I love baking hamantaschen.
I’m saying that as someone who doesn’t even particularly enjoy baking. Maybe it brings me back to Jewish day school, when teachers wrote our names on parchment paper-lined baking sheets with sharpies to designate which of the identical triangles of dough was ours. Maybe it reminds me of my college Hillel, which handed out bags of them, inspiring a race to find someone who would trade for your poppyseed (it would be tragic to be stuck with a poppyseed!).
These odd cookies have a strange origin. Hamantaschen were named for Haman, an anti-semetic prime minister of Persia and the villain of the Purim story. After determining that Mordechai, a Jewish citizen, wouldn’t bow to him and affirm his (clearly fragile) sense of power, Haman created a plan to have all of the Jews of Persia killed. His plan was eventually thwarted by Esther, the queen of Persia, who revealed herself as Jewish.
Hamantaschen are often called “oznei haman,” which literally means, “Haman’s ears” (Haman being the villain in the story of Purim). Quickly, this falls under the category of ‘Jewish customs that are hard to explain’ when you bring hamantaschen to share with those who aren’t familiar. Others attribute the triangular shape of the hamantaschen to Haman’s three-cornered hat.
My favorite interpretation is a little simpler. We take something as terrible as Haman’s hatred of the Jews and greed for power, and we make it sweet. We don’t use it as an excuse to be hateful back; we use it to enhance our joy. We take away the power of his cruelty with a trite and harmless cookie. Not allowing hatred, abuse of power, or even a global pandemic to render us unable to access our capacity to feel joy and create sweetness feels like an important lesson.
So maybe it’s for that reason that every year, as Purim rolls around, I find myself standing in my kitchen and making dozens of cookies. I always make a batch with a traditional, jelly center (you already know how I feel about poppyseed, but I won’t yuck your yum), and then I like to get creative.
Below are some tips and favorite flavors I’ve experimented with over the years.
However you make your hamantaschen this year (or if you choose to buy them – that works too), I hope you are able to find the sweetness in this Purim season.
About the Author: Naomi LeVine is a Florida native living in the DMV. She is passionate about Judaism, mental health, and finding the best dairy-free ice cream in DC. In her free time, Naomi enjoys reading, playing guitar, hiking, and beating Daniel Wasserman in Azul.
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