February 25, 2020

The Sexiest, Healthiest Hamantashen You’ve Ever Had

I admit I had to refresh myself on the story of Purim before coming up with a recipe for this week’s column. Growing up primarily in the United States with two Israeli parents who didn’t celebrate much outside of Rosh Hashanah and Passover, left a gap in my understanding of some Jewish holidays. Also, I didn’t attend a Jewish or Hebrew school, so it’s sad to say the only time I remember wearing a costume was on Halloween.

What I do remember is my first taste of Osnai Haman (“Haman’s ears”) in New York City, generally called hamantashen (“Haman’s hats,” traditional Purim pastry). I was invited to attend a Shabbat meal at the home of a Jewish family, and the taste of the sweet filling with earthy poppy seeds and buttery pastry became firmly etched in my mind.

Apparently, the bar was set too high from that first taste of what I like to call the “Jewish Pastries.” The trouble was that the store-bought versions, in the U.S. and even in Israel, always fell short of the mark for me. They tended to be too soft, too sweet or too bland for my taste, so I filed them under the “not worth the calories” folder in my mind, with hamantashen and rugelach falling firmly into that category.

Because I’m a pastry chef who is more interested in eating savory food than sweets, a dessert needs to be pretty special for me to indulge. I’m far too lazy to spend my limited cooking currency at home on anything other than real food, so hamantashen was never on my radar.

I need extra motivation to bake something sweet at home after a work week filled with day-to-day desserts and special-occasion cake orders. By coincidence, one of my friends who is gluten intolerant told me she was coming over early the next morning for a quick coffee. This prompted me to run to the kitchen to make something special for her. The bonus: Her Israeli husband would be thrilled when I sent her home with a Purim care package.

Unfortunately, it’s rare to find poppy seeds here in Uganda, and I ran out of my stash in the freezer. This was now a challenge!

Because I grow raspberries in my garden, I always have homemade sugar-free raspberry jam in my fridge. I sweeten it with a form of powdered stevia and thicken it with chia seeds, as they gel nicely when added to liquid.  Feel free to use the sugar substitute of your choice or use real sugar in the same quantity.

Here is a sensuous hamantashen recipe that won’t leave you needing to spend half the afternoon in the gym.

This jam is heavenly on top of yogurt or as the crowning glory on timeless desserts such as Malabi, a brilliant custard served in Israel and all over the Middle East. As an aside, legend has it that Malabi originated in Persia from the name of a cook who created it for a sultan. If you don’t feel like making a filling, it’s perfectly acceptable to use any quality jam or preserves in this recipe.    

Because I had just read the story of the fiercely brave Persian Queen Esther, and how she saved the Jewish people from inevitable demise, I decided to infuse my pastry with an exotic Persian twist. I used a few drops of rosewater mixed into my jam along with some zest of an orange. Next, I needed to replace the traditional flour with something gluten-free. Almond flour fits the bill because not only is it easy to work with but almonds are a fantastically Middle Eastern ingredient.

So here it is, a sexy hamantashen recipe if I do say so myself, and one that won’t leave you needing to spend half the afternoon in the gym. My friend was blown away and didn’t believe that they were gluten-free until I pinky swore her half a dozen times. Best of all, I followed the Purim tradition of giving to those less fortunate — and by that, I mean all gluten-intolerant folks out there. How satisfying to think that the evil Haman’s silly hat would be replicated as a pastry all these centuries later and eaten by Jews all over the world. I’m sure Queen Esther would approve.

2 cups finely ground almond flour
¼ cup powdered stevia, sugar
substitute or granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 ½ tablespoons melted browned butter,
1 egg
1/8 teaspoon liquid stevia extract
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Raspberry and rose chia jam
(recipe below)
Powdered sugar or sugar substitute
for garnish

1 ½ cups fresh or frozen raspberries
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon orange zest
¼ cup powdered stevia, sugar substitute
or granulated sugar
1 teaspoon rosewater (optional)
3 tablespoons chia seeds

Place berries, water, zest and stevia or
sugar in a small saucepan and simmer until berries soften. Mash berries until a jam-like consistency is achieved.

Place in a glass jar or bowl and stir in rosewater and chia seeds. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of two hours to set.

Makes about 1 ¼ cups

For cookies:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking tray with a Silpat or parchment paper. Sift almond flour into a bowl to remove lumps, and add sugar substitute and salt.

Brown butter by putting in a small saucepan and heating gently while stirring until the butter is golden brown.  Strain out milk particles by running through a sieve and let cool. Beat together egg, liquid stevia, orange zest, vanilla and cooled melted brown butter. Add to dry ingredients, stirring until a dough forms. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to make it easier to roll out.

Lightly flour parchment paper or a Silpat using a teaspoon of almond flour and use a rolling pin to flatten dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Using a drinking glass or a cookie cutter, punch out circles of your desired size and place on parchment-lined baking sheet.

Use a sharp knife or offset spatula to gently peel each circle off the surface without tearing. Continue to roll out and cut circles out of dough until it is used up. It should yield about 20 circles.

Place a circle of dough in front of you. Dollop a heaping teaspoon of jam or filling of your choice in the center. Pull together three sides of the circle to form a triangle shape and pinch together corners. Place on baking tray and put in the fridge to set for 30 minutes.

Bake in preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until the edges of the pastry triangles begin to brown and turn golden. Do not overcook.

Let cool on a rack. Store in a closed container in the fridge. Dust with powdered sugar if desired.

Makes 20 hamantashen

Next week, look my recipe for Sephardic salmon cakes, roasted zucchini and tahini.

Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.