Today is Purim, and I had elaborate plans to fulfill the mishloach manot mitzvah by baking Ashkenazi and Sephardi hamantashen, oznei haman, and fazuelos from around the globe to share with my friends and with you my new friends.
I did my background research. I looked into the history and my culinary options.
Ashkenazis make hamantashen, Haman’s pocket (since he accepted bribes) or Haman’s hat – a tri-corn like our Colonial “fathers” wore – filled with prune or poppy seed. The German word for poppy seeds is mohn, and Gil Marks in Olive Trees and Honey reports that the word’s similarity to Haman’s name is the genesis for this fillings. Prune — I have no idea where that comes from. Call them dried plums, but they’re still prunes in my book. The few times I have actually made hamantashen, I used a cookie-like dough and filled them with chocolate and chopped hazelnuts.
Askenizim from different origins not surprisingly make different types of dough. There’s soft yeasty dough and more crispy cookie-type dough. The former lets the filling shine. Apparently Poles and Hungarians tend to make the latter. And the French, bless them, sometimes make a brioche style dough (Faye Levy’s 1,000 Jewish Recipes).
To me, Sephardim are a bit more exotic – probably because I’m not Sephardic. Many Sephardim make oznei haman, Haman’s ears, as thin sheets of dough shaped in half circles and pinched in the middle, fried and covered with confectioners’ sugar, called fazuelos (Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food),or, in Italian, orcchie di Amman (Joyce Goldstein’s Cucina Ebraica) — the name reminds me of orchiette, the ear shaped pasta. I had a really hard time picturing these until I came across step-by-step illustrations online.
And then come the nuts. Moroccans make Gorayebah – almond topped butter cookies (Joyce Goldstein’s Saffron Shores). Greeks make a lot of interesting food for Purim depending on which area of Greece you are from – marzipan (called novies) in the shape of the Purim characters, buns (called folares) in the shape of Haman’s foot, sesame bars (multiple names) seen to represent Haman’s fleas (hmmm…), walnut squares to represent Haman’s teeth, and almond pastries. I bought Nicholas Stavroulakis’ Cookbook of the Jews of Greece in the Jewish Museum in Athens a few years ago.
I looked to my friend Ellie Levi, aka The Baking Architect, for inspiration and motivation. Like KH Krena’s valentines (exhibit I mentioned in” sticky fingers“) Ellie’s mishloach manot deserve their own art exhibit. Somewhat more perishable and difficult to store over the years, I dare you to resist their call for more than an afternoon.
One year, Ellie and her sister Yali cooked and baked according to a Persian theme, in accordance with the site of the Purim story.
I had the best of intentions. Really I did.
Eventually, I decided to throw all of my research to the wayside and make Ashkenazi-style hamantashen my way. Different from every past year — no chocolate — but with a flair that I could only call á la francais. I was going to make mini apple triangle galettes — little hand-shaped freeform pies filled with freshly sliced apples (no prunes here!), perhaps atop a slather of dolce de leche or luscious caramel, sprinked with some turbinado sugar. Voilà! The perfect new Zahavah tradition.
And then I ended up fulfilling one of the other Purim traditions — ad d’lo yada — a few days early. Nothing crazy, just enough that I didn’t feel like spending my day baking.
NOTE: In case someone was concerned, I did make sure to fulfill my mishloach manot obligation – thank you, Monica Hirsh, for delivering with care such a classy, beautiful gift of flowers and food to my sister’s office and really making her day a special one. What is great about Monica, beyond her amazing aesthetic and what I found out later is our shared time in Cantabrigia, is her personalized service. I requested delivery confirmation, having never sent anything to my sister’s office, and received an email note later in the day that detailed the delivery (time, signed by) and felt like a communication from a friend or colleague. Such small details make such a big difference in the whole experience.