This Purim, Hamantaschen Are Copping Salty New Attitudes

Israeli bakeries are giving the classic Purim cookie a personality makeover, introducing flaky crusts and savory new fillings, like goat cheese and pesto.

Amit Gosher

If you thought Hamantaschen were put on this earth exclusively to indulge your sweet tooth at Purim time, think again.

It sounds almost sacrilegious, but this season, a variety of salty and savory versions of the classic holiday cookie are also on offer. Goat cheese, pesto, potatoes, you name it – they’ve all somehow found their way into the pockets of these triangular-shaped pastries.

Hamantaschen is the Yiddish term for Haman’s pockets, a possible reference to the money he offered King Ahashverosh in return for permission to annihilate the Jews (the Purim holiday, to remind you, is a celebration of this plan’s undoing). In Hebrew, they’re called “ozney Haman,” or “Haman’s ears.” Whatever inspired the variation in names, up until recent years, there was little variation in the taste of Hamantaschen. You had the traditional poppy seed – a flavor most people either love or hate – and if you were lucky, maybe some prune, jam or nut-filled offerings.

At Israeli bakeries like Lechamim, which have turned pastry innovation into an art form, this season’s lineup includes one brand of Hamantaschen stuffed with potatoes and herbs and another stuffed with sweet potatoes, goat cheese and chopped walnuts. The dough surrounding these fillings is salty and crisp, dotted with sesame and black onion seeds and almost flakey in its texture. These creations are far more reminiscent of mini-quiches than they are of the quintessential Purim pastry, so if you never thought of serving Hamantaschen as appetizers or h’or dourves, it might be time to reconsider.

Shemo, another popular bakery, has just rolled out its own new line of salty and savory Hamantaschen, featuring sweet-potato as well as pesto and cheese fillings. But even among its sweeter varieties, there are some new and exotics fillings, including maple pecan, brandy-flavored meringue, plums soaked in wine, ricotta cheese with raisins and chocolate chip custard.

Amit Gosher

Not to be outdone, Roladin, Israel’s largest bakery chain with 43 branches around the country, has introduced two new Hamantaschen flavors to its collection this season: plums marinated in date syrup and mixed with almond cream and halva with pralines mixed with specks of Belgian chocolate. These come on top of some of last year’s unusual additions, among them dates rolled in an Indian masala spice mix with chopped walnuts.

At Lechamim, which recently opened its first branch outside Tel Aviv in downtown Manhattan, sweet-flavored hamenstachen still account for the bulk of holiday sales, but here as well, the range goes way beyond poppy seed. Among some of this season’s new releases are little triangular pockets filled with vanilla custard and chocolate bits, along with a chewy chocolate-filled variety that one young customer was overheard describing as a “Hamantaschen with a brownie stuffed inside it.” Getting back to the most classic of flavors, Shani Ben-Shach, Lechamim’s branch manager, is proud to announce that “our poppy-seeds are fresh ground daily.”

Some say the triangular form of the Hamantaschen is meant to symbolize the three-pointed hat Haman was believed to have worn back in the day. Inspired by this theme, Lechamim chefs have come up with a new variety of Hamantaschen called “Napolean’s hat.”  More round and less triangular in shape than the classic version, it has a ball of marzipan stuck under the crust.

Hamantaschen dough has also enjoyed a bit of a makeover in recent years. No longer heavy and dominated by the taste of margarine, the new butter-based variety is lighter and crispier. At bakeries like Cake Art, there’s one version made out of crushed almonds and another that has poppy seeds pressed into it. At Lehem Erez, where the Hamantaschen are also made exclusively by hand, nothing more than cream and butter go into the dough.

Believe it or not, there’s also a healthy version. Lechamim this year introduced a new line that uses spelt flour in the dough and sugar substitutes in the fillings, especially targeting diabetics.

Ido Rotman, head chef at Roladin, said his own bakery chain decided to discontinue a healthier line introduced several years ago. “With all the new things out there,” he explained, “it turns out most of our customers still prefer the traditional varieties – poppy seed, especially among adults, and chocolate, especially among children.”

Despite the conservative nature of her countrymen, Ben-Shach said that one new trend she’s observed is that more and more customers are opting for Hamantaschen as desserts after big Shabbat meals. “They’re finding it’s a good alternative to heavy cakes,” she said.