Hamantaschen for Everyone!
From traditional to gluten-free, a happy Purim starts with these sweet and savory takes on the Jewish holiday’s classic triangle-shaped cookie
If there were a prize for the iconic Jewish food that’s inspired the most creative improvisation in recent years, hamantaschen would probably win. Blame (or praise) Instagram, but I suspect the desire to overhaul the de rigueur Purim treats has at least as much to do with the ho hum, sturdy-but-not-always-tasty bakery versions served up at countless megillah readings (retelling of the Purim story) and Purim carnivals.
The trouble isn’t so much with the concept of hamantaschen — who would balk at a fruit-filled pastry? — but with the execution. The laws of kashrut dictate that kosher-keepers observe a waiting period before eating dairy-containing foods after meat meals. Most kosher bakeries in the US are therefore pareve (dairy-free), and tend to rely on margarine or vegetable shortening in their recipes. But the flavor and mouthfeel of those hamantaschen cookies can’t compete with ones made with butter (or even oil, which is also pareve).
That’s not to say that bakery hamantaschen are universally bad, or that no one makes great Purim cookies at home. On the contrary, hamantaschen baking is a long-standing tradition in the run-up to Purim, in part because the compact cookies are ideal for tucking into mishloach manot (literally “sending portions” or food gifts to friends).
When I was growing up, mishloach manot looked pretty much the same. There wasn’t a ton of variation in their contents — usually hamantaschen with a limited range of fillings, grape juice, maybe some candy or chips. It seemed everyone secretly liked their own family’s hamantaschen best; some confessed to eventually trashing the gifted Purim cookies that went uneaten.
Maybe that’s what sparked the trend in elaborately-themed mishloach manot — and creative hamantaschen to match. It’s a happy development — the basic hamantaschen formula of dough + filling = the perfect template for sweet or savory triangular treats. Read on for some of our favorites.
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Hamantaschen Q&A and tips
Enjoy a brief origin story for these popular cookies, plus tips for getting that perfect triangle shape.
What are hamantaschen cookies and why are they eaten on Purim?
Hamantaschen are triangular, filled cookies. They originated in medieval Germany, and weren’t specifically Jewish, but were likely adopted as a Purim treat thanks to their poppy seed filling. Why poppy? Tradition holds that the seeds were a favorite of Queen Esther (aka Hadassah), the heroine of the Purim story, who had to hide her Jewish identity from the royal court, and ate a vegetarian diet to keep kosher on the down-low. “Mohntaschen,” or poppy pockets, with their semi-hidden filling, made an ideal symbolic food. (God is notably hidden in the Purim story, too — there are no overt miracles, and God’s names are not mentioned in the megillah.) Somewhere along the line, wordplay entered in — “mohntaschen” became “hamantaschen” — aka Haman’s pockets — an allusion to the villain’s bribe money-laden pockets. Later — probably in the 18th century, when tricorn hats were fashionable — hamantaschen were said to represent Haman’s hat. In Israel, hamantaschen are called “oznei Haman” or Haman’s ears, though that term originally referred to a Sephardi Purim dessert of fried dough.
Wait a sec … villains? Secret identities? Bribery cookies? Who’s this Haman guy, and why are we eating his clothes or (ewww) ears???
Long, wild story short, Purim celebrates Jewish survival in the face of genocide. The story begins when Persian King Achashverosh sacked Queen Vashti, who refused to dance on demand for an enormous crowd of men at a drunken revel. In search of a new queen, he conscripted unmarried women (and possibly some married ones, too) for his harem with the aim of elevating one to the figurehead position. That beauty contest, love-at-first-sight tale folks tell the kiddos ... that’s not how things went down per The Book of Esther.
Anyway, Esther wins the King’s favor, but must keep her Jewish identity secret in a potentially hostile court … for now. In the meantime, Esther’s cousin? Uncle? HUSBAND??? Mordechai saves Achashverosh from an assassination plot, while Haman, the King’s righthand man, plots genocide against all Jews living in the Empire. When the time is just right, Esther invites Achashverosh and Haman to a private party, where she — da, da, daaaahhhh! — reveals her secret identity and saves her people from annihilation. The Book of Esther (aka megillat Esther or “the megillah”) exhorts the Jewish people to turn the 14th and 15th of Adar — the days in the Hebrew calendar earmarked for their destruction — into a celebration, marked by gifts to the poor, treats sent to friends, and feasting. As for the name Purim, that’s a reference to the lots Haman drew to choose a day for enacting his evil plan. We may not frame it this way anymore, but in a way, making and eating a food that references the Purim story’s bad guy is a creative way to flip the script — to eradicate evil by turning it into something good.
