Of Hats, Pockets, Ears, and Hidden Messages

These pastries are called Hamantaschen. We can no more imagine the holiday of Purim without them than without the graggers – noisemakers gleefully shaken by children and adults alike to drown the name of the evil villain Haman.

That’s a story of Purim in a nutshell. Once again, the Jewish people, marked for wholesale slaughter, were saved through the good offices of the beautiful and pious Queen Esther and her uncle, the wise and righteous Mordechai. To commemorate this event, we read (or at least listen to) Megillas Esther (the Scroll of Esther) where the entire story is recorded in minute details. Every time when Haman (may his memory be erased forever) is mentioned, we make all kinds of noises, and not necessarily by using traditional graggers that look like this:

purim-gragger

…but also anything that makes loud noises. I play castanets. A friend of mine, a very reserved lady during the rest of the year, imitates various animal sounds. You can stomp your feet, clap your hands, and generally make a total fool of yourself, but make sure you produce ear-splitting noise!

Talking about ears, in Hebrew these triangular pastries are called oznei Haman – Haman’s ears. How did that happen? I grew up with a story that, after Haman and his ten sons had been hanged, their ears were cut off, to be sent to different cities as proof of victory. Really? Is that was Jews did – cut off the dead guys’ ears, neatly packaged them in ice, and shipped them around by UPS?

Of course not! Like many other legends, this one was born of jumbled together bits and pieces of information. One of the most venerated – and the most delightful! – Purim traditions is Purim shpil, a play or a skit where the Purim story is retold in a funny way, just as you saw in the video. It is in a sixteenth century Purim shpil, performed in Italy, that the sweet treats were called oznei Haman for the first time, and the joke morphed into a mutilation legend and gradually spread throughout Europe. Actually, little stuffed dumplings have been called “ears” in Italy way before this unfortunate jest, as described by Rabbi Don Yitzchak Abarbanel.

Fine, no cutting ears off, so what are hamantaschen? Why are they so important that we have to spend hours fashioning those triangles and hiding poppy seed filling inside? Can’t we just bake cookies and be done with it? Obviously, the first part of the word looks like the name Haman. In the video, he is wearing a tricorn, to demonstrate yet another meaning of the pastries’ shape – Haman’s hat. However, tricorns had definitely not been fashionable in ancient Persia about 2400 years ago.  Most likely, the vicious Jew-hater looked like this:

There is one telling detail in the story: even though Haman offers the king a fantastic amount of money, a tremendous fortune, in return for the death sentence for all Jews, he stands to gain it all back plus a lot more by confiscating their properties and belongings. Remember what the Nazis did? Same idea. The guy is investing his entire fortune in order to line his pockets with a much larger one. In Yiddish, tasch means pocket, so it’s not ears or hats, but Haman’s pockets we are baking every year, pockets stuffed with Jewish gold drenched in Jewish blood.  Why would we want to do that?

Even though today hamantaschen are made with all kinds of different fillings, the traditional one is poppy seed – mohn, in Yiddish, which makes the pastries “poppy-seed-filled pockets.” Now, what’s so special about poppy seed? The Talmud explains that, since Queen Esther did not disclose her identity (incidentally, one of the Purim customs is wearing masks), she couldn’t have kosher food prepared for her, but neither would she eat non-kosher food. Consequently, the poor Queen became the first raw foodie in history, subsisting solely on seeds and nuts. No wonder she had such a slender figure!

However, the word tash in Hebrew means “weaken” – we believe that G-d always weakens our enemies, as He weakened Haman and his entire evil family. The three corners of the pastry remind us of a pivotal moment when Haman recognized the spiritual strength of our forefathers, Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov. This is when he weakened, and this is when he lost. Oh, but only a small part of the Jews lived in Shushan, the capital. The rest were dispersed throughout Persia. Lacking Internet and cellphones, they didn’t even know that they had been in danger! “They are going to kill us all? No way! Why? They’ll probably just relocate us to a safe place…” Sounds familiar? Remember the Nazis?

