Purim tells the story of Esther, a resilient, plucky woman who dramatically impacted history through the use of intellect and bravery. The Book of Esther is the story of a woman who essentially risked her life in order to save the exiled Jewish people from Purim’s evil villain, Haman. Within the text is the message that the vulnerable, particularly those living in exile, can achieve success without relinquishing their heritage. A timely message, indeed. From where I stand rolling, cutting and folding small circles of cream cheese dough, there’s something terribly unfair in naming Purim’s trademark baked good in honor of the villain, rather than in celebration of the female super hero.
Tri-cornered Purim cookies fall under various headings and spellings, depending upon which cookbook you pluck from the shelf. My grandmother’s Settlement Cookbook calls the yeast-risen sweets Purim Cakes or Haman Pockets. Jennie Grossinger’s The Art of Jewish Cooking offers both yeast-risen and cookie dough recipes under the heading of Hamentaschen. A more contemporary take on Hamantaschen is offered by Judy Rosenberg of Rosie’s Bakery Cookie Book, opting for egg yolks in the dough and store bought poppyseed filling. Besides getting stuck in your teeth, poppyseeds play an integral part in the history of Purim sweets.
Mohntaschen (mohn meaning poppy or poppyseed in German) were popular baked goods in medieval Europe. Taschen means pocket or pouch in German. It’s quite possible that the word Hamantaschen was simply a mash-up of mohn, Haman and taschen. As for the shape of the cookies, they are said to resemble either Haman’s ears, pockets or his three-cornered hat. What history doesn’t mention is that Haman was probably in desperate need of a personal stylist.
Where does this leave Purim’s brave female protagonist? Clearly deserving of her very own pastry title, prompting me to propose the word Esthertaschen.
This week’s recipe includes mohn (poppyseeds) and a splash of beets to give it color, plus a little dark cocoa because history has taught us that red plus cocoa plus cream cheese is a winning combination. Cherries shine like jewels in the filling, tucked inside an over-sized taschen meaning you only need to roll, cut and fold one circle.
I like to think if Esther were around today, whether attired in trousers or royal robes, you can bet your poppyseeds her wardrobe would have included pockets. Because not only was Esther a super-hero, she was one smart cookie.