This past weekend I celebrated Purim, a Jewish holiday/carnival in memory of the time that we almost all died and then didn’t, again. We’re commanded to get drunk! Adults give children noisemakers on purpose! Sometimes the rabbi wears tights!
Here’s the story: King Ahasuerus of Persia kicks his wife to the curb because she doesn’t want to do a striptease in front of all his friends.
To find his next queen, he has a mandatory beauty contest for all the young women in his kingdom. After a lot of anointing and parading he chooses Esther, a young Jewish orphan in the care of her uncle Mordechai. She keeps her faith a secret and lives in all the bliss that comes with being forced out of her home to marry a royal manchild.
Ahasureus has an advisor named Haman, who really gets off on asserting his authority. Soon after the wedding, Haman decrees that everybody in Persia has to bow down to him. Jewish people aren’t really into genuflecting though. When Mordechai refuses to bow, Haman decides that the reasonable, proportionate response is murdering all the Jews. Ahasureus not only okays this plan but gives Haman ten thousand silver talents to get it done.
So Haman sends out an edict in the king’s name telling all the Jews to Save the Date for a genocide, twelve months hence.
Mordechai reads the letter freaks the fuck out in the city square. He freaks so far out that Esther has to send a servant to bring him new pants and ask what the hell is going on. Mordechai explains about all the murder and begs her to go intercede with the king. The problem is, initiating a conversation with the king is a capital offense. Nobody gets to talk to him unless he hands them his scepter first.
Esther is dead either way, so she decides to risk it. Fortunately, Ahasureus notices how hot she is and gives her his scepter instead of sentencing her to death. She invites him to a banquet, pours wine down his throat, and tells him that Haman is trying to murder her and everyone she loves. Enraged that someone would try to
damage his property murder his wife, Ahasuerus hangs Haman on the gallows intended for Mordechai.
Purim is a fun holiday full of misogyny, beauty contests, binge drinking, gallows of extremely specific heights, and narrowly-averted genocide. And as my friend Zoe pointed out, the shallow-headed, hair-trigger king and the advisor dripping poison in his ear feel pretty fucking topical these days. I can’t imagine why that threat of mass murder is on my mind, either.
In the Hebrew school version of the play, Ahasuerus immediately kills Haman and reverses the decree after Esther revealed her heritage. It’s a neat tidy ending that’s well suited for a Purim play at the front of the synagogue. (Jewish children spend a lot of time playacting our near-annihilation.) Power of love wins, the Jews are saved, everybody goes to the carnival. In that version of the story, one person can put the brakes on atrocities. As the story goes, if you’re brave enough and beautiful enough and you can make the wicked love you, everyone like you will be saved.
As much as I love wacky marriage plots, I don’t think Melania is about to save us all. I don’t think any one person could. Coexistence and friendship can change people, but there aren’t any guarantees when cruelty is so useful for stirring up the base. Trump has an immigrant wife and Jewish grandchildren. The people of West Frankfort love their Mexican neighbor. It isn’t making a whole hell of a lot of difference.
But just like most stories, the book version of Purim is way better than the movie. In the actual Book of Esther, the king can’t reverse his decree, because it’s illegal for him to be wrong.
Instead, he lets Mordechai issue a different decree that grants Jews the freedom to assemble and protect themselves. For the first and last time in the history of the diaspora, our enemies kept their heads down because “fear [of the Jews] had fallen on all the peoples”—a phrase so bizarre I had to go back and read it twice.
Thousands of years ago, Esther’s courage gave my people the right to organize, resist, and ultimately save themselves. On Purim, like every day I look at the news, I wanted nothing more than to engage in my proud heritage by getting absolutely shitfaced. But this year, Purim isn’t just a party—it’s a call to pick up the phones and take to the streets before we lose those rights entirely.
In the spirit of fucking shit up, I offer a recipe for the traditional Purim pastry, hamantashen. They’re triangular filled cookies, apparently in the shape of Haman’s tricorne hat.
