Misadventures In Baking: Homemade Poppy Seed Hamantashen

— by Ronit Treatman

When the Jewish holidays arrive, I sometimes reminisce about my grandmother Devorah, who I loved dearly.  My children never met her.  This Purim, I decided to bake her poppy seed hamantashen.  This is my way of sharing with my kids what it was like to be with her.  The recipe comes from one of her favorite cookbooks, A Taste of Tradition, by Ruth Sirkis.  This book was published in 1972, and is considered an Israeli classic.  

More after the jump.

Hamantashen can be made with cookie dough or yeast dough.  Ruth Sirkis’s recipe calls for a yeast dough.  

Yeast Hamantashen Dough
Adapted from A Taste of Tradition, by Ruth Sirkis

  • 5 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup warm milk
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cake of fresh yeast or 2 1/4 teaspoons of active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon or orange zest

  1. Pour the warm water into a large bowl.  
  2. Mix in the sugar and yeast.  
  3. When the mixture starts bubbling, add 2 1/2 cups of flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/2 cup warm milk.  
  4. Stir well, cover with a kitchen towel, and allow to rest for about ten minutes.  
  5. Uncover the dough and add two eggs, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, 1/4 cup of butter, the rest of the flour, and orange or lemon zest.  
  6. Knead the dough well, for about ten minutes.
  7. Rub a clean bowl with vegetable oil, and turn the dough into it.  
  8. Cover with a clean kitchen towel, and allow to stand in a warm place for about two hours.
  9. After two hours, punch the dough down.  
  10. Allow it to rise for 45 minutes.  Punch the dough down again, and shape it into a ball.

The yeast dough is ready to be shaped into hamantashen.

I mixed the dough with some trepidation.  I am famous for concocting yeast doughs that do not rise.  This dough is unbelievably foolproof.  It rose for me on the first try!  Now it was time to prepare the filling.

Hamantashen Poppy Seed Filling
Adapted from A Taste of Tradition, by Ruth Sirkis

  • 1 1/2 cups raw poppy seeds
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 tablespoons raw honey
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons raisins
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest

  1. Place the raisins in a cup with boiling water to plump.  
  2. Pour the milk into a pot.  Bring to a slow boil.  Add the poppy seeds, butter, and sugar.  Simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed.  
  3. Drain the raisins, and add to the poppy seed mixture.  
  4. Add the honey, lemon juice, and lemon zest.  Mix everything well and allow to cool.

As we mixed the poppy seed filling, I told my children how my grandmother and I would take the Egged bus to Tel-Aviv to buy the ingredients for it.  We would go to a special spice store in the Carmel Market.  This store smelled like freshly ground coffee and cardamom.  It was like an apothecary, with each spice stored in its own special wooden drawer.  The salesperson wrapped each spice with a piece of paper, transforming it into a package.  We brought our own fabric bags from home, and stored our spices in them for our ride back.

I preheated the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  We sprinkled some flour on a clean countertop.  Then we rolled the dough out.  I used a wineglass in place of a cookie cutter to cut out circles of dough, just as Safta Devorah used to do.  We placed a teaspoon of filling in the middle of each circle of dough.  We pinched three sides of the circle closed to form the hamentashen shape.  Then we prepared an egg wash by beating together an egg yolk with some water.  We arranged the hamentashen on a cookie sheet, and painted each one with egg wash.  We baked them until they turned golden brown, for about 25 minutes.

The hamentashen emerged from the oven, so golden and fragrant.  We didn’t even wait for them to cool down a little.  We just had to taste them!  I bit into my first hamentashen.  It was soft, pillowy, and delicious! The flavor of the filling was perfect!  It was exactly as I remember my grandmother preparing it.  The mouthfeel of these poppy seeds was a different story.  The texture was, as my husband so eloquently put it, “like chewing on glass beads!”  

Why did this happen?  When I baked these hamentashen, I reversed the order.  I made the dough first, and then I cooked the filling.  In my impatience, I did not wait for the poppy seed filling to cool completely.  Do not do this!  The laws of physics are such that poppy seeds need to be given time to absorb enough liquids to be pleasingly soft to the palate.  Another solution suggested in all the American websites I checked is to grind the poppy seeds before adding them to the pot.

I will definitely bake these hamentashen again.  Next time, I will be astute and patient enough to cook the poppy seed mixture first, and to let it cool completely before using it.  To me, Ruth Sirkis’s recipe still produces the most delicious poppy seed hamentashen.  There is not a store bought hamentashen that can compare!