Purim / Hamantaschen

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This week’s recipe: Hamantaschen with Vanilla Cream and Chocolate Chips

Chag sameach! (Or as my iPhone’s autocorrect would have it, chang same each!) Today is the Jewish holiday of Purim, which I usually describe to non-Jews as “Jewish Halloween.” While it does involve wearing costumes and giving out candy, it is a Jewish holiday and is therefore mostly about persecution and deliverance. Fun! No, but really, it is fun. Among other things, you are commanded to get so drunk that you can’t tell the difference between the hero and the villain of the Purim story.

About that story: a quick recap is that there is a foolish king, Achasheverosh, who banishes his queen, Vashti, when she defies him and installs in her place a woman named Esther. Esther is Jewish but her uncle, Mordechai, commands her to hide it from the king. Meanwhile, the king has an evil advisor, Haman, who has beef with Mordechai and as a result convinces the king to decree that all Jews in the kingdom will be slaughtered on the 14th day of the month of Adar. Esther, with Mordechai’s encouragement, comes out to Achashverosh as Jewish, and the Jews are saved. Haman is hanged on the gallows that he had built for Mordechai, and Mordechai becomes the king’s right hand man.

Many people have noted the parallels between the current political situation and the Purim story. Achashverosh, who is stupid, lazy, impulsive, and lecherous, is of course Trump. Haman, the king’s close advisor who is consumed by violent race hatred and guided by an unshakeable belief in his own superiority, is Steve Bannon. Esther, the beautiful Jewish woman who has the king’s favor (and sexual interest, ew) and is able to put her religious identity on the back burner in order to gain power and advantage, is Ivanka. Mordechai, the court Jew who is able to temper the king’s worse impulses but never really bucks the system unless he absolutely has to, is Jared Kushner. Vashti is Ivana or Marla Maples.

So that’s part of the reason that the Purim story feels particularly resonant this year. But we’re also seeing a level of open anti-Semitism that I’ve never seen in this country. Until now, I had felt confident that there was never a better time and place to be Jewish than in contemporary America, but I’m sure that my German grandmother and great-grandparents felt the same way about Berlin before the Nazis took over. Jewish history teaches us that we’re never safe, and that message is reinforced by the Purim story. Haman is a physical and spiritual descendent of Amalek, the eternal enemy of the Jews, and we are taught that in every generation, Amalek arises again. It’s only through God’s providence that we somehow always make it through.

I don’t think any “decrees” are going to go out targeting Jews, but obviously, other communities haven’t been so lucky even in these early days. We can’t count on Ivanka and Jared to play the roles of Esther and Mordechai, to stand up to power and protect the marginalized even at great personal risk. Their actions to date have already made that abundantly clear. But the story of Esther is about using your privilege to stop great evil, and American Jews as a whole are lucky that we have enough economic, political, and cultural power to speak out against racism and abuse, no matter who the victim may be.

So anyway, here’s some hamantaschen. Hamantaschen, you might say, is that related to Haman? It is! These are special triangle-shaped cookies that we eat on Purim that are said to be either in the shape of Haman’s hat or his ear. You can fill them with jam, poppy seeds, or, if you are the brilliant Uri Scheft of Breads Bakery, chocolate and cream! I’ve been making hamantaschen for years and I’ve never found a recipe that I like. By “like” I don’t mean taste-wise–they all taste fine to excellent, and these ones were amazing–but they are such a huge pain in the ass to make. I don’t know why it is but cookies are uninterested in being shaped like triangles. That is probably why…

When you go to the store to buy a cookie
Most of the cookies are round
But a cookie in the shape of a triangle
Can almost never be found
Except for hamantaschen
They have three sides
Strawberries are baked inside
Every time that we hear Haman’s name
We play this little game
And we go stomp stomp stomp
Rat a tat tat
I’m gonna eat your hat hat hat
Stomp stomp stomp
Rat a tat tat
I’m gonna eat your hat hat hat!

Hamantaschen with Vanilla Cream and Chocolate Chips

Adapted from Breaking Breads

Almond Shortbread
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter, cold
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 beaten egg (1/4 goes to egg wash)
1 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup almond flour (meal)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Vanilla Cream
6 large egg yolks
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
2 cups whole milk
1 split vanilla bean
All-purpose flour for rolling the dough
1 cup chocolate chips

Egg Wash
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
Pinch of salt

Instructions

  1. To make the shortbread dough, soften butter a little bit and place in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add confectioners’ and granulated sugars and mix on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Increase speed and beat for 30 seconds more. Add egg, mix on low speed until just combine. Add all-purpose flour, almond meal, and salt. Mix until almost combined. Turn off the mixer, remove the bowl from mixer base, and use your hands to finish the dough. Wrap into plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for 1 hour.
  2. To make the cream, place the egg yolks in a heat-safe medium bowl, add the sugar, and whisk until well combined. Whisk in the corn starch and set the bowl aside.
  3. Whisk the milk and vanilla seeds together in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan and set it over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the milk comes to a simmer. Whisk a drizzle of the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture–you want to warm the yolks gently so they don’t curdle. Whisk in more milk, a little at a time, until the bottom of the bowl is warm to the touch. Then pour all the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan and whisk well to combine. Set the saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring, making sure the pastry cream doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pan, until the pastry cream is smooth, steam rises off the top, and one or two bubbles burst at the surface, 4 to 6 minutes. Pour the pastry cream into a medium bowl. Cover the cream with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well-chilled, at least two hours (it will keep for up to two days).
  4. Set the shortbread dough on a lightly floured work surface. Roll it into an 18-inch square that is 1/8 inch thick. As you roll it, move the dough often. If the dough becomes warm and starts to stick or become difficult to work with, slide it onto a sheet pan and refrigerate it until it becomes firm again.
  5. Make the egg wash: in a small bowl, whisk the egg, water, and salt together. Use a 3-inch round cookie cutter or an upside-down glass to stamp out as many rounds as possible, leaving as little space between rounds as possible. Place the rounds on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan about 1.5 inches apart and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Lightly brush the surface of each chilled pastry round with egg wash, and spoon some pastry cream into the center. Press five chocolate chips into the mound of filling, and then pinch the dough so it forms a triangle around the filling.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350, chilling the hamantaschen in the refrigerator while the oven warms up.
  7. Use a pastry brush to brush the egg wash onto each side of the hamantaschen. Bake for 15 minutes or until evenly browned.
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