We expect a lot from hamantaschen. These triangular jam-filled cookies are baked by Eastern European Jews to celebrate the Purim holiday. In addition to triggering a dose of nostalgia, these cookies are expected to maintain their neat shape and hold back a river of delicious jam, all while showcasing a tender, delicate crumb. This is a lot to ask of any cookie. Hamantaschen seldom live up to the task. Most often (especially when made commercially) they err on the side of structure, holding a beautiful shape but having the dry, chalky mouthfeel of a wad of clay. Alternately, there are tender, pastry-light hamantaschen made with cream cheese doughs, but they unfurl disappointingly in the oven, shrugging off their three corners to settle back into the circle from which they were shaped.
Luckily, it's possible to make hamantaschen that have both a traditional shape and a inviting texture. But it takes a bit of fussing. First off, the dough. If you want a rich and light cream cheese dough (and, trust me, you do), you need to give it a few cold rests. First the dough needs to chill in the refrigerator after you make it, so that the moisture can be absorbed without needing additional flour, and the soft butterfats can firm up. And once you shape the cookies, you want to chill them again, this time in the freezer for at least an hour. When the frozen cookies hit the oven, their icy stiffness will help them to bake and firm before any melty backsliding begins. And then there's the shaping. An egg wash is brushed on the dough, to help glue the mess together. The sides are then folded in -- but you don't want upright 90 degree walls, which can open easily. Instead, you want to ease the sides of your triangle into nice acute angles, encasing the jam so that just the tiniest jewel-like bit is peeping out of the center. A bit of twisting on the overlapping sides doesn't hurt either. Like I said, it's a bit of fuss.
So why go through all the bother? Well, the same reason you cook anything, I suppose. To create something delicious, that connects you to the generations who have made it before, but also transports you on flavor and flakiness alone. These hamantaschen take some attention, and despite your best efforts might still unroll a bit in the oven (I lost 2 in a batch of 16, which seem like acceptable odds to me, especially after a rather flaky-yet-disastrous first pass). But the end result? The best hamantaschen I've ever had.
inspired by several sources, most notably the Trois Pommes Patisserie, as reprinted in New York Magazine
yields 14-18 cookies, depending on size and thickness
1 stick butter (4 oz), softened to room temperature
4 oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp sugar
zest of 1/2 orange and 1/2 lemon (optional, but nice)
1 1/4 cup flour
1 egg, beaten with 1 spoonful water, milk or cream (henceforth referred to as the "egg wash")
~1/2 cup jam of your choose (I used the apricot and rosemary plum jams from my larder)
a few spoonfuls granulated sugar
Cream together the butter and cream cheese until well-combined and fluffy. Add the vanilla, salt, sugar, and citrus zest, beating until combined. Add the flour, and mix gently until the dough just comes together (try not to over-mix). Form the dough into a chubby disc, wrap in plastic or waxed paper, and refrigerate for at least an hour (preferably at least two).
When the dough has chilled and relaxed, roll it out onto a lightly-floured surface until it is between 1/8" to 1/4". Cut out circles with a 3" cutter. Place a teaspoon of jam in the center of each circle, and brush the edges with the egg wash. Shape each circle into a triangle, drawing the sides well over the top so that just a bit of the jam is peeking through (an area smaller than a dime) and sealing the edges. If possible, bring one of the edges slightly over the other, rolling it so that the seam is no longer on top. Place the shaped cookies on a plastic- or parchment-coated plate, and place in the freezer for 1 hour. Place the remaining egg wash back in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees farenheit.
Remove the cookies from the freezer, and place on greased or lined cookie sheets. Brush the top sides of the dough with the egg wash, and sprinkle lightly with the granulated sugar. Bake until they are nicely browned, 20-30 minutes. Let cool on a rack, and enjoy.