Hamantaschen, a triangular jam-filled butter cookie, is the traditional food for the Purim holiday. Make these fun & festive cookies today!
Are you familiar with the Jewish holiday of Purim?
It celebrates the story of the book of Esther, a story of love, betrayal, and heroism. Purim is celebrated by dressing up in costumes while hearing the story being read aloud. And the villain is such a bad guy, children spin groggers (noisemakers) to drown out his name every time it's read!
There's also giving to charity, general frivolity, and even a bit of adult imbibing. It's a holiday for the whole family to enjoy. You can learn more about the story and the holiday here.
And then there's eating traditional foods. In this case, a triangular-shaped butter cookie usually filled with jam, prunes, or poppy seeds called Hamantaschen (aka Hamantashen or Ozneh Haman in Hebrew). They're called that because they mock the villain’s hat, or ear, or pocket, depending on the translation you read.
You'll find Hamantaschen cookies in bakeries year-round regardless of faith or geography, and for good reason...they’re delicious!
Choosing the right Hamantaschen recipe
There are many different recipes for Hamantaschen cookies, but the most common starts with a butter cookie dough. I’ve also seen Hamantaschen recipes using cream cheese instead of or in addition to butter. Baker's choice, I guess.
I like the Hamantaschen dough to be buttery with a chewy texture, have flavor but not overpoweringly so. The star is the filling, anyway.
My Hamantaschen recipe is adapted from Tori Avery’s Buttery Hamantaschen. They have great flavor that's not plastic-y or flavorless, but aren't overly rich or cloying.
What goes into making Hamantaschen
The ingredients for a butter cookie recipe is straightforward. Use a good quality butter as that's the dominant flavor.
These Hamantaschen also have some orange zest to add a little bit of interest and freshness to the cookie. Using a microplane grater works well here. You get very fine gratings that impart flavor without the (sometimes) accompanying bitterness. I also use this tool for my Lemon Curd and Orange Glazed Cranberry Bread recipes.
How to make Hamantaschen cookies
The process to make the Hamantaschen recipe is straightforward. You make the dough like any other butter cookie. It's then chilled, rolled out, cut into circles, topped with a dollop of filling, then shaped into their customary triangular shape before baking.
Step 1: Make the dough
Cream the butter and sugar, add eggs, zest, and vanilla, then add flour and knead to a smooth dough. Easy Peasy.
Make the dough a few hours ahead of when you want to bake the cookies to give the dough time to thoroughly chill. You can even make it the day before.
Step 2: Assemble the Hamantaschen
Roll out the dough to your desired thickness, between ⅛- to ¼-inch thick.
The thinner you roll the dough closer to ⅛-inch thick, the more delicate and crisp the cookies will turn out, but too thin and the dough will tear as you shape them into triangles. Keeping the dough closer to ¼-inch thick will yield a doughy, less delicate texture to your cookies, but can crack as you shape them.
Bottom line, make sure that the dough is thick enough to hold the filling without tearing or cracking during shaping.
Next cut out circles with a 3-inch round cookie cutter and cover the circles with a lightly dampened towel to keep them from drying out while they're waiting to be filled.
Place a teaspoon of your chosen filling into the center of each circle. Too much filling will cause the Hamantaschen to open and the filling to spill out while baking.
Step 3: Shape the Hamantaschen
Shaping the triangles requires a little finesse. Done properly, each side of your triangle should have a corner that folds over and a corner that folds under, creating a pinwheel look that helps to keep the cookies from opening while they bake. It's also pretty!
How to fold your Hamantaschen into a pinwheel triangle:
- Fold the bottom of the circle upwards towards the center, making a flap covering the bottom third of the circle.
- Take the left side and fold it towards the center, overlapping the side corner of the bottom flap to create a tip at the bottom left corner of the circle. A small bit of filling will still be visible in the center.
- Take the right side of the circle and fold it towards the center to create a third flap and completing the triangle. Tuck the bottom of this flap under the bottom right corner of the triangle while letting the top of the flap overlap the top corner of the triangle.
For best results, keep the dough chilled
Because this is a butter cookie dough, the dough will get difficult to roll out and cut if it's too warm. Therefore, keep the dough chilled throughout the whole process, from making the dough to baking the cookies.
Specifically, chill the dough after you've made it, after you've rolled it out (before cutting the circles), and after you've filled and shaped the cookies before baking.
