Shoshanna Cohen is a writer based in Portland, Oregon. As a runner, hedonist, and culture geek, she is interested in food as fuel, as pleasure, and as language, sometimes all at once. She blogs about food and drinks at Socktails and about running at Nice Shorts.

Hamantaschen any day

Make cookies

April 4, 2011

The running joke about Jewish holidays is that some goy always asks, “What is this holiday about?” And the answer is always, “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.”

It doesn’t matter what holiday it is. There’s usually some lurid twist that makes for good storytelling, but the general idea is almost always the same.

The springtime holiday of Purim follows the classic formula. The holiday’s origin story is actually so scandalous and bloody that it isn’t even allowed to be in the Torah — it’s a separate scroll.

Since this isn’t a religion blog, I won’t recount all of the details here, but they include treason, conspiracy, a crafty stripper, and leprosy. The most important point is that the bad guy, Haman, wore a three-cornered hat; thus (obviously!) we commemorate the holiday by eating triangular cookies called hamantaschen, or Haman pockets. (Or humdingers, as a non-Jewish family friend used to call them.)

The issue of fillings is contentious. Poppy seed is by far the superior filling, yet some people weirdly are unconvinced. Apricot jam is pretty good too. Some people put Hershey’s kisses in there, or prunes, or other kinds of jam.

All of the aforementioned are traditional, but there is no real rule about it. There is probably some yuppie out there making savory caramelized onion and chèvre hamantaschen, and somewhere in L.A. you can probably get gluten-free hamantaschen with açai berry and flax.

Every year I intend to make hamantaschen for Purim, and every year I don’t get around to it. This year was no exception, although I did receive gifts of hamantaschen from two different friends. One brought hamantaschen from the reputable Market Hall Bakery in Oakland. They were good cookies — buttery and fresh, filled with universally inoffensive apricot jam — but not the traditional hamantaschen of my youth.

Any day is a good day to make hamantaschen.

The other friend, however, brought hamantaschen he had made himself. He has never met my mother, but the cookies, flecked with orange zest and filled with poppy seeds, could have come from her kitchen. It inspired me all the more to whip up a batch.

Luckily, hamantaschen, like matzo-ball soup, are technically a holiday food but appropriate to enjoy at any time of year.

Our family recipe came from my great-grandmother, and probably her ancestors in the Old Country before that. When I asked my mother for it, she produced a 30-year-old handwritten piece of paper that had been carefully recorded from her mother in Skokie, Illinois, and kept folded in an old, stained copy of The Tassajara Bread Book.

The recipe makes a ton of cookies. It’s kind of time-consuming and kind of a commitment, but extra fun. Also, you probably want to get together a couple of friends and a bottle of sherry or something and rock it for an afternoon. Your friends/roommates/family/co-workers will love you.

That nice young man at the office? Bring him a few hamantaschen, too. You’ll thank me later, and so will your mother.

Related recipe: Hamantaschen

There are 6 comments on this item
Add a comment
1. by Laura Parisi on Apr 6, 2011 at 5:24 PM PDT

Shoshanna, I love this story! Your writing always brings a smile to my face. A friend of mine made a batch of these for Purim and they were absolutely fantastic.

2. by Shoshanna Cohen on Apr 6, 2011 at 10:06 PM PDT

Aww, thanks Laura! I’m glad you got to experience The Best Hamantaschen Of All Time. Hope everything’s going great!

3. by Jennifer Hurley on Apr 7, 2011 at 11:13 AM PDT

Shosh, this is an awesome article! I had my first hamantaschen this year, also from Oakland’s Marketplace, and it made me even more grateful that my best friends are Jewish. I cracked up at the description of the recipe buried in the Tassajara Bread Book ... that is so Rachel!

4. by Laura Parisi on Apr 7, 2011 at 11:18 AM PDT

I don’t know if hers were The Best Hamantaschen Of All Time -- I don’t remember poppy seeds. But they were delicious. I want to try your recipe now!

5. by Fort Lauderdale catering on May 13, 2011 at 12:41 AM PDT

They look very nice and tasty!!! You don’t get to see cookies or any kind of bread like those very often these days.
As much as possible, let us choose healthy food to maintain healthy bodies. With our busy lifestyles, we need all the energy we can get and with mouth-watering treats such as the ones shown above, makes you appreciate quality meals more.

6. by Ally M. on May 9, 2012 at 7:50 PM PDT

When I was a young wife and mother in the ‘70’s, I tried to hire a Jewish neighbor girl to come watch my kids once in a while so I could actually get something-anything-done! In becoming acquainted, I learned of her lonely life. Both parents busy professionals, herself lonely, overweight, bookish. Instead of becoming my helper, she became a friend! She remembered her Grandmother making Hamantaschen, how happy it had made her, and now Grandma was gone. We made Hamantaschen several times, learning together (I hadn’t ever heard of them!) She took them home, and her mother cried. She took them to school, and surprised everyone. It was a gift I’v never forgotten!

Add a comment

Think before you type

Culinate welcomes comments that are on-topic, clean, and courteous. For the benefit of the community we reserve the right to delete comments that contain advertising, personal attacks, profanity, or which are thinly disguised attempts to promote another website.

Please enter your comment

Format: Bare URLs are automatically linked; use this style: [ "place text to be linked here"] for prettier links. You may specify *bold* or _italic_ text. No HTML please.

Please identify yourself

Not a member? Sign up!

Please prove that you’re not a computer

Dinner Guest

The gamification of cooking

Earning points

Most of the time with cooking and eating, the rules are clear.

Graze: Bites from the Site
First Person

The secret sharer

A father’s legacy

The Culinate Interview

Mollie Katzen

The vegetarian-cooking pioneer


Down South

Barbecue, tamales, cocktails, and more

Local Flavors

A winter romesco sauce

Good on everything

Editor’s Choice