March 19, 2011

Oh, Today We'll Merry Merry Be!

Chag Samayach!  (For you non-Hebrew speakers, that means Happy Holiday!)

Today is Purim- without a doubt the biggest party holiday on the Jewish calendar.  As a kid, I LOVED Purim!  It was a cross between Halloween and Channukah/Christmas- you got to dress us in costumes and eat all the cookies you could!  And oh, the cookies!  Purim boasts, in my opinion, the best holiday-specific cookies of absolutely any holiday.  I know, Christmas cookies are hard to beat.  But Hamantaschen?  Pretty much the best thing ever.

"Esther and Haman Before Ahasuerus" - Jan Victors
Like pretty much all Jewish holidays, we're celebrating the same thing.  Not being completely annihilated.  Channukah?  We didn't get killed by the Greeks.  Passover?  Didn't get killed by the Egyptians.  Yom Ha'Shoah?  Didn't get wiped out by the Nazis.  Yom Kippur?  Didn't get killed personally by God.

A lot of folks have tried to wipe the Jewish people off the face of the earth.  It makes us a bit twitchy as a people.

At any rate, here is a very abridged version of the story of Purim, otherwise known as the Book of Esther:

Once upon a time King Ahaushverous, the King of Persia (known in the Greek as Xerxes) had a very beautiful wife named Vashti.  She was so beautiful that one day he asked her to dance for his friends.  She absolutely refused, and he sentenced her to death.  He then declared that he would chose the most beautiful girl in the land to be his new wife.  Esther was a very beautiful girl, and her cousin Mordecai (who had raised her from a child) told her that she could be the new queen, but that she must keep her Judaism a secret.  King Ahaushverous chose her to be his bride, and her cousin Mordecai found favor in the King's eye by uncovering and foiling an assassination plot.  King Ahaushverous's Grand Vizier, Haman, was a proud and egotistical man, and disliked Mordecai.  When Mordecai refused to bow before him (because Jews bow only to God) he was so incensed that he went to the King,  "There are a great many people in your land who defy your rule and would see you overthrown!" he said, "And you must exterminate them all!"  The King agreed to Haman's plan, and the date was set to round up and kill all of the Jews in Persia- a great many people.  When Mordecai heard of this he told Esther that she must go to the King and beg him to spare her people.  Esther fasted for three days, and then went before King Ahaushverous.  She fed him a giant feast, and then told him that there was a plot to kill her.  The King wanted to know who would do such a thing, and she told him that it was Haman- that she was Jewish and that he had condemned her and all her people to death.  King Ahaushverous was so moved and angry that he ordered Haman to be hung on the gallows he had built for Mordecai, and with his help the Jews fought off those who would have killed them all.

And then the Jews lived in remarkable peace and prosperity in Persia for a very long time.  Ancient Persia was actually a pretty awesome place to be a Jew after all of that.

So to celebrate there is MUCH drinking and eating of Hamantaschen- cookies in the shape of Haman's triangular hat- whilst wearing costumes and making enough noise to erase the sound of Haman's name from the memory of men.

It gets very loud.

There is also the tradition of the Mishloach Manot.  Michloach Manot are packages of cookies and other assorted treats that you send to friends, family, or charities for Purim.  You know how for Christmas people send around boxes of cookies?  That's a Purim activity in Jewish circles- all the Hamantaschen you can eat!  This year I'm passing out Mishloach Manot to my neighbors, a few Jewish friends I think could use a taste of home and some childhood nostalgia, and a friend in the military.  She will probably be very excited.

There are three standard flavors of Hamantaschen.  Poppyseed, apricot, and strawberry.  Now, I know what you meshugganah goyim* are thinking.  "Poppyseed?  I don't know about that.  Apricot?  Okay, I guess.  Strawberry!  Yes, I'll have some strawberry cookies!"  Meshugganah goyim!  Resist that impluse!  You have the order of Hamantaschen superiority COMPLETELY BACKWARDS!  Strawberry and apricot are there to give you the occasional flavor break- no matter how good something is, variety still helps.

I remember my husband's first Hamantaschen.  He went for the strawberry because it was the most familiar.  And he said it was okay.  And after I pinned him down and forced him to eat the poppy Hamantaschen... he was hooked.  I think he's probably had about eight in the last 12 hours.

