If you’re American, you probably grew up thinking the jelly-filled cookies you ate at the Purim carnival every spring represented a tri-cornered hat worn by Haman, the villain of Megillat Esther who attempted to wipe out the Jewish population of Ahasueres’s empire. If you are Israeli, you might refer to these pastries as oznei Haman, Haman’s ears.
According to Gil Marks, the original hamantaschen can be traced to Germany, where dough was stuffed with a sweet filling and called “maultasche,” or “mouth pocket.” The rise of poppy seed filling (“mohn”) caused a shift to “mohntaschen,” which, by the 17th century, gave way to the hamantasch, a play on Haman and eaten on Purim.
As the pastries evolved, symbolism followed. The hamantasch as a pocket (for Haman’s bribes) and hat (his garb for execution) emerged from Europe and found footing around the diaspora. (Interestingly, in Europe, hamantaschen overtook gingerbread men symbolic of Haman’s hanging.) Haman’s ears, on the other hand, refer to a Mediterranean fried dough treat — more like county fair “elephant ears” than jelly cookies — but they’ve been conflated with hamantaschen in Israel.
In the end, they’re all a little right and a little wrong. If you want to be a purist, however, you can just call them mouth pockets.
by Robin Wehl Martin of Hello Robin
“In my opinion, good sugar cookie dough — sweet with a bit of crunch — makes delicious hamantaschen. The simple flavor of the dough allows the fillings to shine. One of the techniques is to put the unbaked cookies in the freezer after forming the triangles. This helps maintain the shape during the baking process. Hello Robin’s aesthetic is authentically handmade. These cookies meet that criteria, and they taste really good!”
¾ c room temperature salted butter (or non-dairy butter substitute)
¾ c white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 ¼ c all-purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp orange zest (optional)
1 jar of your favorite filling, like poppy seed, apricot jelly, raspberry jam, chocolate chips, or Nutella
1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until combined. Slowly add the flour, salt, and zest if using, and mix until the dough forms a ball. It may look crumbly, but trust that it will come together.
3. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to ¼-inch thickness. Cut circles using a 3-inch cookie cutter or the rim of a drinking glass.
4. Place 1 tsp of jelly, chocolate chips, or Nutella in the center of each circle and pinch the sides together to form a triangle.
5. Before baking, put the tray of cookies in the freezer for 15 minutes (up to a few hours) to make sure the cookies retain their shape.
6. Bake directly from the freezer on a parchment-lined cookie sheet for 9 to 12 minutes, until edges are brown.