Prudent Mordechai kept sending them messages hidden… in cookies. He must’ve figured that sweet pastries will make a scary message more palatable. But there is a deeper significance to this “hidden sweetness”: G-d is not mentioned in Megillas Esther. He operates “behind the scenes,” so to speak, but the sweetness of the filling reminds us that He is ever present for all His children (www.chabad.org).

Hmntsn 1.jpg

These are soft and fluffy hamentaschen, rather than the cookie dough ones you see everywhere on Purim. This is how my grandmother made them, this is how my father loved them, and this is how I made them for him every year, after we lost my mother. I have not figured out a way to make them healthy by substituting a different flour, a sugar substitute, or a vegan egg. Once a year, on Purim, I can go all out and indulge!

Hmntsn 2.jpg

This is time consuming, like every yeast dough, but actually pretty easy. In one bowl, mix all the dry ingredients: flour, sugar (there isn’t really all that much sugar!), a little bit of salt, and active dry yeast. In another bowl, whisk an egg with olive oil and warm water. Then gradually add dry ingredients to wet, gently folding them in until fully incorporated.

Hmntsn 3.jpg

Turn the dough over to a floured board or working surface and kneed for about five minutes. Take a large bowl, spray it lightly with oil, place your dough into it, and spray some more oil on top. Now cover it and let it rest until it doubles in size. It should take about an hour, depending on the temperature in your kitchen. Meanwhile, I am sure you have things to do!

Hmntsn 4.jpg

Once your dough is ready, turn it out on a floured surface and punch it down. Divide it into four parts, and work with one part at a time. Using a rolling pin, roll it out to about 1/4 inch (3/4 cm) thickness. Get your filling ready. I made mine with chocolate – are you surprised?

Hmntsn 5.jpg

Use a cookie cutter, a glass, or a measuring cup to cut circles. One fourth of the total dough should give you seven to eight circles. Place a teaspoon of filling ( in my case, chocolate chunks, but you can use chips, or you can use any filling you like!) in the center of each circle and seal them completely as triangles. Place them on a lightly misted with oil cookie sheet seam down, giving them a little space to grow, cover them, and again let them rest until they double in size. That should take another hour or so.  If you don’t have anything to do, which I doubt, go write a post!

Hmntsn 6.jpg

My hamentaschen look nice and plump, so it’s time for them to go get baked. Before they do, though,  whisk an egg with some water and paint them with egg wash. I was really planning to sprinkle them with poppy seed, as the tradition demands, but couldn’t find poppy seed anywhere. I opted for sesame seeds instead -as long as I have seeds, I am still honoring Queen Esther’s staunchness. In they go for about thirty minutes.

Hmntsn 7

They come out nice and plump, but to abide by my own Rule of Dessert #2 – The more chocolate, the better! – I will drizzle some chocolate syrup on top. Purim is a fun holiday, a masquerade, and I will be wearing my Venetian cat mask. This is not the real Megillas Esther, of course, but a gift box filled with hamantaschen, candy, and other treats. I am preparing several of them to give out to friends and family, and the little gragger next to it is a part of the gift set. It is commanded to send these gifts, “filled with portions of foods” on Purim, to make sure everyone is in a festive mood. We wish each other, and everybody else, to rejoice  – happy holiday!

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 oz package active dry yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 1 large egg plus 1 more for egg wash
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 8 oz chocolate chunks or chips or your choice (optional – any other filling)
  • Poppy or sesame seeds to sprinkle
  • Optional chocolate syrup to drizzle

PROCEDURE

  • Mix flour, sugar, salt, and yeast in bowl. Whisk egg with oil in another bowl, add water while  whisking.
  • Add dry ingredients to wet by two tablespoons at a time, until they are well incorporated. Turn dough over to floured surface, kneed for 5 minutes. Place dough into large bowl misted with oil, spray oil on top. Cover, let rest until doubled in size.
  • Turn dough over to floured surface, divide into 4 parts. Use rolling pin to roll each quarter to 1/4 inch (less than 1 cm) thickness. Use cookie cutter or glass to cut circles. Place filling in the center of each circle, fold and seal sides to form triangle.
  • Lightly mist cookie sheet with oil, place pastries seam down leaving 1/2 inch spaces between them. Cover, let rest until doubled in size, about an hour.
  • Preheat oven to 350 F. Whisk egg with 1 tablespoon of water, paint pastries with egg wash. Sprinkle with seeds.
  • Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Cool on rack, drizzle with chocolate syrup before serving.

