Tag Archives: Purim

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

I Paid it Forward With Hamantaschen

I Paid it Forward With HamantaschenAlthough the word hamantaschen comes from two German words, mohn (poppy seed) and taschen (pockets), poppy is just one of the flavorful fillings modern bakers like to use in these delicious Jewish cookies.

This was part of the explanation I prepared as I set out to deliver home baked hamantaschen to mostly non-Jewish members of my suburban community. By the quizzical looks on their faces as I proffered the assortment of pastries, many had no clue what they were, who I was, and why I was standing in front of them with a gift. It wasn’t Christmas, after all.

At the prompting of best-selling cookbook author Marcy Goldman on her Better Baking Facebook page, I decided to share the sweetness of homemade hamantaschen with the helpers in my community, to thank the people who deserve our appreciation and don’t always get it.

Would they be hamataschen-receptive?

As I backed out of the driveway, I suddenly felt a prick of concern. In this age of terrorism, would the giftees view me with suspicion? Even if I appeared to be simply a flustered woman in flour-speckled jeans, you never know these days. Were cookies part of an evil plot, to poison innocent citizens just doing their jobs?

“We bake these on Purim,” I recited out loud in the car, “the Jewish holiday that celebrates Queen Esther’s bravery in saving our people.” I glanced in the rearview mirror, plucked a piece of dough from my hair and practiced a disarming smile.

In return for my gift of sweetness, I would ask them just one question.

The Library

I had butterflies as I began my spiel, but the librarian smiled warmly. She assured me  the cookies would be devoured within the hour.

“Can you tell me about something sweet in your life?” I asked her.

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

She thought for a moment. “My dog, Ellington.”

The Veterinarian

“Hamanta … what?” asked one of the assistants. Was I mumbling, or was it the cacophony of barks and meows that interfered? I spelled the word for her and she wrote it down. The other assistant asked what the fillings were. “Triple Chocolate. Poppy. Cherry. Blueberry.” I mentally counted on my fingers.

“Ooh, yum,” she said.

“And the sweetness in your lives?” I asked.

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

“My 14 year-old son,” said one. “My dog, Blue,” said the other.

The Hospital

Back in the car, I drove a mile to the hospital and parked in front of radiology, where I get my annual mammogram.

“Oh no, don’t take my picture,” demurred a nurse, holding her hands up in front of her face. “I didn’t wear makeup today.”

A male nurse peered around the corner and said, “Hey, for cookies you can take my picture.”

“What is one sweet thing in your world?” I asked.

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

“My cats, Fortune and Mason,” he said.

The Police Station

Fourth stop, the township blues.

Amid the hustle and bustle of a hectic weekday afternoon, two police officers readily agreed to be photographed as they held the plate.

“Could you tell me about a sweet …” I began.

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

“Wait, this is …hamantaschen?!” exclaimed the one on the right as she peeked under the wrapping. “My favorite!”

The Fire Station

The vast garage was filled with shiny fire engines and uniforms hanging neatly on hooks. I called out but no one responded. Around the corner I found a window with an office on the other side. Two firemen were sitting at desks. I didn’t want to startle them, so I rapped softly and held up the goodies so they could see I was not a threat. One of the fire fighters came out to greet me.

“Now, don’t these look good,” he said, accepting the plate from me. “Awfully nice of you. Is this a project or something?”

“It’s just my own way of giving back and saying thank you for what you do,” I answered.

He bowed slightly.

“In return,” I said, “please tell me what is sweet in your life.”

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

He paused, then said, “My job. I was a volunteer for 10 years and I’ve been full-time for five. I’m lucky to have a job I love.”

The Synagogue

I love Purim at my synagogue. Purim is kind of like Halloween, with funny costumes and parades. Both kids and grownups dress up, and this year the Megillah (the reading of the Purim story) was performed with a Motown theme, and it was hilarious. Hebrew prayers were sung to the tune of golden oldies and the rabbi in costume as Stevie Wonder was a sight to see.

This is Jill, our temple administrator who does a million different tasks every day to keep the congregation running. She doesn’t always dress this way, incidentally.

“Jill,” I asked her as I handed her a tray of hamataschen, “what is sweet in your life?”

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

“My son, my new daughter-in-law, and my dog,” she said.

The Congressman

Take a look at this photo. See the guy in the greenish-grayish sweater, center stage?

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

That’s U.S. Senator Bob Casey, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at a fundraiser at the home of good friends. Before I left my house I made two plates of hamantaschen, one for the hosts and the other for the Senator.

