Home on the Range
March 13, 2011
Haman, legend has it, was a bad guy who wore a bad hat. He is remembered and reviled on the holiday Purim in story, song and snack. Rare is the leader — good or bad — who has a pastry named for his hat.
Haman's crime (plotting to do in ancient Persia's Jews) figures in a complicated plot retold in a complicated story called the megillah, synonym for complicated. His hat kept it simple: a neat triangle, now neatly tied to treachery.
Not all three-pointed hats are bad — consider the patriotic tricorn, the newsboy's folded cap and that ballet "The Three-Cornered Hat." Then again, consider the classic pirate. Napoleon Bonaparte. And Haman, whose bad points and pointed hat live on in cookie infamy.
Considering all the bad characters who populate history, and all the bad hats they've worn, has-been hat might make a common cookie-cutter theme. And yet, it's hard to find a bake shop that turns out the beret beignet or the fedora fritter or balaclava baklava. Go figure. Hamantaschen, three-pointed cookies of duplicity, endure.
At Purim we read the megillah, we tell the story of bad Haman and his bad hat. We fold circles of dough over prune or poppy-seed or apricot filling, shaping glistening, buttery triangles, which are not bad at all. In fact, they're delicious. Which might explain the enduring power of the whole megillah.
Grandma's cookies (Hamantaschen)
Prep: 20 minutes (not counting filling)
Bake: 15 minutes
Makes: About 36 cookies
2 cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cubed
8 ounces cream cheese, cut into chunks
3/4 cup apricot filling (see recipe) or apricot jam
Measure flour and sugar into the food processor (recipe fits nicely in an 11-cup model. If yours isn't that roomy, make pastry in 2 batches). Add butter cubes and cream-cheese chunks. Pulse until pastry comes together in clumps; do not over-process. Gently shape two disks; wrap in plastic and refrigerate 1 hour or more.
Roll 1 pastry disk out on a floured surface until about 1/4-inch thick. Punch out circles, using a 3-inch fluted cookie cutter. Transfer circles to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Drop 1 teaspoon apricot filling (or jam) into the center of each circle. Fold edges of circle in over the filling, forming a triangle-shaped cookie, with apricot center showing. Press corners to seal. Repeat with remaining dough.
Bake at 350 degrees until just golden, about 15 minutes. Cool. Enjoy.
Measure 3 cups water, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 pound dried apricots, the juice of 1 lemon and 1 split and scraped vanilla pod into a large saucepan. Heat to a boil, lower to a low bubble and let cook, partially covered, stirring now and then, until very thick, 1 1/2 hours (adding more water if need be). Stir in 1 tablespoon almond liqueur. Cool completely.
Adapted from my grandmother, Etta Hoffmann.
Leah Eskin is a Tribune special contributor. Contact her at email@example.com
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