A few weeks ago, my sister, daughters, niece, and I enjoyed our yearly ritual of making hamentaschen, the triangular filled pastry made for the Jewish holiday, Purim. The baking process is almost more important than the end product — we’ve been doing this for years, using our Aunt Frieda’s recipe. We get together at my sister’s house, each with our jobs of rolling out dough, cutting out circles, filling and shaping, and baking. In earlier years, the kids would get bored partway through and my sister and I would do the lion’s share of the work, and even my nephew would deign to make a few hamentaschen. This year, my nephew, being a teenage boy, was uninterested but the girls stuck it out to the end, and my daughter made an excellent playlist to accompany our work. The right music is essential to cooking.
Every year I agonize about what dough recipe to use. Aunt Frieda’s recipe is ok, but it’s a strange recipe, calling for cream cheese and sour cream in addition to butter or margarine and shortning. Since Jewish mothers don’t tend to use recipes, the proportions are strange, calling for 5 heaping cups of flour. Heaping cups? I thought baking was supposed to be such an exact science! Also, the methods are different from the usual methods of making dough. I suppose I could use my cooking knowledge to adapt the recipe, but that seems like too much work. I’ve tried other recipes over the years, such as Joan Nathan’s, but I haven’t found a good one yet. So Aunt Frieda’s it is. At least I’ve learned that it’s essential to make the dough the day before and make sure it’s well refrigerated before rolling out.
We made prune, apricot, cherry, and strawberry hamentaschen, and they came out pretty well. They’re always great right out of the oven, but become soft after being stored. This year I tried a trick suggested by my chef neighbor, who recommended that I put a small bag of rice with holes poked in the bag into the larger storage bag with the hamentaschen, to absorb the excess moisture. I think it worked somewhat.
Next to the baking process, the best part of hamentaschen is giving them away. It’s traditional at Purim to give Shalach Manot baskets filled with hamentaschen and other goodies to friends. We give to teachers, neighbors, and good friends. Even if they look a little funny or turned a bit soft, hey, they were made with love. I’m sure that next year, I’ll scour my cookbooks and the internet looking for the perfect recipe only to settle on Aunt Frieda’s again. And I cherish every year that the kids bake with us. For me, there’s no better way to celebrate the holiday.