My daughters- toddlers, mind you, won't even eat the apricot or strawberry Hamantaschen.  It's poppy all the way as far as they're concerned.

Trust M, the former meshugganah goy.  Trust the babies.  Trust the Jewish people.  Eat the damn poppy cookie.

This year I followed my amazing sister's advice and also made a few Nutella Hamantaschen.  And they are amazing.  I always consider making prune Hamantaschen, they're also traditional, but I never liked them as a kid.  But you can always experiment!  Why not, right?  You can never have too many cookies!

Lightly flour your surface

Aunt Genocide's AMAZING Hamantaschen
  • 1/2c + 3tbs butter- softened
  • 1/2c sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 3tbs sweet Jewish wine
  • 1tsp vanilla
  • 1/4tsp salt
  • 2 3/4c flour
  • Filling: 1 can poppy seed pastry filling, 1 jar each GOOD strawberry & apricot preserves
Beat butter until smooth, and then gradually add sugar- beating until light and fluffy.

Beat in egg and vanilla, then wine and salt.
Add flour slowly until a you have a very soft dough, then wrap in plastic and chill at least 3 hours.

Let stand at room temperature until workable but not soft, preheat oven to 375.

Cut 3" rounds
Roll on lightly floured surface to 1/8" thick, and cut into 3" rounds

Put 1tsp (or more, if you're feeling brave) filling into the middle of the circles, then pinch together into triangles.  REALLY blend the edges together!  Otherwise your Hamantaschen will just fall apart!

Place 1" apart on ungreased baking sheets, and bake for 13 minutes- or until just starting to get golden at the corners.

Form your cookies!
Remove to wire racks to cool immediately.

Serious awesomeness ensues.

And last but not least, to share a little bit more of the cultural flavor of the day, here are the lyrics to "Wicked Wicked Man," my personal favorite Purim song!  (It's sung almost to the tune of "Old MacDonald," if that helps.)

Wicked Wicked Man
Oh, once there was a wicked, wicked man
And Hamen was his name sir,
He would have murdered all the Jews,

Though they were not to blame sir 

Oh today, we'll merry, merry be
Oh today, we'll merry, merry be
Oh today, we'll merry, merry be
And nosh some hamentashen

And Esther was the lovely queen
Of King Ahasuerus,
When Hamen said he'd kill us all,
Oh my how he did scare us


But Mordecai her cousin bold,
Said what a dreadfull chutzpah,
If guns were but invented now
This Hamen I would shoot sir


When Esther speaking to the King
Of Hamens plot made mention,
"Ha, ha" said he, " Oh no he won't.
I'll spoil his bad intention."


The guest of honor he shall be
This clever Mr. Smarty.
And high above us he shall swing,
At a little hanging party.


Of all his cruel and unkind ways,
This little joke did cure him,
And don't forget we owe him thanks,
for this jolly feast of Purim.


*Meshugannah goyim is Yiddish for "Crazy non-Jews"


  1. YOU'RE SENDING ME COOKIES? :D I AM excited! I love this plan and I love you!

  2. I feel so well informed! I truly, really learned something today. Because while I had heard of Purim (the word itself), I did not know what it was about.

    Hamantaschen look DEELISH! *licking the monitor*

    Chag Samayach!

  3. The do look yummy! Thanks for making me hungry! Very informative post btw!

  4. Happy Purim! Your hamentashen look great. I was actually away at a conference and couldn't bake this year. My favorites are prune and apricot. I am alone in this preference, at least in my house.

    Hope you had a nice holiday. Great visit (your recipe looks really good!).


  5. Thank you for sharing your hamentashen with me! They were delicious! My dad was especially excited about the poppy ones and ate them all before I even got a chance to tell him that he could have them. >.<

    I love your description of Jewish holidays and just shared them with a non-jew friend :D

  6. Awwww your girls sound so cute :) Love the cookies too, I would be all over the apricot and strawberry ones!

  7. I may be a meshugganah goy, but I've had hamantaschen many times before, and yours are the prettiest looking ones I've seen! And yes, absolutely yes to the poppyseed first (although I like the prune as well). Thanks for posting the recipe - I'll finally get to try them out for myself. Excitement abounds!



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