Traditionally, Hamantaschen are small cookies, cut as 3½” circles. In this recipe I used a 9½” tart pan as a guide and cut out one large circle, to slice and share. (There will be additional dough remaining that you can cut into 3½” circles, placing a teaspoon of cherry filling in each, or you can cut narrow strips using a pastry wheel and garnish the Hamantaschen with woven strips of dough. Special thanks to Jones & Co. for the vanilla bean inspiration!)
3½ cups frozen sweet cherries, (I use the 16 oz. bag from Trader Joes)
¼ cup brown sugar
1½ tablespoons cornstarch (4½ teaspoons)
½ teaspoon orange zest
1 tablespoon Cherry Heering Liqueur
¼ teaspoon almond extract, preferably Nielsen & Massey
Place the frozen cherries in a strainer set over a bowl and let them thaw for about 15-20 minutes. Discard any excess ice/water from the cherries. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch and orange zest. Place the cherries in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the sugar/cornstarch mixture. Cook over medium heat until the cherries begin to thicken. Don’t overcook them; you want them to retain some of their plumpness. Remove from the heat and stir in the almond extract and liqueur.. Scrape the filling into a bowl and refrigerate until chilled. (If you’re in a hurry, you can set the bowl of filling over a bowl of ice and stir it occasionally until it cools.) This will make enough filling for one 9½” circle with some additional that can be used to fill smaller cookies (or eaten with yogurt or ice cream). Cover and refrigerate the filling until ready to use.
Vanilla Bean Hamantaschen Dough
4 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature
4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped with the tip of a small knife OR 2 teaspoons
egg wash made from 1 egg yolk combined with 3 tablespoons milk or cream
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and vanilla bean seeds.* In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter and sugar until smooth, then add cream cheese, blending well. With mixer on low add flour mixture and orange zest. Dough will be soft, do not overmix. Turn dough out onto plastic wrap, sealing well. Place in refrigerator at least one hour, preferably overnight. Prepare the egg wash before you are ready to assemble and bake the pastry. (*If using vanilla extract instead of vanilla bean seeds, add the liquid extract to the butter/sugar/cream cheese mixture.)
To assemble the Hamantaschen:
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Turn dough out onto a sheet of lightly floured parchment paper. Roll to a thickness of a little less than ⅛” thick. (If the dough is too thick, it does not bake thoroughly and loses some of its flakiness.) Use the tart pan ring to cut out a 9½” circle of dough.
Carefully transfer the large circle of dough to a parchment lined baking sheet. The easiest way to do this is to lightly dust the pastry with flour, fold it in quarters, transfer it to your parchment lined baking sheet, and carefully unfold the dough back into a circle.
Brush the outer edge of the circle with egg wash- this will help the Hamantaschen hold its shape. For the 9½” circle, place about 2 cups of cherry filling in the center of the dough, leaving a 1” border around the pastry, and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly. It’s tempting to overfill the pastry, but this will only cause it to lose its shape in the oven and overflow. Starting with the left side, fold the pastry over the filling, then fold in the right, then tuck in the bottom lip to seal the pastry. Brush the edges only (not the center) with egg wash, garnish with additional thin strips of dough if you wish, and place the filled Hamantaschen in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes before baking. This also goes for any smaller circles; if you skip this step, the pastry(ies) will open in the oven resembling a sad circle instead of a triangle.
Bake the large Hamantaschen on the middle rack of the oven for 15 minutes then rotate the tray and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, until the pastry is golden and the filling is gently bubbling. (For the 3½” pastries, bake on the bottom rack of the oven for a total of 12-15 minutes until golden. For itty-bitty bite size pastries, just a dab of filling will do, and they will need less oven time.) Remove Hamantaschen from the oven and place on a cooling rack. (As the Hamantaschen cools, the filling will settle slightly and you can spoon a little of the extra filling in the center of the pastry.)