Updated: Feb 4, 2022
Growing up as a kid, right outside of Chicago, I absolutely loved Purim. All my friends from school were Jewish and it was this one super fun holiday where our Synagogue threw a huge carnival party complete with a bouncy castle, cotton candy machine, and fun kiddie games where you could win prizes. This carnival was always on the Sunday right after Purim. And this meant no boring Religious Sunday School. Instead, we could dress up in costumes, wear masks, dance, sing, and of course fill our bellies with the sugary flakiness of homemade Hamantaschen.
As an elementary school kid, I can still remember the social hall of our Synagogue packed with families, and hear the screams of joy and laughter from everyone in my community. It was a time that we all came together for something fun. To be silly. To let loose. While not super traditional or orthodox, the leaders of our Synagogue: the Rabbis, Cantor, and Educational Director would always reenact the story of Purim. But in a cool theme. They would rewrite the script and use characters from Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and even Disney Princesses to retell the story of Mordecai, Esther, Haman, King Achasverosh and Queen Vashti.
Hamantaschen are the traditional food that every Jew around the world indulges in during Purim. It is a lightly sweet butter cookie filled with either: apricot or raspberry jam, Nutella, nuts, prunes and dates, and also traditionally poppy seed. They get their edges crimped into a triangle representing the ugly pointy ears of the evil Haman character of the story. Many people think the triangle shape is to represent Haman's hat, but apparently it really is to make fun of Haman's ears.
Quick history lesson. I promise it will be quick.
Let's travel back to ancient Persia around 5th century BC.
King Achasverosh was first married to Queen Vashti. Apparently one night she wasn't feeling well, but the King required her appearance at a banquet. She said, I'm too sick, I can't. And that was the end of that marriage. (insert WTF emoji)
The King had all of the eligible women of the land brought to him and he found Ester to be the most pure, beautiful, and kind of heart and chose her as his new bride right on the spot. At the time she did not tell the King that she was Jewish.
Years went by and all lived happily, until Haman became the King's advisor. Haman was greedy and selfish and always wanting more. Always wanted to claim the spotlight and climb the ranks. Haman noticed that Mordecai, Esther's cousin, wouldn't bow down to the king. Mordecai, being Jewish, would never bow down to another. Haman convinced the King that they had to murder all of the Jews within the Kingdom, since Jews wouldn't bow down to the king. And clearly people who do not bow, do not show their allegiance, are without a doubt terrible human beings, who deserve to die, let's kill them all. (Are you cringing... yeah I know, historical stories, especially in ancient times, were just heart-wrenchingly terrible)
Queen Esther, then confronted her husband and asked, 'Do you love me?' and the King answered, of course I do. She told him that she was Jewish and reminded the King that back in the day, Mordecai, also Jewish, saved his life. That Jews were actually good people and that the King must stop the evil Haman.
So just like that Queen Esther saved all the Jews. YAY! We won! Ok, let's eat.
Now hundreds of years later, we celebrate this historical event with rejoicing. With dancing and singing. Actually with a ton of alcohol. It is said that you are supposed to drink so much alcohol on Purim that you don't remember the events of the party the next day. YES! I can definitely get behind this! Why do we wear costumes and masks? People say, it is so we can hide our true selves for the day and just let loose. But the reason we eat Hamantaschen is to give a little (insert middle finger here) to Haman. We make fun of his pointy ears with our little cookies. We re-tell the Purim story and make loud noises with gregors (noise makers) every time his name is said aloud.
This year there are no Purim carnivals, singing or dancing. Usually my kids would make Hamantaschen with their youth group at our Synagogue in Wiesbaden which is about 20 minutes away from where we live.
Instead, I thought I would bring a little celebration to us at home. Complete with dressing up, face paint, the reading of the Purim story and of course homemade Hamantaschen.
Now I have had gluten free Hamantaschen before, that I made, and ugh they were the worst! Dry and crumbly always leaving you wanting more. Of course with the Nutella filling they were edible, but I was confident I could create the ultimate gluten free recipe for Hamantaschen.
And I did!
These Hamantaschen are so light and fluffy. The are perfect pillows of flaky joy.
My secret? Cream cheese. I actually sub out a 1/3 of the butter and put in cream cheese. Cream cheese keeps these cookies moist and pillow like in texture. Traditionally, Hamantaschen are only made with butter or margarine, but I find with just butter they always come out SO dry.
I also wanted to add a spin to the traditional filling flavors. It was quite spontaneous and unplanned. I just have been dreaming about apple pie and sometime I want to attempt a traditional Apfelstrudel, but I settled on a homemade spiced apple pie filling. In the end, we made 3 dozen Hamantaschen. 12 Apple Pie, 15 Nutella, 3 Raspberry jam, 3 Apricot Jam, and 3 Poppy Seed. You have to have variety, of course.
