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 the 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!

78 Comments Add yours

  1. I really love these backery, Dolly! The graggers i think are great for children in school too. Bringing fun into the lessons. 😉 Thank you for also remembering on the history, not always a lucky one. I hope you are well, and stay save. Best wishes, Michael

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Thank you so much, dear Michael! As to bringing fun into lessons, I prefer less ear-splitting fun, but I usually make my lessons entertaining in different ways.
      Have a wonderful remainder of the week, dear friend.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. I am sure your lessons are wonderful, Dolly! I had meant more the youngsters in primary school. 😉 Thank you very much for the great postings, with so much knowledge about history, i adore. Enjoy a wonderful rest of the week. Michael

        Liked by 6 people

      2. I teach future teachers who are going to teach all ages of students, including preschool, kindergarten, and elementary. By having exciting, entertaining lessons I try to teach them to do the same with their students.
        Thank you for all the wonderful compliments, dear Michael!

        Liked by 4 people

      3. Oh, that really hard work, with a lot of efforts. I a sure there always is no seat empty in your lessons.

        Liked by 4 people

      4. You guessed it! My classes are usually overbooked, especially now, when we are online, and there is no limit to enrollment. But it’s not hard work, it’s having fun!

        Liked by 3 people

      5. Wonderful, teacher loving their work are always the best.
        By the way, just found this about marriage:
        https://toritto.wordpress.com/2021/02/24/ads-from-the-past-10/

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I believe that teachers have to love their students and if they don’t, they shouldn’t be teaching.
        Thank you for the link; old ads are always hilarious from our point of view.

        Like

  2. By the way: What a great cat mask, on the decorated table. :-)) I hope you dont have a cat car? 😉

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you, Michael. The cat mask is from Venice, a copy of one of the real masks they used to wear at carnivals during Renaissance. I actually do wear it to services on Purim. I also had a New Orleans Mardi Gras mask, but my granddaughter liked it, so she got it. I never say no to grandchildren when they like something of mine; I hope it will remind them of me when I am gone.
      Cat car? 😻 If such a thing appears, I will have it!

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Yeah, i am sure with this mask you are definitely the star. 🙂 Will look for a cat car. Maybe there is one, because there also is a Batcar.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. Oh Michael, I don’t aim to be a star; anyway, usually on Purim kids are the stars – they are all so cute!
        Yes, isn’t it unfair: there is a Batcar but no Catcar! 😻

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Lol Thats it. I will look for a cat car. I am sure i will find something, at least very similar. 😉

        Liked by 2 people

      4. I rely on you! 😻

        Liked by 2 people

  3. How awful that cruel evil comes back again and again.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You are so right, darling! That’s why we are commanded to “eradicate Amalek” (the ancestor of Haman) wherever we encounter him. The problem is that we don’t always recognize him when we meet him.

      Like

  4. I love the stories and the extremes of this wonderful celebration. Thank you for all the little tidbits!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much, dear Dorothy! I am not done yet; there is more coming – stay tuned!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I can’t wait! More merriment!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Thank you, darling!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Rohvannyn says:

    Another fun lesson – thank you as always for giving of your knowledge! I don’t know why but your blogs always are posted at some very synchronous time for me. This time I had just gotten done studying how to make Japanese rice balls – onigiri – which usually have fillings are are a rounded triangular shape. At least the shape was similar!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much, dear Rohvannyn! I hope you enjoy your onigiri – I love them.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. 15andmeowing says:

    These look tasty. Thank you for the recipe. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Than you so much, darling!

      Like

  7. CarolCooks2 says:

    An enjoyable post and chocolate…You have probably noticed I am playing catch up as I have lots of problems with WP who still won’t let me like and I have to sign in every time I make a comment…sigh…Have a nice day Dolly xxx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It happens to all of us, darling – that’s WP gremlins playing again! Have a wonderful remainder of the week! 😻

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for a shout-out, dear Carol.

      Like

      1. CarolCooks2 says:

        You are most welcome, Dear Dolly 🙂 x

        Liked by 1 person

  8. The story of Esther is one of my very favorites, and i do love the idea of making awful noises to drown out evil Haman’s name.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for a lovely comment, dear Mimi!

      Like

      1. I am glad you like my telling it!

        Like

  9. lifelessons says:

    Is this the same recipe as that used for the open Hamen’s Ears? They look yummy.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It’s not the same recipe, Judy. Those are crunchy sugar cookies, while these are yeast-based fluffy pastries. Nowadays hardly anybody makes them, and I also didn’t – this post was a repeat from last year. I made experimental ones, and they came out delicious – stay tuned!

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Doug Thomas says:

    I forget from time to time you are a teacher, so the stories with your recipes are a good reminder. They always are interesting and informative! This one was especially informative as all of it was new to me!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much, Doug! I am not done with Purim stories yet – stay tuned!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. These look lovely and too delicious to eat! Your blog is amazing and I hope u like mine too! See you around….

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you very much for stopping by and commenting, dear Aarushi! I subscribed to your blog and will enjoy exploring it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sure! I can’t wait to see what more come son yours!🤗

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Thank you so much for your interest, dear Aarushi!

        Liked by 2 people

  12. Good reminders of the Nazis and lack of modern amenities giving context

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you very much, Derrick.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Such an interesting read while munching on goodies! 😋🌿

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, dear Gail!

      Liked by 2 people

  14. zaychishka says:

    What an intriguing read…food brings so much with it besides nourishment…the cultural aspect, and the stories behind certain dishes really aids in learning of the past.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for a lovely comment, darling!

      Like

    2. Discover and Explore says:

      Agreed

      Liked by 1 person

  15. What a joyous celebration! Freilichin Purim, Dolly! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Anna! It was a little subdued this year, but we still did our best to rejoice. 😻

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear friend.

      Like

  16. cheriewhite says:

    Awesome post! And the food looks delicious and inviting! Food has always been involved in so many wonderful memories we have of family and friends! The social and family aspect of it is timeless!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for a lovely comment, dear Cherie! I also have many heartwarming memories of family and friends gathered around the table.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. cheriewhite says:

        You’re so welcome. Your post really made me think back. I hope you have an awesome day. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You too, darling. have a great day!

        Liked by 2 people

      3. cheriewhite says:

        You too. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  17. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
    WE HAVE OUR COOKIES AND STORY—TIME TO GIVE GOD ALL THE GLORY!!!!!!!!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for reblogging and a wonderful caption, dear Jonathan!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You re wonderful as always! Dear Dolly!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. (blushing all over the internet) 😻

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I see the glow from here! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      4. LOL I forgot to thank you for using my photo in the rotation. I have been getting comments on my hairdo on that photo, so I have to specify: it’s a wig because married Jewish Orthodox women cover their hair. I do have an excellent wig styler, though.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I just know that you are beautiful in many ways! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Beauty is as beauty does, dear brother. Looking back at my life, which was pretty eventful, I have to say that, to my knowledge, I have not intentionally done wrong to anybody and have done right by quite a few people. I suppose that makes it worthwhile, even though I do not know what His purpose for me is.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Your purpose is to be God’s blessing and His love to people at each event in your life. to your family and to me and this part of God’s world! Anything more—that God will lead you—as He has all these years. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      8. From your mouth to His Ear!
        I am sooo excited: it seems that we might have the two youngest grandkids for Passover – yay!

        Liked by 1 person

      9. THAT’S IT-!!!!!

        Liked by 1 person

  18. Discover and Explore says:

    What lovely writing. Thank you for sharing. 🙏🙏🙏🙏

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thank you very much for a lovely comment, dear friend.

      Liked by 1 person

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