Hamanteschen Cookies with Prune Filling

About a year ago, my neighbor Esther showed me filled Jewish cookies called Hamanteschen, and I decided I wanted to add that to my cookie repetoire. Hamanteschen is a cookie that is used to celebrate Purim, a Jewish holiday to remember Queen Esther and her saving the Jewish people of Persia. I will let you look elsewhere for the full story; the name of the cookie means Haman’s hat, or Haman’s ear, or Haman’s purse or pocket. I personally like Haman’s ear.

I did a bunch of research on the internet and tried to develop what I thought was a good dough for the cookie. My early attempts seemed to be very dry, and I thought I would be either filling the Hamanteschen with gravy, or serving it with gravy; the dough was like a dense biscuit. I finally got a dough that was lighter and moister, and that is the recipe I will show below. And it is the dough I used for these cookies.

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I took some of these cookies to Esther and asked for her appraisal. She immediately gave me a dozen of her version of the Hamsnteschen, and addressed the short-comings of mine. As you can see, her cookies are more open and lighter looking. She ended up giving me her recipes which I also publishing below.

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If you look at the many recipes for the cookie, you will find that there is difference of opinions about both the size of the circle to cut from the dough, and to the thickness to which the dough is rolled. After working with both Esther’s and my own dough, I think the answer for me is that the dough should be rolled to 1/8 inch thick, and should be cut with a diameter not greater that 2 1/2 inches. Increasing either dimension will add extra dough to the cookie, and take it out of the 2-bite range.

Errol’s Hamanteschen Dough

Ingredients

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • zest of 1/2 an orange
  • filling (see below)

Directions

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in the food processor and pulse to mix. Add the oil and pulse. In a bowl, combine the sugar, eggs, orange juice and zest; add it to the food processor and pulse to mix. Do not over mix. Divide the dough into 2 disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Roll out the dough on a floured work surface to 1/8 inch thick. Cut out disks with a diameter not greater than 2 1/2 inches. Place a teaspoon of filling in the center of the disk. Fold the sides of the disk over the filling in three places to form a triangular shape, and pinch the corners together. A little of the filling should still show in the center. Place on the baking sheet and continue forming cookies until either the dough runs out or the baking sheet is full. Scrap dough can be rerolled to form more cookies.

Bake for 12-15 minutes.

The filling is one of the keys to a good Hamanteschen that Esther discussed with me. She knew by the way my cookies were folded over the top that I had used preserves as a filling.
For filling, I used a jar of preserves; apricot preserves seems to be a common choice, but I have seen, and used raspberry preserves. I have also seen a suggestion to add a couple chocolate chips with the raspberry preserves- chocolate and raspberry is a common combination among bakers.

But Esther said that preserves are too thin, and will run if the cookie doesn’t hold its shape. Instead, the filling needs to be thick and stand on its own. She gave me her recipe, and with it I did not have any runny filling. So I will not recommend using the staight preserves in the cookie although many of the internet site recipes seem to go that direction.

One of the big problems you will experience the first time you make these cookies is the unfolding of the sides. I found that if I used a finger dipped in water to run around the edge of the disk, it seemed to stick together better. I still had individual cookies that didn’t keep their shape, but I had fewer failures using the extra moisture. Esther goes a step further; if you look closely at her cookies, you will see that after pinching the corner together, she then rolls the corner over on itself to further lock it in place.

I used an old biscuit cutter to cut my disks. I have also tried different size drinking glasses, and other objects with a round shape. So look around and find the disk cutter that will be the best size to use; it doesn’t have to be a special cookie cutter; just be circular.

Esther’s Hamanteschen Recipes

Dough

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons melted honey
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 heaping teaspoon baking powder
  • Enough flour to roll (approximately 5 ½ cups)

Directions

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the honey, then the eggs, and finally the dry ingredients.
Divide the dough into 3 parts.
Roll a dough part about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into rounds, fill, and make the three corner shape.
Bake on greased pan until brown.

Prune Filling

Ingredients

  • 1 cup prunes soaked in water 2 hours
  • 1 cup raisins washed
  • 1 cup dates
  • ½ cup nuts optional
  • 1/2 cup jam or preserves
  • Juice of one lemon

Directions

Put the prunes, raisins, dates and nuts through a mincer such as a food processor.
Add the jam and lemon juice and mix thoroughly.

I modified the recipe slightly for my use. Having tried rolling the dough to 1/4 inch thick, I knew I didn’t like the results, so I rolled the dough down to 1/8 inch thick. I did not use a greased pan, but instead used my cookie sheets covered with my silicon mats. I baked the cookies at 350 degrees for about 14 minutes.

Esther likes the bottoms of the Hamanteschen to be browned. To get that effect, she cooks them on the bottom rack of the oven for half the time, and then raise them to the middle rack of the oven to finish cooking. I followed her advice in this area and tried to brown the bottoms of the cookies, but the silicon mats seem to protect the cookie from the heat to some extent. I left the cookies on the bottom rack for 9 minutes before moving them to the middle rack for another 4 minutes. There is a very light tanning of the bottoms.

Recently, I found an apricot filling that I feel should be included with this recipe.

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Apricot Filling for Hamanteschen Cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 cups finely chopped dried apricots
  • 1 1/3 cups orange juice
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • zest from 1/2 an orange

Directions

Place the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer until the moisture is absorbed and the apricots are soft. Let cool.

I chopped my apricots in the food processor by pulsing until they seemed consistent. It took me about 1/2 hour to get the moisture absorbed from the mixture. At that point, the taste was very tangy; more so than I would like. I let the mixture cool in the refrigerator for a couple days before I could make more cookies, and the taste had smoothed and was no longer the tangy orange zest flavor that it had been.

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