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What is a Hamantaschen?

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  • Written By: Diane Goettel
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 18 August 2016
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Hamantaschen are a kind of sweet pastry that are triangular with a filling made traditionally with nuts, fruits, and sometimes chocolate. The singular form of the word is "hamantasch," is also sometimes spelled "hamantash." Other spellings for the word include "homentasch," which is also sometimes spelled "homentash," "humentash," or "humentas." Despite the many spellings of the name for this sweet pastry, most all of the variations are pluralized with the "-en" ending.

Although similar pastries can be found in other cuisines, hamantaschen are most commonly credited to Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine and they are commonly served during Purim, a Jewish holiday. Purim is a holiday that commemorates an event as recorded in the Book of Esther in which the Jews living in the ancient Persian Empire were delivered from extermination. The plot to annihilate them was hatched by a man named Haman. There are conflicting stories about whether hamantaschen were named as a reference to Haman or whether the name is the result of a corruption of existing German and Yiddish names for similar kinds of pastries.

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In order to make hamantaschen, filling is placed in the center of a circular piece of dough. The three-cornered shape is achieved by folding the dough around the filling but leaving most of it exposed. As such, the filling is not entirely encased as with ravioli, but mostly exposed as with pumpkin pie. Common hamantaschen fruit fillings include cherries, apples, apricots, dates prunes, and other kinds of fruit preserves. The fruits are usually cooked and sweetened before being used as a filling for hamantaschen.

When hamantaschen are made with seeds and nuts, it is most common for them to be filled with poppy seeds or halva, which is a sweet product made from sesame seeds. Sometimes the pastries are filled with caramel, chocolate, or dulce de leche. In some cases, they are filled with cheese and served as a savory pastry. This, however, is not especially common.

One of the best enjoyed aspects of hamantaschen is the variety in texture that occurs in the pastry dough when they are baked. The exterior and points of the pastries are often firm and a bit flaky. The inside, however, with the filling, is often doughy and soft. Sometimes hamentaschen are sprinkled all over with sugar for added sweetness.

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