Why Israelis Love Hamantaschen More Than Americans

Poppy seed hamantaschen are perfect; but there's no harm in being a little cheeky with some extra ingredients, is there?

Vered Guttman
Vered Guttman
Vered Guttman
Vered Guttman

My grandmother used to say "We've been waiting a whole year for this" every holiday about every dish. And there was nothing I waited more for than the poppy seed hamantaschen. I was thinking about that as I lay awake, turning and tossing In the middle of the night, trying to come up with exciting, yet delicious, new fillings for hamantaschen. I woke up with one realization: Poppy seed hamantaschen are perfect, they're my favorite sweet pastry. Why would I waste my ration of six yearly hamantaschen and all the time it takes me to roll and fold and bake them on something less than the perfect, decadent, silky black poppy seed filling?

There's a reason why Israelis love their hamantaschen more than Americans. In short, it's because the Israeli hamantaschen are much better.

The main difference is the dough. In the U.S. it's cookie dough that's usually hard to chew and doesn't compliment the filling. The Israeli version developed throughout the years from the Eastern European yeast dough, thick and heavy like a bun, to a paper-thin sablé style dough, sometimes with ground almonds, similar to what's used in tarts. The buttery sablé works beautifully with any delicate filling and the classic poppy seeds filling tops the list.

Since I am going to eat only ten, definitely no more than twenty hamantaschen, I wanted them all to be poppy seeds, but I didn't mind making it interesting. What I had in mind were the classic Hungarian cakes: The Hungarian poppy seeds experts layer apple filling (and sometimes walnut filling as well) in the Flódni cake. Almonds or marzipan is another natural complimentary flavor.

I made a double quantity of poppy seeds filling. To some I added a very simple apple filling, to some a disk of marzipan, and some were left pure poppy. Made about a hundred of them, to be on the safe side.

Poppy seeds, marzipan and apple hamantaschen

Below you can find not one, but three hamantaschen recipes. Once you've made the poppy seeds filling you can easily use it as it is, add marzipan or apples to create a truly lovely hamantaschen collection.

Poppy seeds in large quantities are available year round in Israel, but are harder to find in the U.S. Around Purim, some Israeli or Jewish markets have poppy seeds, and Eastern European markets usually have them year round. Make sure the poppy seeds are fresh and grind them yourself twice in a coffee grinder or the dry blender of the Vitamix.

Yields about 35-40 small hamantaschen
2.5 cups all purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
1cup powdered sugar, plus more for dusting (optional)
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
2 egg yolks
Pinch salt

For the poppy seeds filling:
0.5 cups milk
0.5 cups heavy cream
0.5 cups sugar
4 oz. twice-ground poppy seeds (about 1 cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons ground almonds or ground cookies
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

For marzipan- poppy seeds filling (enough for 40 hamantaschen)
7 oz. marzipan
1 quantity of the poppy seeds filling

For apple-poppy seeds hamantaschen (enough for 40 hamantaschen)
2 Granny Smith apples
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons sugar
0.5 teaspoon lemon juice
1 quantity poppy seeds filling

1. Lightly flour a work surface. Combine flour, sugar and butter in a food processor. Pulse to create crumbs. Add the egg yolks and pulse just until the dough begins to clump together. Turn the dough out onto the floured work surface, knead shortly, gather into a ball, divide into two, flatten to a disk and wrap in a plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. In the meantime, prepare the poppy seeds filling: stir together the milk, heavy cream, sugar, poppy seeds, vanilla extract and ground almonds in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook for 5-8 minutes, stirring often, until the mixture has thickened. Remove from the heat, stir in the butter, and cool completely.
3. For the marzipan-poppy seeds filling, roll out 40 1/2 inch balls, then flatten them into 3/4 inch disks. Set aside.
4. For the apple-poppy seeds filling peel and grate the apples, then squeeze out all their juice. Place the grated apples in a bowl, add cornstarch, sugar and lemon juice and mix well. Cover the surface with plastic wrap. Set aside.
5. Oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
6. Flour the work surface and a rolling pin. Roll out the first half of the dough to a 1/8 inch thickness. Dip a 2.75 inch (or 3 inch) round cookie cutter in flour and cut out circles of dough. Mount filling in the center. Lift and pinch the edges of each circle in three corners spaced evenly apart, to create a triangle. Arrange on a baking sheet, spacing hamantaschen an inch apart. Repeat with the rest of the dough and filling.
7. If you're making the marzipan-poppy seeds hamantaschen, put a small disc of marzipan in the center of each dough circle, top with a teaspoon of poppy seeds filling and continue as usual.
8. If you're making the apple-poppy seeds hamantaschen, spoon a little of the apple filling on top of every dough circle. Top with a teaspoon of poppy seeds filling and continue as usual.
9. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until pastries are barely golden on the edges. Cool completely on wire racks. If desired, dust with powdered sugar. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Hamantaschen.Credit: Vered Guttman
HamantaschenCredit: Vered Guttman

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