Thursday, March 5, 2015

Midweek Roundup: Cookies Named for a Villain

Photo by Orin
Orin's Goodies

Hamantaschen are a very old-fashioned cookie.  And by that I don't mean Little House on the Prairie Days.  I'm talking 11th century, where, according to Rabbi Robert Goodman, the first recorded mention was in a poem.  A poem?  Oh sure, because hamantaschen rhymes so easily with practically anything:
              "O Hamantaschen, O Hamantaschen, you are so good for common noshin'."
I don't think so.

Goodman says the cookie was probably originally known as "mohntaschen," (poppyseed pockets) which "easily alliterated" into Hamantaschen (Haman's pockets).  But here's the sad thing.  Lots of people don't really like poppyseeds any more.

Oh, some, like Monica, will tolerate them in lemon poppyseed muffins, but only because she likes lemon muffins.  If she had a choice between lemon or lemon poppyseed muffins, she'd take the plain lemon every time.  Kristina also had "no fondness for poppyseeds."  Although Glori thought the "cute little gems" were "worth the effort," she really didn't care for the poppyseed taste.  Raymond found the poppyseed filling "bland," and decided he'd "go with lekvar" next time. But Faithy thought the lekvar was "bland," so I guess there's no accounting for taste.  Bland, said Mendy?  No way.  Typical hamantaschen dough is bland; this dough is "very dairy, buttery, flaky, and full of flavor."  And Mendy should know.  He made eight times the regular recipe.  Yes, that's right; he octupled the recipe.  If you are a friend of Mendy's, and we should all be so lucky, you probably got a bag of hamantaschen as a Purim gift.  If you don't know about Purim, here's Katya's description:  "that holiday of costumes, noisemakers, bad jokes, drinking, and miracles.  Or sheer blind chutzpah.  And tiny little triangular cookies."  Sounds like a perfect holiday (well, maybe not the bad jokes).

Jenn's husband provided the best description of poppyseeds:  he said the texture and consistency is like "caviar that is sweet."  Jenn also did her research on poppyseeds, and concluded that she was glad she wasn't going to have to take a drug test at her job the day after eating hamantaschen.  It's true.  Even Snopes, which doubts everything, said so.  And Faithy is right--no poppyseeds allowed in Singapore (which seems a little harsh; it's hard to imagine eating enough hamantaschen to get high, and wouldn't it be a highly inefficient method?).  Finally, as Lois reminded us, the problem with poppyseeds is the "whole stuck in your teeth issue."

Of course, there were also people who liked the traditional poppyseed filling.  Orin, who grew up calling these cookies "Haman's Ears," tried several variations but liked the poppyseed best.  Orin confused me with her distinction between lekvar and lakvar, but I think maybe they're the same thing.  
But there are plenty of filling options, so almost everyone found something to like about hamantaschen, even if not traditional.  As Jen said, "There are lots of variations on the fillings, from fruit jams to chocolate to sweet cheese and even savory.  Lots of room for play, which makes this a cookie I'll look forward to repeating."  Chocolate was the most frequent addition "because yeah," as my grandson likes to explain.  But Monica came up with something completely different and delicious-sounding:  a caramel-apple filling made with dulce de leche.

Kim thought these cookies were "genuinely delicious," which was a surprise to her because she remembered thinking as a child that Hamantaschen must be intended to taste awful because they were named after an evil man.  I guess that makes some sense.  Vicki thought they were "delicious cookies" (with "clumsy shapes"), with a shout-out to Trader Joe's, whose "apricot jam never tasted so good."

Another thing that must be said is that these are not the easiest cookie in the world to shape.  Or, more accurately, to make them keep their shape.  Alice claimed that hers looked more like "open-faced mini mince pie cookies," although it occurs to me now that if you claim you intended to make mini mince pie cookies, you can also claim complete success (and a good cookie too).   Similarly, Joan's husband called hers "Joanie's Fig Newtons."  Joan made hers twice and thought even the fig newton version was a failure, until she tasted it, after which she pronounced them "pretty darned good."  Catherine called hers "ugly ducklings" that didn't turn into swans when they were baked, but honestly, to quote Joan, I thought they looked pretty darned good.  Is it possible that we're a bunch of perfectionists?

If you want to see perfectionism in action - and at its highest level - check out Patricia's version.  She used a #60 scoop to place perfectly round dollops of lekvar in the middle of her dough round.  So perfect were they that I at first thought she was using an actual plump apricot as her filling.

Nancy has given up on perfectionism, at least when it comes to hamantaschen.  She was pretty pleased with her rendition because "the failure rate was down from [her] last attempt."  But even though Nancy's cookies may not have been perfect, they were certainly enjoyed--by the schoolchildren who were awarded them as prizes for good behavior and who ate them slowly and with great gusto in front of the less well-behaved kids.  (Great story, Nancy).

Next on the horizon: You are in for a treat with Rose's Caramel Buns.  "My ultimate sticky buns," she calls them, and I don't see how they could get any better.  I made them two weeks ago, and they disappeared without a trace.  Nothing to be aware of except to start the dough a day before you want to eat the buns.

More problematic is the sour cherry pie (for pi day).  People are having a hard time finding sour cherries.  I just assumed there would be some in the frozen fruit section, so I hadn't given it much thought.  I have great faith in the Alpha Bakers' ability to improvise, and I look forward to seeing what people come up with.


  1. You're a poet Marie! Made me laugh. Good choice on Orin's picture. Her pic is truly beautiful.

  2. Great round up, Marie. I love Orin's photo - great pic.

  3. Marie, when I read your Midweek Roundup I am assured of experiencing a round of applause from all of our Alpha's, and certainly myself, because you are truly a consummate wit. It is always a joy to watch little isms fly by, in hot pursuit of a wry comment. I think we are so fortunate so have you for our fearless leader. Jest sayin'

  4. Excellent round up Marie, once again! Love the title of this one and perfectly chosen picture of Orin's Hamantaschen. I'll have to improvise on the sour cherry. We'll have more problems in the future with other pies though - Elderberry and Gooseberry I've never heard of nor seen in these parts. Would it even qualify as "I've baked it" if the main ingredient is completely substituted?

  5. The Lekvar is a typo, and I'm glad you pointed it out (has been corrected). Thank you for choosing my picture for this week. Like always, I love reading your weekly sum-up. lets have a great weekend all!!

  6. I can't get chewing gum either. Chewing gum is banned too!!

  7. Surely I am the luckiest author in the world to get so much terrific feed back from so many amazing people and then to have the one and only Marie summing it all up i the cleverest of ways.
    I never saw Hamantaschen arranged like a jewish star before--love it! By the way, someone once told me that one can find white poppyseeds at mideastern supply stores. The supposed benefit is that when they get stuck in one's teeth, it is far less obvious!

  8. ב''ה

    Great write up Marie. Because, yeah.

  9. Hi rose, Thank you for the compliment.

    for the cherry pie I had a hard time so far to find any sour cherries, but i finally found them on-line, though to share with you all.

  10. great write-up, Marie, and beautiful photo, Orin!