Remember when we were children and Purim was looming? How excited we were, unable to sleep thinking about the Purim party, and the reading of the Megillah when we would be allowed to make a noise in shul with our parents' and the rabbi's permission; and the joy of dressing up as Esther or Mordecai.
When I was a child my mother would arrange tiny baskets of mishloach manot to give to all her friends. In those baskets were home-made sweets, marzipan fruits and - best of all - her own hamantaschen. It was always made from a yeast dough filled with a ground poppyseed base; the grinding took hours with a simple mincer and masses of elbow grease.
How fascinating to look at these ingredients and understand why we eat hamantaschen and why a poppy seed filling. It is intriguing the way the Jewish religion invites us to eat foods which are woven in symbolic mysticism? There are numerous reasons why we should eat hamantaschen and they stem from East European Ashkenazi origins. Mohntaschen in German comes from the word mohn meaning poppy seeds and taschen meaning pockets. Add on the wicked Haman and we have hamantaschen or Haman's pockets, supposed to be stuffed with bribe money.
In Israel they are called Oznei Haman or Haman's ears. This idea comes from the Midrash which describes Haman suffering pain and bent over with the humiliation of clipped ears, as he enters the King's chamber.
Many say that the triangle shape is meant to represent Haman's tri-cornered hat but another more complicated reference by Alfred J Kolatch in The Jewish Book of Why suggests that the three patriarchs - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - protected Esther and gave her courage. The mohn represent the seeds that Esther chose to eat on her vegetarian diet in a traif court.
The recipe below encompasses all that is wonderful in hamantaschen, easily made in one afternoon or spread out over two days and sweet with a simpler filling that takes seconds and is easy on the teeth.
The yeast dough makes about 18 generous portions - so plenty to give away, and well worth doing.
● 2 teasp dried yeast
● 350g strong flour
● pinch salt
● 150ml fresh milk - use soya for parev pastry
● 2 teasp vanilla sugar
● 50g soft brown sugar
● Grated rind 1 orange plus 1 lemon
● 50g margarine or butter
● 1 free range organic egg plus 1 for glazing
● Oil to grease bowl
● ½ jar quality jam – apricot, black cherry or strawberry
● 1 tbsp lemon juice
● 150g ground almonds
● Tiny dash almond essence
● Heat the oven to 200˚C, gas mark 6.
● Gently warm milk to body temperature. Put dried yeast and milk in a bowl. Add a couple of spoonfuls of the flour plus vanilla sugar and grated rinds. l Whisk well and leave in a warm place.
● Add the salt to the rest of the flour and brown sugar. Beat together – it should make a crumb.
● When yeast mixture is bubbling, add the egg and pour into flour mixture. l Work well – far easier with a mixer. When the mixture comes together in a soft pliable dough, grease a bowl with a mild non-flavoured oil, place dough in bowl, cover with greased clingwrap or a clean tea-towel and leave until doubled in size.
● You can leave it overnight at this stage. When it has doubled (or the next day) prepare fillings by mixing the jam with lemon juice to reduce the sweetness and adding ground almonds or other nuts plus the almond essence.
● Pull balls of the dough – approximately a golf-ball size or smaller if you prefer and then roll out into flat circles. Place a teaspoon of filling in the centre and push three sides together to form the hamantaschen shape.
● Place on parchment- lined tins, cover with a cloth and leave to rise again.
● When the hamantaschen seem puffy, glaze with the beaten egg and place in the oven. Bake until golden brown – approximately 25- 30 minutes.
● They freeze and reheat well. Enjoy hot or cold.