Hamantaschen? What the heck are Hamantaschen? Basically, little filled, triangular-shaped cookies traditionally eaten during the Jewish holiday of Purim (we looked it up on Wikipedia to check as, not being Jewish, we have only very rudimentary knowledge of Jewish foods and customs). So, now that we know these are cookies; what’s up with the savory filling?
As soon as we saw this recipe in Modern Jewish Cooking, by Leah Koenig, we knew that we had to try a batch. We’ve known about hamantaschen for years, but always thought of them as having poppy seed or fruit filling. Sweet potato and Parmesan, though, sounds new and different and very tasty. If you agree, read on to learn how you can scratch up a batch yourself. Just be aware, you should make the dough the day before baking (you can make the filling prior, too).
Herbs? What kind of herbs? Well, use what you like; we used rosemary for our inaugural batch, but any strongly-flavored herb, such as thyme, oregano, or sage, should work just fine. The recipe calls for a shallot, and, if we’d had one in the house, we would have used it, but we didn’t, so a couple of tablespoons of onion worked as the understudy. For eggs, we really, really recommend finding some that come from pastured hens. Parmesan, as always, does not come in green shaker cans.
Procedure in detail:
Whisk dry ingredients. Not all the dry ingredients; the sugar will go in with the eggs. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, your selected herbs, and the salt. Whisk pretty thoroughly to get the baking powder dispersed throughout the dough.
Whisk liquid ingredients. In a larger bowl — all the dough ingredients will end up in here — whisk together the eggs, water, and sugar until uniform and light in color, about a minute.
Combine. Pour the flour mixture into the egg mixture and stir to make a dough. It should come together easily, but it shouldn’t be sticky, maybe just slightly tacky.
Knead. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead until smooth; just a minute or so should be more than enough. Divide the dough ball into two equal pieces and shape each into a disk about an inch thick.
Wrap and chill. Wrap each dough disk in plastic and place it in the fridge for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight. This resting period allows the flour to hydrate fully and the gluten to relax so the dough will be easier to roll.
Simmer sweet potato. Place the sweet potato pieces in a small saucepan along with the garlic cloves — yes, whole — and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until the sweet potato is very tender and can be mashed easily, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and drain well.
Fry onion. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the shallot (or onion), season with a bit of salt and pepper, and fry, stirring occasionally until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
Mash. Place the sweet potatoes, garlic, onions, and Parmesan cheese into a medium bowl and mash completely with a fork, resulting in a thick paste. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats.
Roll dough. Work with one piece of dough at a time, and, on a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough until it’s about 1/8-inch thick. It can be tricky getting it this thin, especially in the middle of the dough, but do the best you can.
Cut circles. If you have a 3-inch cookie or biscuit cutter, you can use that, or, you can use a drinking glass that’s about 3 inches in diameter. Whatever you use, cut out as many circles as you can, re-rolling the dough scraps as needed, then placing the circles on the prepared baking sheets, leaving about an inch of space between each. Repeat with the remaining disk of dough.
Fill. Place about a teaspoon of filling in the center of each dough disk. To shape the hamantaschen, fold in the left side of the disk, then the right, and finally the bottom, forming a triangle, while making sure to leave some of the filling showing. Finally, press down on each of the corners to seal the dough.
Bake. Slide into the oven and bake, rotating from top to bottom and front to back halfway through, until lightly browned on the corners, about 20 to 24 minutes.
Cool. Let the hamantacschen cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, before either removing them to a rack to cool some more, or serving.
We made these hamantaschen as an appetizer for an evening meeting — of course we tried the ones that didn’t look as nice as the others; those are chef’s snacks — and they seemed to be a big hit. No leftovers, and one person proclaimed them “righteous hamantaschen,” which, in our book, corresponds to five stars. Scratch ’em out and see for yourself.