This filling was so simple and used staple ingredients that I usually have in my kitchen at all times. The cookie itself also does not require a ton of ingredients.
I added in a picture of the poppy seed filling that I used called 'Mohn Back' in German. It was super easy to find at my local grocery store, Rewe, in the baking aisle. It is a mixture that is ready to go into baked goods and cost just a few Euros, so I thought I would give it a try. It was pretty tasty, but I will stick to my apple pie filling and a few filled with jam.
I also wanted to highlight Xanthan Gum, which is a binding agent used for gluten free foods. I think it is a must if you are not using a pre-made gluten free flour blend. Xanthan Gum is super fine and powder like. You really only need 1-3 teaspoons depending on what you are making. I ordered this huge jar on Amazon because it doesn't really expire and I like how easy and convenient the container is.
The dough is crazy easy. If you can make a simple sugar cookie then you can make Hamantaschen. Just make sure to give yourself time because the dough needs to chill before you roll it out. Don't forget the chill times. If you do forget, the butter and cream cheese will make the dough too soft and the Hamantaschen will have a hard time holding its shape.
Let's talk about the apple pie filling now, because I can still smell hints of cinnamon and nutmeg wafting through my home office door.
Here you can see the three pictures from start to finish. Basically mix in all your ingredients and bring it to a light boil. Then let it simmer for about 15-20 minutes stirring every now and then. Finally, it gets to this thick apple pie filling mixture. I took out about 1/3 of the filling to fill my Hamantaschen, but I wanted to show you this picture to really point out how thick the filling is. You don't want it to be runny when you put it in your cookie. If it is very thin the extra liquid will run out of the Hamantaschen during the bake turning it into a sloppy mess.
Here you can see that I put just a tad more than 1/2 teaspoon of filling into the center of each circle.
I want to show you the folding technique that, I did not invent, but saw while doing my Hamantaschen research. Of course, if you have a great technique for folding, please go ahead with what you know. But let me say, not one of my cookies burst open during the bake. This method works! I am going to show you a short step by step tutorial on the folding process with the apricot jam filling.
Step 1: Fold over one side.
Step 2: Fold over the opposite side and lightly press the top into a point securing the dough together.
Step 3: Take the bottom side and put the end of right side over the top flap of the same right side.
Step 4: Take the bottom left side and tuck it under the flap of the left side.
Step 5: Pinch the points together with your thumb and pointer finger in a crimping motion to secure the dough. Not leaving any openings.
You are done. It's ok if they are not absolutely all perfect and symmetrical. Hamantaschen are meant to be rustic cookies packed with a sweet or nutty filling to bring smiles of joy on our faces.
I have to admit, I have never had Hamantaschen as good as these! The soft and pliable dough allows for a feathery light cookie that doesn't fall apart and crumble.
As soon as these came out of the oven I had to try just one. I don't think I waited more than 2 minutes, and of course I burned my mouth! And as I was scrambling for water I remembered the story my grandfather always used to tell me. He and his cousin were constantly stealing cookies and baked goods from his mother (my great grandmother) when she left them on the window sill to cool. She would get so mad, because they would take plates of goodies with them to the park leaving her with just the crumbs. So what did she do? She had to get revenge. (I love this woman!) She made a plate of Hamantaschen and in the filling she baked in eggshells. She made sure to tell the boys to wait for them to cool and she would let them know when they could come in and sample the freshly baked treats. Did they wait? Of course not. They stole the plate, like they always had, giggling the whole way to the park. Apparently my great grandmother snuck out after them and laughed and laughed as they bit into the Hamantaschen filled with eggshells shouting, 'That will teach you to steal my cookies!'
I miss my Grandpa Bill so much. He was so incredibly caring, fun, and of course sneaky... sneaking me ice cream bars before dinner or buying me presents when I really didn't deserve them. He passed when I was 18 and I know he is looking down on me incredibly proud of who I have become. Grandpa, these Hamantaschen are dedicated to you. Don't worry, I left out the egg shells.
So moral of the story is... wait until these cookies have cooled. Just wait 10 minutes. And have fun baking them. Get your kids involved. Put on some music and don't worry about perfection here. Purim is not about perfection. It is about love and kindness. About respecting one another and above all, giving to others. Showing members of the community that you are there for them. I was so surprised this morning as we were baking, my doorbell rang, the mailman brought my daughters two packages. They each received these adorable Purim surprise boxes from our local Synagogue filled with candy, treats, small toys and homemade Hamantaschen. (The ones featured in the plastic bag)
Bringing joy to others during Purim is so important. I hope this post has inspired you to not only go and bake some scrumptious gluten free Hamantaschen, but to also let someone else know that you care.
Happy Purim Everyone!