Hamantaschen look tasty, but complicated … any tips for success?
Compared to drop cookies, hamantaschen may seem tricky, but shaping them is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Kids can usually master the technique, so they’re a fun family project, too.
Chilling the cookie dough before rolling it out with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface is helpful. At room temperature, some dough gets too soft to handle, so pop it back in the fridge for a while.
Hamantaschen start with a round disk of dough, and the sides get folded up into a triangle shape. If you don’t have a round cookie cutter, the rim of a glass works great for punching circles out of soft doughs; if you’re using puff pastry or filo dough, make a template out of paper and cut around it with the tip of a sharp knife.
Resist the temptation to overfill your hamantaschen or they’ll open in the oven. A baby spoon is great for portioning out fillings in just the right amount.
Speaking of filling, you can go all out and make your own, or take it easy and use jam, Nutella or nut butter, chocolate chips, or pie filling. No judgment.
Some like to fold the sides of the dough, others prefer pinching the corners to form a triangle. I like a hybrid approach — fold over the sides to shape the triangle, then pinch the corners for the best seal.
Whether your recipe asks you to or not, line your baking sheets with parchment paper — if the filling overflows at least it won’t make a mess!
If you want to swap out the dairy in a recipe, try orange juice instead of milk, and non-hydrogenated margarine or coconut oil instead of unsalted butter.
Help! How can I turn what’s usually a big community party into a safe, fun celebration at home?
Live streaming your synagogue’s megillah reading aside, how can you make up for Purim’s typically raucous festivities? Plan a virtual costume party or Purim-themed escape room challenge. Porch drop your mishloach manot (and maybe run with a goofy theme). Explore Persian cuisine for the holiday’s festive meal. And of course, bake hamantaschen. You can halve most recipes and freeze extras with success if you’re cooking for 1 or 2.
Classic hamantaschen involve a sweet cookie or shortbread-like dough filled with poppy, prune, apricot, or other fruit fillings. Think the type favored by bubbes and bakeries, and you’ll know what we mean.
Tori Avey’s oil-based dough is a dream to work with. Her recipe includes links to lots of great fillings, from traditional options like prune (lekvar) and poppy seed (mohn) to modern takes like Nutella, caramel apple, or cream cheese. Plus, her photos will help you shape hamantaschen like a pro.
Apricot and almond are an old-world pairing, though these hamantaschen have a not-so-traditional secret: The apricots are blended with kiwi, a natural pectin source that helps thicken the jammy filling.
Prune (lekvar) and poppy (mohn) are two classic hamantaschen fillings that tend to elicit a love-hate response. But this orange- and chocolate-infused prune-poppy riff from Post Punk Kitchen’s Isa Chandra Moskowitz is too intriguing to pass up. Refined coconut oil and plant-based milk keep these hamantaschen vegan.
Yeasted doughs have largely fallen out of favor, but are worth exploring if you want a taste of what the pastries originally were like — or just want a sturdy holder for savory fillings.
If you’re hunting for a yeast-risen, poppy-filled hamantaschen, here it is. A simple syrup wash adds a sweet sheen.
Caramelized red onions, grape tomatoes, and goat cheese in a thyme-flecked yeasted crust? Yes, please.
Love the idea of pizza hamantaschen, but don’t crave the work? This 5-ingredient recipe starts with store-bought pizza dough, but includes a link to a dough recipe if you’d rather make your own.
We love it when bakers think outside the box … or should we say “inside the Girl Scout cookie box,” since those treats apparently serve up some major hamantaschen inspo?
Girl Scout cookie lovers take note: These hamantaschen double down on the Thin Mint theme with a chocolate mint cookie brimming with a homemade chocolate mint truffle filling. Peanut buttery Tagalongs more your speed? They’re the inspiration for these chocolate-dipped, peanut butter-filled hamantaschen. Crave Samoas? You’re welcome.
