Hamantaschen, Part 1

Has your spouse ever made a professional comedian laugh while bantering with him before one of his shows? Have you ever tried to recreate a family recipe from your childhood only to realize there is no family recipe? Were you born on a holiday virtually unknown in popular culture, but yet find you have a lot to say about it? Well, do I have a treat for you. All of these experiences (and more!) are wrapped up in this week’s recipe. Who knew one cookie could contain so much?

First of all, how do you pronounce hamantaschen? (This actually covers it pretty well.) We should probably also discuss: what the heck are hamantaschen? Hamantaschen are cookies that are traditional to make on the Jewish holiday of Purim. What is Purim all about? Well, it’s a  long story. However, it can be summed up, like so many Jewish holidays, as: they tried to destroy the Jews, they failed, let’s eat. Actually, it’s a pretty interesting story. It’s got a great female hero (Esther), a king with a fairly unpronounceable name (Ahashverosh), and an antagonist named Haman, who the cookies are named for. You can read the whole story of Purim here or here, if you like. It’s a pretty good read. I’ll wait for you.

Now that you’re back, what did you think? Interesting story, right? Reading it again now, I realize that either I was never told or I just completely forgot some of the details of the story. One detail, well one person, that is particularly important for this week’s recipe, is Haman. One fun thing that happens during the holiday is that, because he was such a jerk, whenever his name is mentioned you try to make as much noise as possible to drown out his name. People will shout and holler, as well as use noisemakers. In synagogue. During services. It’s kind of awesome.

And then there are the cookies. Hamantaschen are triangular cookies, supposedly the shape of Haman’s hat. I’ve also heard them referred to as “Haman’s pockets”. In Hebrew they’re called “Haman’s ears”. Regardless of what the name is or means, they are delicious cookies.

I made these for Purim this year. Granted, Purim was a few weeks ago at this point. However, the delay between making them and getting a chance to write about them means you’re not hearing about them till now. (On the plus side, this gives you plenty of time to get ready for next year. 😉 )

I remember making hamantaschen with my mom growing up. While there are lots of family recipes, I don’t have one for hamantaschen. Latkes, yes. Matzoh ball soup, of course. But hamantaschen? I don’t think so. I remember making them, but I think we just pulled a recipe from a cookbook (maybe a sugar cookie?), and then added filling.

Now, I’d like to share with you an interesting Purim coincidence or two. Purim is also my birthday. Those who know me know that it wasn’t just my birthday, but let me explain. The Jewish calendar and the regular calendar don’t necessarily line up from year to year, as they calculate things differently. Well, when I was younger, I remember one year having a really bad birthday party. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I know that I didn’t have a good time. As a consolation, my parents said I could have a Purim party. It wasn’t until years later that I found out that my birthday was on Purim, but in retrospect, it’s a very happy coincidence. Also, this year Purim was the birthday of a friend at work. I brought some hamantaschen in for Purim, and when I ran into her, I asked her if she wanted to stop by and have some. She said she could stop by later, as it was her birthday and her department was busy throwing a party for her.

Had enough coincidences? Are you ready for one more? Last year, my wife got me tickets to the Daily Show as a birthday present. As you may know they don’t cost anything, but it was a very sweet idea and it took a heck of a lot of planning to pull off. She had originally gotten tickets for a particular day, but I was too busy at work, so we had to reschedule. As I later found out, the day we were originally supposed to go was the day Jon Stewart announced his retirement. (I mean, what are the chances, right?) She ended up getting tickets for another day. That day turned out to be Purim, which is, as mentioned above, also my birthday.

The Daily Show set, before the show.

The Daily Show set, before the show.

But Purim was fortuitous for other reasons. It helped my wife make Jon Stewart laugh. Let me tell you what happened. Before the show starts, they bring out a comedian to warm up the crowd. And after that, Jon Stewart comes out and talks with the crowd, taking questions from the audience. Knowing this, my wife and I strategized before the show about what question to ask. I didn’t know if I would ask him a question, but my wife was determined to. And she was determined to come up with something good.

Once Jon Stewart came out, he took a few questions, making his way around the audience. When his eyes got to our section, my wife’s arm in the air, and probably her boundless enthusiasm and energy, caught his eye, and he called on her to ask her question.

What she asked was, “Are you Team Esther or Team Haman?”

I think she kinda caught him off guard. He then went on to explain about Purim, for those who didn’t get the reference.

After his explanation of Purim, he countered with something like, “Wait, wasn’t Haman the bad guy?”

There was a little bit more back and forth about him being the bad guy, and the cookies that bear his name. At which point my wife came back with, and this I remember very clearly because it was amazing, “I mean, he is sorta the oppressor, but they are delicious cookies.”

And Jon Stewart burst into laughter. He had been chuckling a bit during the back and forth banter, but this was even better. My wife made Jon Stewart really laugh. I always thought she was pretty funny, but so did he. Which is awesome. I wish I could have recorded it, but while you can do what you want while you’re waiting, once things get started they have a pretty strict “no phones out, no recording anything” policy. But there’s no way I can forget it. It was a pretty awesome day, and a pretty amazing present to put together.

So, now that I’ve gotten through the back story, I should tell you about the recipe. But this post is getting kinda long, so I think I’ll save that part for next week. Stay tuned, as delicious cookies await!

Recipe courtesy of smitten kitchen.


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