Growing up as the son of a rabbi meant we constantly entertained guests on the weekends. Holidays meals were considered small if there were less than 25 guests. I wouldn’t say I was shy per se, but by an early age I found that I preferred shuttling between table and kitchen to schmoozing with congregants, and sometimes, even with family.
I also really enjoyed learning from my mom in the kitchen. I spent more time with her there than anywhere else. Cooking was not a chore in our house. It was both a creative outlet and an expression of love, but not in the stereotypical “eat because you never know when the Nazis will come back” kind of way. There were no Holocaust survivors in our immediate family; in fact, both of my mom’s parents were born in Minneapolis (Go Vikings!). For years, my bubbe and her sisters were the primary family bakers, and we waited eagerly each year for holiday packages to arrive. Bubbe taught me to cook and carve the Thanksgiving turkey, and with my mom, taught me the art of baking not one, but two types of hamantashen. Anybody can make a cookie dough, but are you ready for yeast dough hamantashen? Imagine a stuffed sweet challah. There’s really nothing better.
Ten years ago, right around this time of year, my grandfather died unexpectedly. My grandmother, already in the final stages of a prolonged battle with breast cancer, would die less than 10 days later. I’m not entirely sure what drove me to do it, but in the week of shiva for my grandfather, as we waited for the inevitable, I baked a lot of these hamantashen. The moment was bitter, but the taste retained its sweetness.
In this edition of Jewish Mothers Cooking, we’re going to share the Bisman (but first Rubenstein, and before that, Widetsky) family recipes for each, one of which goes back at least 100 years. Filling flavors are up to you, but you should know that if you don’t eat one with poppyseed filling, you’re not really eating hamantashen. Take a risk, and don’t worry about what gets stuck in your teeth. Just buy some floss.
COOKIE DOUGH HAMENTASHEN RECIPE (from a Beth El Minneapolis cookbook, year unknown)
4 ¼ c. flour
1 ½ c. sugar
½ lb. unsalted butter or margarine, cold and firm
4 t. baking powder
¼ t. salt
2 large eggs
3 T. orange juice
Finely grated zest of two oranges (optional)
Mix dry ingredients in food processor for 2 seconds. Add butter in 1 T. sections and pulse in short bursts until it resembles coarse meal. Mix in liquid until dough is smooth and moist. Wrap in waxed paper (or saran wrap) and refrigerate at least two hours or, ideally, overnight.
Roll out to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into circles, form hamentashen and bake at 400 for 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown.
BUBBE FANNY’S YEAST DOUGH FOR HAMENTASCHEN RECIPE (Passed down through 4 generations, brought to America from Europe by Bubbe’s mother)
2 cakes or envelopes yeast in
2 c. warm milk (or water)
1 T. sugar
Let sit for a few minutes until it starts to foam
¼ lb. butter (or margarine), melted or very soft
¾ c. sugar
½ t. salt
6 c. flour
Refrigerate overnight (or let rise until doubled)
Roll out, cut in large circles and fill
Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown – about 20 minutes