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Nibble on this: Hamantaschen cookies, the pastry cousins of rugelach

I think of the Jewish pastry hamantaschen — the cookie baked during the Purim holiday — as the delicious pastry relative of rugelach.

Much like rugelach, hamantaschen is a tender cookie filled with something sweet and sticky and formed into a distinctive shape. Where rugelach can be filled with a raisin-walnut filling and rolled up into a crescent, hamantaschen is stuffed with a prune butter-walnut filling (or something equally sticky) then formed into a triangle before baking.

Rugelach might be found at any number of Jewish celebrations, but hamantaschen is specifically geared for the Jewish Purim holiday.

Knowing that many Jewish foods carry important symbolism in shape, I asked about the specific triangular space of a hamantaschen. Olympia resident Bernie Friedman gave me the answer I knew he would, “There’s always a story in Judaism,” he said.

If anyone’s an expert locally on hamantaschen, it’s him. Friedman, a member of Olympia’s Temple Beth Hatfiloh, has spent the past few weeks baking about 1,000 of the cookies to sell at the temple’s Purim event Wednesday (March 4) and Sunday (March 8) (for details, see box).

“The Purim holiday is from the scroll of Esther,” he said. The holiday commemorates the deliverance of Jewish people from the evil hands of Haman. The three corners of the cookie are said to represent Haman’s hat, although some say the cookies represent his pockets (the Yiddish translation for the word “taschen”).

For 25 years, he’s taught the children of Temple Beth Hatfiloh to bake the cookies for Purim. He uses the cookies as a social justice lesson for students. They learn to bake cookies, hear the story of the cookie, and sell the cookies to raise funds and awareness for community causes.

“Every year we raise a couple hundred dollars. We sell them two for $1. We’ve donated money to the food bank, Safe Place and lots and lots of different places. Last year was the National Alliance of Mental Illness,” said Friedman. This year’s recipient is SideWalk Homeless Service, the organization tasked with finding housing for the homeless.

If you’d like to give hamantaschen a try at home, Friedman offered a recipe that’s foolproof. Like rugelach, the texture of the cookie can vary from cakey to crispy. This recipe falls on the cakey side. That’s also what Friedman likes about the recipe — the dough is about as flexible as a pastry dough can get. You can’t overwork it and make it tough.

A few more words of advice from Friedman:

The dough can be made in advance, but be sure to take it out of the fridge a few hours before rolling out the dough.

Keep your hands, board and rolling pin evenly floured so the dough won’t stick.

Fillings can run the gamut from savory to sweet. Friedman suggested Nutella, almond paste and poppyseed filling. If you don’t want to make your own, look for the Solo brand apricot, plum or raspberry pie filling.

Make sure the stuffing is something thick and sticky because using thin-textured jam or jelly can result in a soft filling that will ooze out of the cookie during baking. Be sure to pinch the cookie well at each edge of the triangle to keep the filling contained.

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