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Finding the Right Angle on Hamantashen

Friday, February 15, 2013
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Traditional filling or not, Hamantaschen always have their triangle shape. Photo by Amy Kritzer.

Purim is right around the corner, beginning the evening of Feb. 23. Of course, I'm most interested in the traditional food associated with Purim, which we know as hamantashen, the triangle-shaped stuffed cookie. I always thought that hamantashen represented Haman’s three-cornered hat, as in the song that I learned in Hebrew school:

My hat, it has three corners,
Three corners has my hat
And had it not three corners,
It would not be my hat.

However, there is more to the story. In Israel, the Hebrew translation for oznei Haman, which refers to the ears of defeated enemies, is "Haman's ears." In Yiddish, mantashen means "poppy seed pockets" and Hamantashen means "Haman's pockets."

Perhaps this meaning behind the three-cornered hat isn't as well-known, but the good news is that hamantashen are offered at most establishments all year round. The traditional jam-filled flavors — cherry, poppy, prune and apricot— are still dominant in the marketplace as opposed to the seemingly infinite varieties of other holiday-centric foods like latkes. 

It is also customary to send Purim baskets, or mishloach manot, to friends and family. This package typically contains snack food and, of course, hamantashen!

Keeping to Tradition
"Why is there such a devout following for traditionally flavored hamantashen?" I asked Bruce Bell, the manager of Center City's Schlesinger's Delicatessen, over the phone. "That's what people know," he replied. They ask for the traditional. For people who don't know what hamantashen are, we want to teach them about the traditional. Sometimes, we make chocolate chip."

Roz Bratt, owner of Homemade Goodies by Roz in Queen Village, offers her non-dairy, kosher hamantashen (cute video with kids!) all year lomg because, she says, "people love them. It reminds them of home — their mom and grandmom." Last week, she made them in her store with 19 second graders from neighboring St. Peter's School, a non-denominational school. "We made dough, cut and filled them," she said. "I told them the story of Purim and had a grogger." Just like Schlesinger's, Roz ventures outside the triangle by filling her cookies with an Israeli non-dairy, kosher chocolate that is similar to nutella sans nuts. 

Outside the Triangle
I wanted to learn more about the filling possibilities beyond the traditional Big Four. I emailed food blogger Amy Kritzer, of "What Jew Wanna Eat." She emphasized that, "The important thing about Hamantashen to me was the triangular shape, representing Haman's ears. From there, it is really just a blank canvas for flavors! Purim is a celebratory holiday with dressing up and carnivals, so why shouldn't Hamantashen be just as fun?" I agree!

Her favorites are savory flavors such as Caramelized Onion, and sweet Neapolitan for the subtlety of the strawberry dough that balances nicely with the rich chocolate filling and sweet vanilla glaze. Her secrets? "For fillings, the key is to choose something sturdy and to not overstuff your hamantashen — a teaspoon is plenty; otherwise, they spill over when you bake! Test one hamantashen before cooking a whole batch. In terms of messing with the dough, make sure to balance new ingredients." As an example, she notes that, "When I added strawberries to my dough, I knew they would add moisture so I removed the orange juice and added orange zest and more flour."
 
DIY Hamantashen
Make your own version this year with this traditional family recipe.
 
Local Eats
As I mentioned above, most places in the Philadelphia area serve traditional hamantashen all year round. Here's where you should get yours:
 
Just for Purim
The Bagel Spot (kosher)
600 North Kings Highway, Cherry Hill (856) 755-9330
(imports from Smilowitz Bakery in Brooklyn)

Night Kitchen Bakery
7725 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, (215) 248-9235

South Street Philly Bagels 
613 South 3rd Street, Philadelphia, (215) 627-6277
(imports from Smilowitz Bakery in Brooklyn)

 

 
All Year
Famous 4th Street Delicatessen
700 South Fourth Street, (215) 922-3274
38 South 19th Street, (215) 568-3271

Homemade Goodies by Roz (kosher)
510 South Fifth Street, Philadelphia, (215) 592-9616

Kaplan's New Model Bakery (kosher)
901 North Third Street, Philadelphia, (215) 627-5288

Kibitz Room
100 Springdale Road, Cherry Hill, (856) 428-7878

Lipkin's (kosher)  
8013 Castor Avenue  Philadelphia, (215) 342-3005

Ponzio’s
7 West Route 70, Cherry Hill, (856) 428-4808
 
Roling's Bakery  (kosher)
7848 Montgomery Avenue, Elkins Park, (215) 635-5524

Schlesinger's Deli
1521 Locust Street,  Philadelphia, (215) 735-7305

Swiss Haus Bakery  (kosher)
35 South 19th Street, Philadelphia, (215) 563-0759

Testa’s Bakery
12 Brookline Boulevard, Havertown‎, (610) 789-4331

Whole Foods
2001 Pennsylvania Avenue, Philadelphia, (215) 557-0015
929 South Street, Philadelphia, (215) 733-9788

Three Corners It Is,

Stephanie
The Bubbi Project

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