Yup, you'll never be too far away from your refrigerator when you make Hamantaschen.
Questions asked and answered
Here are some questions that you might have...
The star of the show for these Purim cookies is the filling. Choose what you like: apricot or raspberry jam, chopped chocolate or chocolate chips, poppy seeds, or get creative with flavor combinations (Nutella? Peanut Butter & Jelly?).
The butter cookie dough can be wrapped well in plastic and stored in an airtight plastic bag in the freezer for up to 3 months. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator and proceed with shaping. The finished cookies themselves are best the same day, but can be frozen for a few weeks.
You can substitute the butter in Hamantaschen dough with another non-dairy fat to make dairy-free. And while I haven't done it myself, I've seen people using a 1 to 1 gluten-free flour substitute with good results.
Time to make some noise
Purim is a special and fun holiday, and it wouldn't be complete without a few Hamantaschen to munch and share.
Yes you can go to a bakery and pick some up, but you'll get delicious, flavorful jam-filled butter cookies made to your liking and with your favorite fillings if you do them yourself. That's what I do.
Whether I do it in costume or not, I'll never tell...
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!
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Hamantaschen (Jam-filled Butter Cookies)
- rolling pin
- ¾ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small cubes
- ⅔ cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon orange zest, finely grated
- 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 to 5 teaspoons water, if needed
- jam, any flavor
- chocolate, chopped, poppy seed filling, or whatever else you’d like to use
- Make the dough: Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or if using a hand mixer, just a large bowl), and cream them together until the mixture is light and fluffy.
- Beat in the egg, vanilla, and orange zest to the bowl until thoroughly combined.
- Add in the flour and salt and mix on low speed until the dough is combined and crumbly.
- Use your hands to knead the dough into a smooth dough, trying not to overwork the dough. See the Recipe Notes for tips on consistency.
- Flatten the dough into a disk and wrap it in plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, or up to overnight.
- Assemble the Hamantaschen: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a half sheet baking pan with a Silpat silicone mat or parchment paper, and have your fillings ready to go.
- Unwrap the dough disk and place it on a lightly floured work surface. It will be very firm after chilling.
- Roll the dough out to ¼-inch thick. It might be stiff at first and you may need to pound it with the rolling pin to soften enough to roll out. If large cracks form around the dough edges, just repair them with your fingers as you roll. Use a bench scraper under the dough occasionally to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface, and also lightly flour the rolling pin and surface occasionally to prevent sticking.
- When the dough reaches ¼-inch thickness, you can either continue rolling out to be closer to about ⅛-inch thick (very thin) or leave it closer to ¼-inch thick. See the Recipe Notes for the pros and cons of dough thickness.
- If the dough has gotten too soft to cut, transfer it to the half sheet baking pan and chill it for 5 minutes to firm up. When it's ready, cut out as many circles from the dough as you can using a 3-inch round cookie cutter or the 3-inch rim of a glass, but no smaller. Gather the scraps, roll out the dough and cut more circles. Cover the circles with a lightly damp towel while they wait to be filled.
- Place a teaspoon of filling into the center of each circle. Too much filling will cause the Hamantaschen to open and the filling to spill out while baking.
- Shape the Hamantaschen: Fold the bottom of the circle upwards towards the center, making a flap covering the bottom third of the circle. Take the left side and fold it towards the center, overlapping the side corner of the bottom flap to create a tip at the bottom left corner of the circle. A small bit of filling will still be visible in the center.
- Now take the right side of the circle and fold it towards the center to create a third flap and completing the triangle. Tuck the bottom of this flap under the bottom right corner of the triangle while letting the top of the flap overlap the top corner of the triangle. Each side of your triangle should have a corner that folds over and a corner that folds under, creating a pinwheel look that helps to keep the cookies from opening while they bake. It's also pretty!
- Press to seal the corners triangle gently but firmly to secure the shape. If any cracks have formed at the places where the dough is creased, use slightly wet fingers to smooth them out.
- When all of your Hamantaschen have been filled, place them on the half sheet baking pan evenly spaced and chill them for about 5 to 10 minutes before baking. Like with all butter cookies, this will help the Hamantaschen keep their shape while baking.
- Bake the cookies for 10 to 25 minutes, checking after 10 minutes. They should be lightly golden brown, and the thickeness will affect the time it takes to bake.
- Cool the Hamantaschen on a wire rack, then store them in an airtight container. Enjoy, making as much noise as possible!