Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Treats from Paula Shoyer for Purim

Portion of this  blog is reposted from Paula Shoyer's blog

The story of Purim is told in the Biblical book of Esther. The heroes of the story are Esther, a beautiful young Jewish woman living in Persia, and her cousin Mordecai, who raised her as if she were his daughter. Esther was taken to the house of Ahasuerus, King of Persia, to become part of his harem, and he loved her more than his other women and made her queen. But the king did not know that Esther was a Jew, because Mordecai told her not to reveal her nationality.

The villain of the story is Haman, an arrogant, egotistical advisor to the king. Haman hated Mordecai because Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman, so Haman plotted to destroy the Jewish people. In a speech that is all too familiar to Jews, Haman told the king, “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from those of every people; neither keep they the king's laws; therefore it does not profit the king to suffer them.” Esther 3:8. The king gave the fate of the Jewish people to Haman, to do as he pleased to them. Haman planned to exterminate all of the Jews.

Mordecai persuaded Esther to speak to the king on behalf of the Jewish people. This was a dangerous thing for Esther to do, because anyone who came into the king's presence without being summoned could be put to death, and she had not been summoned. Esther fasted for three days to prepare herself, then went into the king. He welcomed her. Later, she told him of Haman's plot against her people. The Jewish people were saved, and Haman was hanged on the gallows that had been prepared for Mordecai.

Jewish people are also commanded to eat, drink and be merry. 

In addition, they are commanded to send out gifts of food or drink, and to make gifts to charity. The sending of gifts of food and drink is referred to as shalach manos (lit. sending out portions). Among Ashkenazic Jews, a common treat at this time of year is hamentaschen (lit. Haman's pockets). These triangular fruit-filled cookies are supposed to represent Haman's three-cornered hat.

It is customary to hold carnival-like celebrations on Purim, to perform plays and parodies, and to hold beauty contests. I have heard that the usual prohibitions against cross-dressing are lifted during this holiday, but I am not certain about that. Americans sometimes refer to Purim as the Jewish Mardi Gras.
Information about Purim is from the Jewish Virtual Library

University Press of New England and our member press Brandeis University Press are delighted to have author, Paula Shoyer, share her recipes for hamentaschen.  For more of Paula's wonderful Kosher desserts, just in time for Passover, pick up your copy of The Kosher Baker

A Rainbow of Hamentaschen

For most of my life, I had no love for hamentaschen, the triangle-shaped filled cookies eaten on the Jewish holiday of Purim.  I always found the doughs dry and the fillings boring.  When I received my husband's family recipe, I had to change my tune.  The dough was easy to roll, shape and re-roll, and the cookies came out perfect and tasty every time.  I filled them with jam, prune and poppy seed fillings and chocolate for the kids.  After a few years, I was bored again.  

Last Thursday, as I was lying in bed in London at 3:00 am  suffering from jet lag, my mind drifted to what I needed to do when I returned home: Purim. Mishloach Manot. Hamentaschen.   I must have been inspired by the complete rainbow I saw in Edinburgh, Scotland earlier that day which appeared following 10 minutes of giant hail and sideways rain; I started to imagine tinted hamentaschen doughs that were flavored to match their fillings.

I returned to my laboratory and created raspberry, chocolate, apricot, hazelnut and pistachio hamentaschen. I filled the pistachio ones with pistachio paste and some with little triangles of good quality chocolate. I played around with the amount of baking powder in the recipe and found that less baking powder yielded crisper cookies.  My flat metal spatula was the perfect tool to lift the dough circles.  I discovered that chilling the dough for several hours or overnight made it easier to roll, but you can still roll right away if you want, just sprinkle more flour on your parchment and dough.  The chocolate dough can be found in The Kosher Baker, and I filled some with chocolate chunks and others with parve white chocolate chips.  My lemon hamentaschen recipe appears on the Joy of Kosher website.  

What is the most unusual hamentaschen you have ever tasted?  Any flavors you would like to see developed?  Let me know.  Happy Purim!

Pistachio Hamentaschen         Makes 4 dozen
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon orange juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4-5 drops green food coloring
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup shelled pistachio nuts, ground fine
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting parchment and dough
one 11-ounce can pistachio nut paste
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line 2 large cookie sheets with parchment.  In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, sugar, oil, and orange juice, and mix well. Add green coloring to achieve desired shade of green.  Add the baking powder, ground nuts and flour and mix until the dough comes together. You can chill the dough at least one hour or overnight or bake right away. 
Divide the dough in half.  Take another two pieces of parchment and sprinkle flour on one, place one dough half on top, and then sprinkle more flour on top of the dough. Place the second piece of parchment on top of the dough and roll on top of the parchment until the dough is about ¼ -inch thick. Every few rolls, peel back the top parchment and sprinkle more flour on the dough.
Use a glass or round cookie cutter about 2 to 3 inches in diameter to cut the dough into circles. Place a teaspoon of the pistachio paste in the center and then fold in 3 sides to form a triangle, leaving a small opening in the center. Pinch the 3 sides very tightly. Place on the prepared cookie sheets. Repeat with the rest of the dough and re-roll and cut any dough scraps you have.
Bake for 12 to 16 minutes, or until the bottoms are lightly browned. The baking time often depends of the type of cookie sheet used: cookies on darker sheets bake faster. Just watch the cookies until they look done—you do not want them to be brown on top because then they will be too hard. Slide the parchment onto racks to cool the cookies.

Raspberry Hamentaschen    
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon raspberry extract, Bakto Flavors 
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4-5 drops pink food coloring
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting parchment and dough
1 cup seedless raspberry jam
6 ounces fresh raspberries

For the dough, mix the eggs, sugar, oil, extracts and food coloring well and then add the baking powder and flour and mix until combined.  After you roll out and cut circles according to instructions above, fill each circle with 1 teaspoon jam and one fresh raspberry.  Follow instructions above to shape and bake. 

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