Monday, March 10, 2014

Purim Baklava Hamantaschen


This Sunday Purim festivals will take place across the country, sending millions of bagged goldfish into the hands of irresponsibly giddy children, whilst confusing all the remaining Gentile children about why all these Jewish children with new goldfish are dressing up for Halloween in March.  Ah, yes, I have fond memories of the yearly Purim carnival held by my very kosher reform temple built on a lot that was once a BBQ restaurant.  I may have dropped out of Hebrew School just shy of my Bat Mitzvah, but I never missed the opportunity to dress up like Queen Esther and win me a bagged goldfish at the Purim carnival.

Purim's a great holiday all around, but the classic hamantasch cookie really elevates its status and makes up for the fact that other Jewish holidays require completely flourless desserts.  But, be warned, store-bought hamentaschen (if you're from a place where these exist) are notoriously bad, with this sort of muted sweetness characteristic of all cookies eastern European grandmothers make.  The jelly filling is gummy and stringy while the cookie is dry and bland, so it just tastes like its gone way past the sell-by date.  Meanwhile, homemade "hammies" offer up endless possibilities for yummy cookie dough combined with any filling your heart desires as long as it's shaped like evil Haman's triangular hat (QUEUE THE NOISEMAKERS).  Ok, if you aren't getting all these Purim references you're just going to have to google it.

So, it occurred to me that hamantaschen might be filled with another of my favorite desserts that one might find in Persia - sticky-sweet baklava.  It also occurred to me that that this might turn out like a twist on one of my favorite cookies across the board - Russian tea cakes - if I opted for a buttery shortbread cookie dough combined with a nutty filling.  I had to add an egg white to the butter/sugar/four dough to make it malleable enough to "triangulate," but this didn't alter the flavor or texture a bit.  I'm kind of afraid to do an internet search for "baklava hamantaschen" in fear that millions of others have already thought of this idea, so I won't, and instead I'll keep pretending this was my once-a-month stroke of genius. 

I tested two variations of baklava filling, pistachio-almond and hazelnut-almond, preferring the pistachio slightly (although Garrett disagreed).  Traditional 'taschen were, of course, in order.  If you go that route, which admittedly saves you lots of time, I recommend apricot jam filling.

In completely different news, I'm excited to announce that I had the opportunity to collaborate with the folks behind a new iPad cooking app called SideChef.   Their "thing" is offering a great interface for home cooks to try our new recipes with step-by-step instructions (with voice commands for dirty hands) and big, beautiful pictures along the way.  I'm honored to be one of their featured bloggers to help them launch.  Download it for your iPad in the app store and enter the code JENESSASDINNERS250 for some bonuses.

Shortbread Dough Ingredients (makes about 18 cookies):
1 cup butter, softened
1 tsp. salt
drop of almond extract (optional)
1 egg white
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
Baklava Nut Filling:
Thanks to Oishii Treats for this filling recipe
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. cinnamon (or a cinnamon stick)
pinch of allspice
1 cup toasted, chopped nuts of your choice (I tried both pistachio-almond and hazelnut-almond, but you can also do walnut-almond)
OR you can opt for a traditional filling of fruit jelly/preserves

Make the shortbread dough by first creaming the butter, egg, salt, and almond extract.  Sift the flour and sugar together then add to the butter mixture until just combined.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready for use.
Meanwhile, prepare the sweet syrup for the baklava filling by combining the honey, sugar, water, lemon juice, and spices in a small pot over medium heat.  Bring to a boil, then simmer to reduce for 10 minutes.  Set aside to cool.
Before chopping, toast your combination of nuts in a pan over medium-high heat.  This should only take about 4 minutes stirring the nuts regularly.  Then chop and combine with the sweet syrup to complete the filling.
Roll out the dough on a floured surface to about 1/8 inch thickness.  Using a cookie cutter or cup, cut out 3- to 4-inch rounds and fill with about 1 tsp. of your nut or fruit filling.  Fold carefully into triangles on your baking sheet.  The cookies won't rise very much, so don't worry about giving them lots of space.
Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, or until edges become golden brown.  If using a jelly or preserve filling, allow to cool and set on the baking sheet before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

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