“I’d like to give Senator Casey these cookies since it is the Jewish festival of Purim,” I whispered to an aide. “Can you help me?”

I knew what I wanted to say. I would tell him that we celebrate Purim because of the bravery of a beautiful and kind woman, Queen Esther, who in today’s parlance would be known as a nasty woman. Because she persisted by convincing the clueless king of a murderous plot, the Jewish people survived.

“No problem,” she whispered back. “Stand by the door and you can catch him on his way out.”

The event came to a conclusion. The Senator was making his way to the front, shaking hands and letting guests take photos. He detoured into the kitchen. I waited by the front door. People were walking past me as they left. Where was he? I walked into the kitchen. No Senator.

“He snuck out the back door. He had to get to his town meeting,” apologized the aide.

My message of sweetness was tabled.

The Bookstore

I am so happy that an independent book store has opened in my community. Yesterday i attended a book launch for my friend Cathy, whose latest excellent book is “Who Moved My Teeth?” Cathy is smart, funny, and a great friend. She also loves my hamantaschen. It’s kind of an inside joke with us.

Her eyes danced when I handed her the tin.

“They’re for me! she announced to the crowd, squirreling them away in a back room before the party began.

“Cath, what’s something sweet in your life?”

I Paid it Forward in Hamantaschen

“My mom is pretty sweet,” she answered.

I approached the owner of the store, Ellen. “I love your shop and I hope it succeeds,” I told her. “Every community needs a bookstore. I can’t wait to come back.”

I didn’t have to ask my question. For Ellen, the sweetest thing must be books.

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

I love baking hamantaschen for my family. Sharing them with those who deserved sweetness but didn’t expect it was in some ways even better.

Based on my small sampling and admittedly unscientific method, I concluded that random acts of kindness are more meaningful than we might think. Paying it forward really does work, especially when it’s a bit out of your comfort zone. We have the capacity to make a difference, one hamantaschen at a time.

In the end, it’s family, it’s home, it’s relationships that sweeten our lives. That will never change.

It’s not rocket science. It’s hamantaschen.

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How to Help Hamantaschen in Distress

How to Help Hamantaschen

How to Help Hamantaschen

I’ll be honest. I do not have a great success rate at making hamantaschen. Try as I might, year after year, they come out looking pretty mediocre.

What are hamantaschen?

Hamantaschen (ha-men-tosh-en) are cookies that are eaten on the Jewish holiday of Purim, which is tomorrow. Shaped like three-cornered hats, they are filled with preserves, chocolate, poppy seeds or other concoctions. This year I made apricot, raspberry and nutella hamantaschen.

The trick is to make them look uniform, which mine do before they go in the oven. See?

But all too often they spread while baking and come out like this:

How to Help Hamantaschen

Grr! Even Max is sympathetic.

haman max

I have tried many different recipes with varying success. I have tried freezing the unbaked cookies for 10 minutes and then baking. I have tried using an egg wash to hold the sides of the dough together. No matter what I do, chances are about 50-50 that they will come out the way I want them to.

Maybe my hamantaschen-baking readers will have some tips to share.

But this year, thanks to inspiration from My Jewish Learning, I have found the perfect solution to forlorn, misshapen hamantaschen. Melt chocolate, dip the cookies, and then coat with sprinkles. Voila! No one will notice the flaws and who wouldn’t bite into one of these?

How to Help Hamantaschen

This hamantaschen recipe was given to me by my friend Myra and it is my favorite.

Myra Wolpert’s Hamantaschen 

1 cup butter, softened
scant 3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
3 t. vanilla extract
approx.. 2 – 3 c. flour
1/2 t. baking powder

Combine butter and sugar. Add egg and beat together. Add vanilla and mix thoroughly.

Sift flour and baking powder together and add to butter mixture. Dough should be pliable and not sticky. Form dough into a flat disk and wrap in wax paper. Chill one hour or longer.

Roll onto floured surface, about 1/4″ thick.

How to Help Hamantaschen

Cut in circles. I used a 3″ round cutter but they can be larger. You can also use the top of a drinking glass to cut the circles. Add filling to center of circle and pinch sides together.

Bake at 375 degrees for 15 – 20 minutes until edges are slightly brown.

Cool on rack.

To finish off with chocolate, melt 1 c. chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet for half of the batch and white for the others) in the microwave, being careful not to burn. Add 1/2 T. vegetable oil and stir to blend.

Dip side of hamantaschen in chocolate and shake off the excess. Dip in sprinkles or other topping (coconut, chopped nuts, crushed candies, e.g.) Let dry on rack. Keep at room temperature for a day or freeze.

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