Orange Zest and Brown Butter Hamentaschen

Baking lends itself well to traditions. Partly because treasured recipes can help define special moments- and partly because the actual process of creating something delicious can fuel great memories.

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I made a personal batch a couple weeks ago, too. This has guava, apricot and raspberry fillings.

A few years ago I decided to try making “hamentaschen” as a gift for my dad. Hamentaschen are triangular cookies filled with a variety of delicious things, from poppy seed to stewed apricots. They’re pretty easy to find at Jewish-inspired bakeries on the East Coast, but I don’t see them much in San Francisco. They’re technically associated with a Jewish holiday called Purim, though you can find them year-round. A quick history lesson: Purim is the commemoration of victory over Hamen, an Anti-Semitic Prime Minister back in 4th Century BCE Persia. Hamen was stopped from evil plans- and so Purim is a joyous holiday, accompanied by festive parties. The 3-cornered hamentaschen might be inspired by a couple different things: perhaps the 3-cornered hat Hamen was rumored to wear, perhaps money bags to represent Hamen’s attempt to buy his way to power.

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A mix of fillings on this sheet, from jams to cookie butter to got cheese

Regardless of their symbolism or the time of year- these cookies are delicious. And since my dad loves them, I decided to give them a shot. That first year, I invited a few friends over for a “fill and bake” party. I made the dough earlier in the day, then my friends brought tons of fillings over to finish the cookies together. It proved such a blast, we did it again the following year. We’re now on our 4th year of this great tradition and every year my friends get more creative with the fillings they bring over. It sort of becomes a science experiment to see which fillings work well, and which “explode” in the oven. A few hints: jam tends to bubble up and over if you put too much in a cookie; use thicker preserves so they don’t think out in baking; Nutella tends to burn; cheese actually goes really well with these.

I’ve been making the same dough for the past 4 years, but even after doubling my usual recipe I didn’t think I had enough dough for our expected headcount of 10 cookie bakers… so I made a second dough recipe, too. I’m so glad I did, because now I have 2 great base recipes to share with you today! The first recipe here is my annual go-to, and the 2nd is a new recipe I’m going to add into our tradition. Scroll to the very bottom for assembly and baking directions!

My friend Jaclyn took a lot of the photos in this post- you can tell which ones they are because they’re way better than mine! Thanks Jaclyn!

Dough 1: Buttery Dough with Orange Zest

Original recipe: Tori Avey 

Yield: ~35 cookies

Suggested equipment: Mixer, rolling pin 

Total Time: Dough takes 20 minutes; at least 3 hours chill time; filling takes 30 minutes; baking takes 20-25 minutes = about 4.5 hours overall

Cook Time: ~20-25 minutes 

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp grated orange zest (only need 1 orange for this) 
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1-5 tsp water (if needed, but I don’t usually need it) 
  • Fillings of your choice

Step by Step Directions

  1. Cream butter and sugar in your mixer until they’re light and fluffy. This usually akes a few minutes
  2. Add egg, vanilla and orange zest to your bowl. Beat again until this is all creamy and well-mixed
  3. Sift flour and salt into the bowl
  4. Mix  it all together on low speed till a crumbly dough forms
  5. Knead the dough by hand until you have a smooth ball of dough. You want your dough to be smooth and slightly tacky, but not sticky- it shouldn’t be sticking to your hands. The original recipe author Tori notes that you can add water to dry dough to help it form- if you do, you should add 1 teaspoon of dough at a time, and knead it in to check the texture before adding any more water. I’ve never needed to add water myself. You can also add a bit of flour if the dough starts to get too wet
  6. Flatten your dough into a flat disk and wrap it up with plastic wrap. Chill the dough for at least 3 hours, up to overnight

 

Dough 2: Brown Butter Dough

Original recipe: Smitten Kitchen 

Yield: ~35 cookies 

Suggested equipment: Rolling pin 

Total Time:  Dough takes 20 minutes; at least 2 hours chill time; filling takes 30 minutes; baking takes 20-25 minutes = about 3.5 hours overall

Cook Time: ~20-25 minutes 

Ingredients

  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cups all-purpose flour
  • Fillings of your choice

Step by Step Directions

Brown your butter

  1. Use a medium saucepan for this. Throw your butter in the pan, and melt it over medium heat
  2. Keep cooking the butter until it starts to smell nutty and you see brown flecks appearing at the edges of the pan. This will take a few minutes but keep a really close eye on those flecks as they turn darker. Butter burns super fast so you have to be careful!
  3. Measure out 1/4 of this mixture and let it cool a bit. You may have a little extra so you can either freeze it, or find a way to use it in a filling…

Make your dough

  1. Once your butter is cool, pour it into the bottom of a large bowl (or use your mixer)
  2. Whisk in sugar and vanilla extract
  3. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time
  4. Whisk in salt and baking powder
  5. Switch to a spoon and add your first cup of flour, then stir to combine
  6. Add the second cup of flour, and then your 1/4 cup. At this point it might seem really hard to add in the flour. The original recipe noted the dough might get stiff- I sort of had the opposite experience, where it seemed like my dough just wouldn’t come together. So I started using my hands to help mix it in and found that helped a lot. You definitely want to make sure the flour is truly incorporated and not just sitting in pockets throughout your dough
  7. Add in the final 2 tablespoons of flour
  8. Divide dough into two flat disks and wrap them in plastic wrap for at least 2 hours, or up to a few days The recipe author, Deb, notes you can also freeze the dough for 20-30 minutes to get it firmed up enough 

 

Assemble and bake your cookies 

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 350F
  2. Lightly flour a smooth, clean surface
  3. Set all your fillings out on a counter, along with teaspoons to measure the filling
  4. Put your dough on the floured surface and begin to roll it out. For optimal cookie ratios, you want the dough to be 1/8 inch thick or less. If you like “chunkier” cookies, you can leave the dough at 1/4 inch thick
  5. The dough will be really hard to work with at first since it’s chilled, so you may need to pound it a bit. Keep rolling, scraping it up and re-rolling until it hits that ideal thinness
  6. Use a 3-inch cookie cutter or the rim of a glass to cut circles out of the dough. Place circles on lined cookie sheets
  7. Now it’s time to fill the cookies! Place a teaspoon of filling in the center of each cookie circle
  8. To close the circles: Fold the left side of the circle toward the middle. Then, fold the right side of the cookie toward the middle. Then fold up the bottom, making sure to tuck it in “under” the left side of the cookie and “over” the right side of the cookie. This helps close the cookie together so filling doesn’t spill out. You should see a triangle of filling right at the center of the cookie
  9. The buttery dough needs about 11 minutes to bake, while the orange zest dough needs about 18-22. They will be slightly golden but should not be brown. They’ll firm up a little more after you take them out of the oven
  10. Let them cool on their sheet for a few minutes, and then move them to  a cooling rack. You can store these in a sealed container for a few days

 

And a few more beautiful photos from Jaclyn.

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