Monday, February 24, 2014

Buckwheat Hamantaschen with Sweet Cheese Filling

This is one of those kitchen experiments I entirely expected to fail. I was thinking about riffs on the delicious jam-filled hamantaschen, those three-cornered cookies baked up to celebrate Purim. Hamantaschen can be hard enough to get right on their own, especially if you want a rich, flaky, cream cheese-laden dough (and, trust me, you do). But, I decided, why not make things more difficult? So I gave my beloved rich dough a nutty edge with buckwheat flour, whose flavor I love, but with whom I am not acquainted in enough non-pancake contexts to really know how it would behave. And instead of jam, I made a soft sweet cheese filling. Flaky, nutty dough wrapped around a tender trembly filling? Sounds great, right? It also sounded like I could fully expect to open my oven and find a tray full of dough circles swimming in a gooey cheese bath.

But, lo, in a sort of of Ashkenazi Oven Miracle, this recipe worked out. And it worked out deliciously. Yes, it took a lot of fussing — sort of a Level II hamantaschen. The filling is too runny to just dollop on as you would jam — you've got to pinch a corner first to create some retaining walls, then spoon the filling in and fold in your remaining dough to keep it there. And then you've got to freeze them solid, so that they set in the oven before that filling comes cascading out. So yes, fuss. But worth it.

These hamantaschen mix old world grains and butterfat with new world sophistication. Grown-up little bites, they have an almost bitter-coffee edge and whole grain heft from the buckwheat, which pairs perfectly with a rich, sweet-yet-tangy filling. Of course it worked out — this combination seems meant to be.

And if you'd like another taste of Eastern European goodness (this one of a more traditional bent), you can check out my recent story on Weekend Edition. What do the Middle East, a Lithuanian shtetl, and a 1950s kitchen appliance have in common? Find out over at NPR!

Buckwheat Hamantaschen with Sweet Cheese Filling

yields ~30 cookies

1 stick butter (4 oz), softened to room temperature
4 oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature
zest of 1 orange, if desired (I'm still not sure how I come down on that one — I may prefer it without)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cottage cheese
1/4 cup cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar
squeeze lemon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg yolk

To Finish:
egg wash of 1 egg lightly beaten with a splash of water
a few spoonfuls of sugar

To make the dough: Cream together the butter and cream cheese until well-combined and fluffy. Add the vanilla, salt, and sugar, beating until combined. Add the flours, and mix gently until the dough just comes together (try not to over-mix — a few streaks are okay). Form the dough into a chubby disc, wrap in plastic or waxed paper, and refrigerate for at least an hour (preferably at least two) and up to two days. Mix all of the filling ingredients in a blender or food processor until combined, and refrigerate. 

When the dough has chilled and relaxed, lightly flour a countertop and a few plates or a cookie tray (one that fits in your freezer), and have your egg wash and filling handy.

Roll the dough out on a lightly-floured surface until it is fairly thin — about 1/8-inch or so. Cut out circles with a 3" cutter (mine was slightly smaller), and brush the edges with the egg wash. I tend to do about half a dozen at a time, covering the remaining dough with a clean tea towel so it doesn't dry out. Pinch shut one corner of the dough to make one point of your hamantaschen triangle, then fill with a teaspoon or so of the cheese filling (after doing a few cookies, you'll get a sense of how much filling you can fit). Pinch shut the remaining edges, sort of pinwheeling them over each other in this fashion if you like, or just pinch them, leaving just a little dime-sized bit of filling peeping through in the center. Repeat with remaining dough and filling (any scraps can be mushed back together and re-rolled).

Place the shaped cookies on your prepared plate, and freeze until solid (at least a few hours, or overnight). Place the remaining egg wash back in the refrigerator.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375° Fahrenheit. Line a few cookie sheets with parchment.

Remove the cookies from the freezer, and place on the lined cookie sheets. Brush the top sides of the dough with the egg wash, and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake until set, ~20-30 minutes (the buckwheat flour makes it difficult to see color changes, but they should be beginning to turn golden on the edges. Let cool on a rack, and enjoy. These are best served the day they're made, but leftovers can be stored in the freezer to good effect.

1 comment:

  1. Ooh! This is exactly what I should make with the buckwheat flour that's been hanging out in my freezer. I love the idea of mixing up classic hamantaschen with a danish-y cheese filling too. I will take the fuss, no problem! :)