I hope 2400 years from now, we’re still making baked goods to mock their ancient enemies. If any of my descendants are reading this, I have some ideas:
The hamantashen of my Hebrew school days were chalky, tough, and just barely filled with my choice of prunes or poppy seeds. But I’m an adult now, and I don’t have to live like that anymore. This recipe bake up sweet and fragrant with orange zest, stuffed with satisfying wells of gemlike preserves and glossy with apricot glaze.
The dough comes from Tori Avey, here. I used apricot and raspberry preserves for my fillings, but any jam will do. The recipe yields about 24 hamatashen using a 3.5 inch cookie cutter. (I say about because I started eating them before I remembered to count.)
2/3 cup sugar
¼ cup neutral oil
One orange, or 1 tsp orange zest if you have that hanging around
1 tsp vanilla
2 ¼ cups flour, plus extra for your countertops (maybe ¼ cup more)
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
Your choice of preserves (I used up most of a 12 oz jar)
½ cup water
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling
Two mixing bowls
Rubber spatula/wooden spoon
Water glass or round cookie cutter between 3 and 4 inches across
This dough doesn’t need to be chilled or rested or any damn thing before being rolled out. It’s ready to go as soon as it stops sticking to your hands. However, it also dries out fast, so get as much prepped as you can before starting on the dough.
The glaze is optional, but I highly recommend it. Glazing gives a nice golden-brown color to the dough, adds a tang to the outer edges of the cookie, and glues on the crunchy sugar crust. The hamantashen on the right is glazed and the hamantash on the left is not.
To make the glaze, put 4 teaspoons of apricot preserves and a half a cup of water in a small pot. Simmer that for three minutes, stirring to break up the preserves. The color will deepen and the liquid will get a little stickier. Pour that through a strainer into a small bowl, then set the glaze aside.
To make the dough, zest your orange and drop that into a bowl with the eggs, oil, and sugar. Whisk them together and set them aside.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt into the other bowl. (Sifting is almost certainly optional here if you don’t feel like shaking your wrist back and forth for five minutes) Then drop your dry ingredients on top of the bowl of oil-eggs-zest-sugar. Grab a stirring spatula/wooden spoon/whatever and stir. Be gentle—you aren’t exactly folding the dough here, but you don’t want to take it on a spin cycle either. This won’t seem to do any good for a while, but then the dough will start to come together:
Once you have clumps, stop! It is Time to Knead.
Tori Avey appears to be able to finish this process in the bowl, but I found it much easier to scrape the dough out onto the counter and deal with it there. First, flour your work surface. I find it easier to keep the counters covered in flour if I cover it in nonstick cooking spray first. That complicates cleanup, but it prevents me from fucking up the salt ratio by crying into the dough. If you don’t mind getting grease on everything, spray a little Pam onto your countertop, wipe it around with a paper towel, and then dust everything with flour. Otherwise, accept that your flour will blow away immediately and put it straight onto the counter.
The first time I tried this recipe, the dough came out abominably sticky, as if it was afraid of being abducted into a beauty contest/spousal audition.
The second time, it came out of the bowl only needing a couple of nudges, as if it knew it was going to save its people by marrying a royal bag of dicks. If your dough is sticky, scrape it off your hands as best you can and add one teaspoon of flour at a time while kneading.
To knead, shove the dough away from you into the counter, then fold it in half, turn it, and shove it again. The form doesn’t matter very much here—you’re just trying to squish everything together. Stop as soon as the dough quits clinging to your hands. You want the dough to be tacky, but not quite sticky.
The dough has probably cannibalized all the flour on the counter at this point, so pick it up and re-flour the surface underneath it. While you’re at it, rub as much flour as you can into your rolling pin. Then roll the dough out to an eighth of an inch thick.
Since this dough doesn’t need to be refrigerated, it rolls easily and doesn’t crack. However, it does stick, so try to make it release from the counter by picking it up a few times as you’re rolling. I also found it easier to break off half the dough and work with that, rather than trying to handle the whole mess at once.
I didn’t know what that looked like, so I went ahead and used a measuring tape once I thought I was done.
An eighth of an inch will give you a pretty substantial cookie. Giving it a couple extra passes with the rolling pin will make the hamantashen a little crisper and more delicate. I leave that up to your discretion.