Enjoy!

 

64 Comments Add yours

  1. thecraftingsenior says:

    Thank you so much for sharing the story and traditions of Purim with us. I grew up in a largely Jewish neighborhood in New York, and had neighbors whose cousin and friend were Holocaust survivors.
    I may be Jewish by birth. (Adopted and doing Ancestry DNA test tonight.) I am so blessed by this post. Again, thank you so much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your wonderful comment, dear friend! Please let me know how your DNA turns out.
      Sending blessings your way…

      Like

  2. Fascinating cultural history well told

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, Derrick

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Raizel and I watched the video just now. We love it. The hamentashen also look great. I usually make mine with a sugar cookie dough. Raizel and I both give a big “thumbs up!” Happy Purim!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Huge thanks to you and Raizel! These hamentaschen will be made tomorrow, to be brought to our shul Seuda. Happy Purim!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Where did you find the video? It’s great!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. On Youtube – where else!

        Like

  4. Garfield Hug says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I learnt something new🤗

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your interest, darling!

      Like

  5. purpleslob says:

    I love the Torah account of Queen Esther! She was truly a servant of God!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. She was, and today we are fasting in her honor, and the fun starts tonight! I am coming out as a black cat – are you surprised?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. ren says:

    Ah! Yes! Thank you for indulging, not only with ingredients but also with your wonderful/informative sharings. This recipe will be added to my collection. Hugz

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment, darling!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Very interesting post.
    Your Hamantaschen look so good!
    חג שמח! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Ronit! Surviving Taanis Esther today, getting ready to bake them tomorrow, for the shul Seuda.
      Hag Purim Sameach!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Catwoods says:

    A very interesting history! Have a wonderful holiday!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind wishes, dear Leah!
      P.S. Is the gorgeous black kitty the one who is currently in residence or the one who was lost?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Catwoods says:

        The short-haired black in the current post is the new kitty, Franklin (he and I thank you for the compliment!). The long-haired black kitty with lots of reddish highlights is the one we lost, Ultraviolet. Both cats are in the next to new post.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Both are gorgeous, and I hope Ultraviolet returns home!
        Greetings, meows, and purrs to Franklin from The Main Chief Cat in this house, Barmalei (Franklin is a spitting image of Barmalei in his youth), and the two kitty girls, Beba and Pyshka.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Ultra says:

    I like sweets, I like desserts, that’s why I liked your blog.
    greetings

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dziękuję bardzo, drogi przyjacielu!

      Like

  10. Thank you for another very interesting posting, Dolly! Your style is unique wonderful to tell the history of Hamantaschen, with cutting of ears and sending it around the world with UPS. Lol

    Now i also understand much more the jewish roots of roman-catholic tradition of in German so called “Ratschen” [https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ratschen] Think the Roman-Catholic Church is under cultural aspects something like the Chinese in technics. Always able to copy! Lol Best wishes, Michael.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your wonderful comment, Michael.
      I am not familiar with all uses of the word Ratschen, other than it’s general meaning as “conversation.” How does it apply to the Roman Catholic tradition?
      Most certainly, the early church copied (and then adjusted) a lot from the Judaic tradition; after all, the most literate and the most vocal of all was Paul, who had received excellent education before adhering himself to the new movement.
      Have a great remainder of the week, dear friend!

      Like

  11. How i enjoy your lessons, cooking and otherwise!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Mimi! In turn, I truly relish your cajun jokes, especially in my husband’s rendition.

      Like

    1. Thank you so much for linking and for a glowing recommendation – I am supremely flattered!

      Like

  12. spearfruit says:

    Great story and great looking pastry. I like your choice of chocolate in the middle!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You can trust me to stick chocolate into everything, Gary! Thank you for stopping by.