You don’t have to spend lots of time shaping individual hamantaschen cookies to enjoy a Purim-perfect dessert. Emily Paster uses sliced apples and dried cranberries in this rustic, hamantaschen-shaped galette that’s designed for easy prep, and is ideal for a family meal.
“Spelt flour” and “sprinkles” aren’t two words you usually hear in the same sentence, but if you’re gonna write an adorable recipe that includes both, we’re game to try it. Especially if you throw in vegan marshmallows.
If you need to avoid gluten, these hamantaschen recipes let you get in on the holiday action.
This recipe uses a 1:1 gluten-free flour blend for simplicity, and features lots of tips to ensure success. Bake up a classic jam-filled batch, or opt for funfetti-flecked dough filled with frosting. The birthday party-worthy version uses an unusual technique — the dough gets shaped and baked before filling.
A simple almond flour-based dough is lightly honey-sweetened and filled with mixed berry chia jam for a nutritious, naturally gluten-free option.
This recipe includes instructions for making the gluten-free dough from scratch, but if you’ve got a favorite 1:1 flour replacer, you could give that a try as well. The pistachio-apricot-fig filling is delectably spiced with ginger, cardamom, and a hint of lemon.
Oil-based doughs are easy to work with, and perfect for kosher keepers or those with dairy allergies or intolerances. These recipes prove you don’t need butter to make a tasty cookie.
It’s a little cheeky, but I love putting poppy seeds in my hamantaschen dough instead of in the filling. The dairy-free dough is easy to mix thanks to the use of oil; the recipe also includes a link to my olive oil lemon curd recipe, though store-bought works too. If you want to keep the hamantaschen totally dairy free for more flexibility with kosher meals or due to allergy concerns, make sure your curd doesn’t contain butter.
Cocoa powder puts a chocolate cookie spin on the dough, and strawberry jam makes simple work of the filling. A dip in chocolate and a decorative sprinkle with pulverized, freeze-dried strawberries sets these apart.
Pies, cheesecakes, and chocolate confections are the tasty inspirations for these fun hamantaschen.
Hamantaschen are basically little hand pies, so it makes perfect sense to reimagine a Thanksgiving favorite as a Purim sweet.
Cocoa powder flavors this simple, butter-based dough, while confectioners’ sugar lends it structure. The recipe is written with both metric and Imperial measurements, so it’s equal opportunity, no matter where your kitchen is located.
Purim usually falls in March, so spring green and a citrusy punch are very welcome.
Mottled chocolate and vanilla dough is so pretty, and the cheesecake filling is unexpected, but delish.
Sephardi & Mizrahi spins
Hamantaschen are an Ashkenazi treat, but some of the most delicious recipes borrow from Sephardi and Mizrahi culinary traditions. Here are a few.
Ma’amoul are date-filled cookies popular throughout the Arab world. Busy in Brooklyn’s Chani Apfelbaum developed this recipe in tribute to her mother-in-law, whose family’s roots lie in the Syrian Jewish community.
These lovely hamantaschen feature an olive oil-enriched dough and a delectable sesame-chocolate filling. If you don’t use metric measures, click through the recipe link and you’ll find conversions for American kitchens.
There’s nothing specifically Jewish about cannoli, but Jews have been living in Italy since at least the 2nd century BCE, so we’ll just give this sweet culinary conflation our endorsement.
Who says hamantaschen have to be sweet? Going savory is a relatively recent trend, but it’s a delicious one we want to enjoy more.
Frozen chopped spinach and shredded mozzarella minimize the filling’s prep time. Serve with cocktails or turn them into a meal served alongside roasted salmon and a salad.
Round, store-bought wonton skins stand in for dough (No mixing! No rolling! No circle cutting!) in this fun recipe, and you can feel righteous about using up leftover chicken. Of course, a rotisserie chicken works too. If you needed justification to eat hamantaschen for dinner, this is it.
In a nod to Esther and Mordechai’s Persian Jewish heritage, cookbook author Amelia Saltsman takes a cue from Persian cuisine by adding an abundance of fresh herbs to the feta-labneh filling in these savory hamantaschen. Saltsman offers instructions for making standard or entrée-sized hamantashen, and offers tips for make-ahead fans.
More fun baking projects
Try your hand at one of these other Jewish bakery classics: