Just in case you hadn't noticed, I'm kind of big on traditions, whether it's the ones I create for myself, like my annual Cookie Bonanza, or the ones I create with friends, like going to eat during Restaurant Week with Lauren, or taking a photo in front of the Daley Plaza Christmas tree with Lisa. For the past three years now, I've been trying to initiate a new tradition with Lisa of baking hamantaschen, a three-cornered, jam-filled cookie, for the Jewish holiday of Purim. Lisa brings the religious background to justify baking them in the first place, and I bring the cookie baking skills, so it ought to be a perfect match, right?
We managed to get together to make the cookies back in 2009, but since it was the first time baking them for both of us, that particular batch was somewhat of a disaster. The recipe was bland, yielding hard, flavorless cookies that failed to hold their shape upon baking. We ended up with a bunch of part-circular, part-triangular blobs that leaked filling all over the cookie sheet. In 2010, scheduling difficulties kept us from making another effort, and this year, we made plans to bake hamantaschen together on Saturday, the actual day that Purim fell upon this year, but Lisa had to cancel. We rescheduled for today, so I prepared the dough last night to have it ready to go, but circumstances once more came between us and our best laid plans. I'm still not ready to give up on turning this into a new friendship tradition, but this year, I had to carry on without her.
As a pinch-hitter, I tapped my favorite dough-roller-and-cutter, resulting in two non-Jews baking a batch of cookies for a holiday neither of us celebrate, after the holiday was already over. C'est la vie, I suppose. In fact, when Justin told his mother that he was heading out to make hamantaschen with me, he had to explain to her that I'm not Jewish, but have many friends who are. In response, she asked him, "Was Haley raised in a church?" to which he replied, "Nope, she was raised in a house." Have I mentioned lately how much I adore him?
Our gentile hamantaschen actually turned out relatively well -- certainly much better than my 2009 attempt. With an extra two years of baking experience under my belt, I had a trick up my sleeve: to keep the hamantaschen from coming apart in the oven, I put the sheet of formed cookies into the freezer for about fifteen minutes prior to baking them. It seemed to do the trick, and we produced the most aesthetically pleasing cookies of my brief hamantaschen-baking career.
Furthermore, this time I selected a recipe that used a tender, cream cheese dough flecked with fragrant bits of orange zest, which was a marked improvement over the bland cookies of yore. I think I've settled upon a recipe and a technique now that I can be satisfied with, so I can be ready in case Lisa and I can ever manage to turn hamantaschen baking into the tradition I've been working towards for so long.
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1 1/3 cup plus 4 teaspoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
various jams (we used apricot, peach, and fig)
1. Cream together butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar and mix one minute longer, then add egg, vanilla extract, zest, and salt, mixing until combined. Add flour and stir until a sticky dough has formed. Form dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and chill at least an hour or overnight.
2. Preheat oven to 350.
3. To form the hamantaschen, roll out the dough on a surface liberally dusted with powdered sugar until approximately 1/4 inch thick. Using a 2.5-3 inch round cookie cutter, cut the dough into circles. Spoon 1 teaspoon of jam into the center of each circle. Fold the dough in from three sides, forming a triangle, and carefully pinch the corners together. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and stow in the freezer for 10-15 minutes. Then bake for approximately 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Cool completely on racks before eating.