Last week I mentioned here that Queen Esther, according to tradition, kept a vegetarian diet of seeds at King Achashverosh’s palace, in order to avoid eating non-kosher meat.
While seeds were usually interpreted as legumes, chickpea or fava, poppy seeds also come to mind. And who knows? It just as well might have been poppy seeds that Esther consumed during those days at the palace, leading up to the story of Purim.
After all, poppies were cultivated and used in many civilizations for thousands of years, whether for medicine or for producing opium, including in ancient Persia.
I love everything poppy, and I’ve published many poppy seeds recipes in the past, from poppy seed pasta, to poppy seed cake and poppy-seed babka. Yet, there’s nothing like a paper-thin, crumbly, buttery hamantaschen crust enclosing the rich, distinctive, deep flavored poppy seed homemade filling. And it really does need to be the homemade kind. The canned poppy seed filling is bitter and gooey, and it hardens after baking. It has nothing to do with the real thing, freshly ground poppy seeds simmered with milk and sugar to form a thick, black, sweet and creamy paste.
For today’s hamantaschen recipe I added a little 100% cocoa unsweetened chocolate that deepens the rich poppy seed flavor without overpowering it.
Since you’ll need a few ounces of poppy seeds for the hamantaschen recipe, it’s better to look for it at kosher markets, Middle Eastern stores and Russian or Eastern European markets. You will most probably need to grind it yourself, using a coffee or spice grinder and don’t forget to grind it twice. If you have extra ground poppy seeds, mix them with a spoonful of sugar and freeze until the next use.
Yields about 30 hamantaschen
For the pastry
1 cup powdered sugar
2 1/2 cups flour, plus more for the work surface
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 egg yolks
For the filling
1 cup whole or low-fat milk
1/2 cup sugar
4 oz. poppy seeds, twice-ground
4 tablespoons ground almonds (or ground tea biscuits)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 oz. 100% cocoa unsweetened chocolate
1. Combine the powdered sugar, the 2 1/2 cups of flour and the butter in a food processor. Pulse to create crumbs. Add the yolks; pulse just until crumbs are formed. Divide the dough in two; gather into 2 disks and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. Make the filling: Stir together the milk, sugar, poppy seeds and ground almonds in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to low and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring often, until the milk is absorbed and the mixture has thickened. Stir in the butter and chocolate until well incorporated, then remove from the heat. Cool completely.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Have a 3-inch cookie cutter at hand. Liberally dust the working surface with flour. Roll out the first half-portion of dough on the floured surface as thin as possible (about 1/16” thin). Dip the cookie cutter into flour and cut out circles of dough. Reroll the dough as needed.
4. Use a teaspoon to mound a small amount of the filling in the center of each circle. Lift and pinch the edges of each circle in 3 places spaced evenly apart, to create a triangle; the filling will be partially exposed in the center. Arrange on the baking sheet, spacing them an inch apart.
5. Bake one sheet at a time for 12-15 minutes or until the pastries are just turning light-golden on the edges.
6. Transfer the pastries to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.