Once the dough is rolled, grab your round implement of choice and start cutting out circles. A round cookie cutter, cup, or very small bucket will work, as long as it’s between 3 and 4 inches across. I used a water glass that measured 3 ½ inches across.
Clear the scraps of dough away from the circles and put them back in the bowl. You’ll go back to those later. Before you start filling the cookies, make sure the circles aren’t stuck to the counter. It is way, way easier to unstick the empty circles than the sticky origami you’re about to make. Once your dough is rolled out and cut, preheat the oven to 350 and grease a cookie sheet.
Any preserve or jam will work for your fillings. I used apricot and raspberry straight out of the Smuckers jar. A traditionalist could make poppy seed and prune fillings, or if you want to wing it a compote would work. Avey uses a teaspoon of jam for a three inch round. I went back to seventh grade geometry to figure out how to scale that up. The proportionate amount is 1 1/3 teaspoon. Fortunately a third of a teaspoon is almost exactly the difference between a teaspoon and a heaping teaspoon, so I said fuck it and piled the jam high.
Measure out your filling and drop it into the middle of the round:
I had some very slight struggles with my initial hamantashen. If you use the following diagram, maybe you will cry less than I did:
Fold over section A along the line from fuck to hell. Press the point at hell down to seal it with the round. However, leave a little space at fuck.
Next, fold down section B, along the line from hell to damn. At hell, press down section B over section A to make a corner.
Then fold over section C along the line from damn to fuck. Press section C over section B at damn.
Finally, slide section C under section A at fuck, and press down section A on top.
Pinch all three corners down to make sure they’re nice and tight.
Now you have a snug pinwheel configuration that will keep the jam inside the cookie. It’s a little more complicated than tabs and slots, but that’s to be expected with three moving pieces. Remember to leave some of the filling visible! The most beautiful part of a hamantash is the gem-like filling peeking out in the middle.
You will almost certainly need a couple tries to get this down.
That is A-OK. The lopsided ones taste just as good.
If you opted out of the glaze, transfer your hamantash to the cookie sheet with a spatula. If you made glaze, grab a pastry brush and paint it over the visible parts of the dough.
Sprinkle turbinado sugar on top. I went over each cookie two or three times to make sure that it didn’t all get absorbed into the glaze.
Transfer the glazed hamantash to the baking sheet. Hamantashen don’t rise or expand very much, so you can put them close together on the baking sheet.
I’m still using half-sized baking equipment from the dollhouse kitchen in my first apartment—you could probably fit twice as many hamantashen on a proper cookie sheet.
My hamantashen baked for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. If you’re using bigger rounds, give them another few minutes; if you’re using smaller rounds, check at the 12 minute mark.
They’re finished when the bottoms are golden brown. If the sides are toasty-looking, the bottom is probably burned. Do NOT check the bottoms by sticking a spatula under a corner and tilting the hamantash! It will flip, and you will have to scrub caramelized jam off of a very, very hot baking sheet. Instead, pick one up with a slotted spatula and look through the bottom to check the color.
Move the finished hamantashen onto a cooling rack.
Repeat the process until you’re out of dough. I will warn you that the dough cools down much faster than the filling, so try touching the middle before you jam one in your mouth.
Enjoy the hell out of hamantashen, or whatever you’re baking these days. Feed yourself, fight back, and remember the fashion choices of our enemies: one day you’ll see them on a cake stand.
The Mess Report:
a. If you want to fight back, but you’re not sure where to start, check out the Indivisible guide and find a group locally. If you’re less into joining stuff, 5calls helps you figure out who to call and what to say depending on what issues matter to you. Flippable and 2 Hours a Week will send you action items as well. I would recommend choosing one or two of these resources instead of signing up for all of them at once. Try to find a rhythm that will work for you—picking up the phone once a day, or putting in a longer, more concentrated effort once a week. You’ll find your own rhythm. Listen to your limits–it’s a marathon, not a sprint. As I write this, there are 1,406 days to go. We need you with us all the way.