 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy.
- Add the egg, vanilla and orange zest. Beat again for 2 minutes until obtaining a creamy consistency.
- Add the flour and salt, and, using the flat beater, mix on low speed until a dough forms.
- The kneading time should not be long; knead only until the dough has a good consistency and is smooth.
- If the mixture seems too dry to form a smooth dough, add more water slowly, 1 teaspoon at a time, using your hands to knead the liquid into the dough.
Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough into an ⅛ inch (3 mm) thick flat disc between two sheets of parchment paper and wrap everything with plastic wrap. Lightly flour the rolling pin from time to time to prevent it from sticking.
- Place the dough thus rolled in the refrigerator for 8 hours.
- Before starting to form the hamantaschen, choose and prepare the filling. It must be ready to use.
Preheat the oven to 350 F (180˚C).
- Lightly flour a very smooth work surface.
- Unpack the dough and place it on the floured surface. The dough should be very firm.
Use a round cookie cutter of about 2½ inches (6 cm) in diameter (or the edge of a glass) to cut circles in the dough.
- Gather the remaining dough and roll it out again. Cut circles again.
- Use the same process until the dough is used up.
- Place a teaspoon of filling in the center of each circle. Do not use too much so as not to run the risk that the filling overflows from the hamantaschen during cooking.
- Cover unused circles with a slightly damp cloth to prevent them from drying out during filling and forming the others.
- Assemble the hamantaschen in three steps:
- 1/ First, grab the left side of the circle and fold it towards the center to make a flap that covers the left third of the circle.
- 2/ Pick the right side of the circle and fold it towards the center, overlapping the upper part of the flap on the left side to create a triangular point at the top of the circle. A small filling triangle should always be visible in the center
- 3/ Pick the lower part of the circle and fold it upwards to create a third part and finish the triangle.
- Pinch each corner of the triangle gently but firmly to maintain the shape. If cracks form in the places where the dough is crumpled, use the heat of the fingers to smooth them out.
- Repeat this process for the remaining circles of dough.
- When all the hamantaschen have been filled, place them on a baking sheet lightly greased or lined with parchment paper, and space them out.
- Bake for 10 to 20 minutes or until the cookies are fully baked and light brown.
- Start checking them after 10 minutes of cooking because the cooking time varies depending on the thickness of the dough.
- Cool the hamantaschen on a rack.
- When the cookies are warm, sprinkle with icing sugar (optional).
- Store them in a metal box.
- Grind the poppy seeds 3 times in a coffee grinder or food processor for about 20 seconds per batch, until they are fully ground and powdery.
- Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in milk, sugar, honey and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the honey melts.
Add the eggs into the bowl of a stand mixer. Gradually add ¾ cup (200 ml) of hot milk to the eggs, whisking vigorously and constantly until all the hot liquid is integrated into the eggs.
- Do not pour too quickly, otherwise the eggs will be scrambled. It should take about a minute.
- Slowly pour the heated egg mixture into the remaining hot milk in the pan, whisking constantly.
- Continue to whisk and cook for 4 more minutes over low to medium heat until the mixture thickens and turns light yellow. It is ready when it thickly covers the back of a spoon.
- Remove the pan from the heat. Whisk the ground poppy seeds in the liquid mixture and mix well to combine all the ingredients.
- Allow to cool to room temperature before use.
- Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan except the brown sugar. Stir and bring to a boil for a minute. Reduce the heat to low to medium so that the mixture simmers slowly and constantly. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring every 3 minutes.
- Remove the cover. Simmer the prunes for an additional 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid has evaporated.
- Stir well to make sure the prunes do not burn.
- When the equivalent of about 3 tablespoons of liquid remains in the pan, remove from the heat.
- Add the brown sugar to the prune mixture until the brown sugar melts and dissolves.
- Mash the prune mixture with a potato masher until a smooth purée is obtained.
- If necessary, mash the mixture with a fork to break up the pieces if they remain, or use a food processor.
- Allow to cool to room temperature before use.
- In a non-stick pan, heat the cream without boiling it.
- Turn off the heat and leave the pan on it.
- Add the chocolate cut into small pieces in the cream and mix until the chocolate has completely melted.
- Pour the mixture into a bowl and allow to cool at room temperature for about 3 hours, stirring every 15 minutes until a spreadable cream forms.