      Like

  13. Charlee: “Hats are good for sitting in.”
    Chaplin: “And pockets are good for reaching in.”
    Charlee: “And ears are good for licking.”
    Chaplin: “And we don’t know much about secret messages, but these look good for eating!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you meow much, guys!
      Meows and Purrs from the Cat Gang.

      Like

  14. kelleysdiy says:

    Are these hard to make for the novice?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh no, it just takes a little time for the dough to rise, but you don’t do anything, just give it time to do its thing.

      Like

      1. kelleysdiy says:

        That sounds like my kind of cooking!!! I gotta try it!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Good luck, and please let me know!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. kelleysdiy says:

        Oh I will, it won’t turn out like yours…but who cares what it looks like, as long as it pleases the pallet!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Dearest Linda, will you stop with negative thoughts! Why wouldn’t it turn out like mine? It should turn out better than mine – come on! Much love and many blessings to you 😻

        Liked by 1 person

      5. kelleysdiy says:

        Your right…I’m a little negative this morning. I have been building my grand daughter a Cheval Mirror from scratch. It took me over a month to build. I painted it a blush color, then went to put it back together. The mirror part fell on the ground and cracked it. I was trying to get it done for her birthday and before my surgery. Have to order another mirror, and take apart the frame, etc of the broke one. It will not be done for her birthday, and without realizing it, that is why I am so negative.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I am sorry about the mishap with the mirror, but now that you know what put you in the negative mood, concentrate on thinking that every He does is always for the best, even if it seems negative to us at the moment. This also happened for a reason, even though we don’t know the reason. So start thinking whether you have enough time to order another mirror and have it done for her birthday, or make something else for her birthday and leave the mirror for another occasion,

        Liked by 1 person

      7. kelleysdiy says:

        Thank you Dolly. I ordered another right away but being the weekend, even with prime member 2 day shipping, I won’t receive till Thurs. Why does everything happen on a weekend! haha. It won’t be done on time. It will be a while before I can move around and craft. I will have help though, so it won’t be too long, just not before her birthday and my surgery. It’s okay though, I’m over it.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. And I am glad to hear that you are over it, darling! I am sure you’ll come up with another idea that will be just as precious.

        Liked by 1 person

      9. kelleysdiy says:

        I’m good. It’s going to be the hottest day of the year to date today! ☺️❤️️

        Liked by 1 person

      10. Keep cool, darling, regardless of outside temperature!

        Liked by 1 person

      11. kelleysdiy says:

        Big day tomorrow!

        Liked by 1 person

      12. What’s happening tomorrow?

        Liked by 1 person

      13. kelleysdiy says:

        Surgery silly goose! Sign up for the giveaway!

        Liked by 1 person

      14. Good luck with surgery, darling! Praying for you…

        Liked by 1 person

      15. kelleysdiy says:

        I’m doing good….just resting! Thank you for your prayers!❤️️❤️️

        Liked by 1 person

      16. Rest well and keep thinking positive thoughts, darling, and everything will be fine – you’ll see!

        Liked by 1 person

      17. kelleysdiy says:

        Hello honey, thank you for your well wishes!☺️❤️️🐈❤️️

        Liked by 1 person

      18. kelleysdiy says:

        palette….sorry! Thinking about pallets to much!

        Liked by 1 person

      19. Start thinking of pleasing, happy, colorful things – you are such a wonderful, joyful artist, darling!

        Liked by 1 person

      20. kelleysdiy says:

        I am thinking pleasing happy colorful things- I’m thinking of making some colorful signs with the pallet! 😍🐱🐈

        Liked by 1 person

      21. That’s my daring cute friend! 😻

        Liked by 1 person

  15. msw blog says:

    I always enjoy how your delicious recipes come wrapped in a story. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, dear friend, for a lovely comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. daisydust02 says:

    Great story and great looking pastry, can’t wait to try this recipe. 🙂

    Like

    1. Thank you so much, dear Milica; I am really glad you like it!

      Like

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