Growing up in a religious Jewish home, Purim was unarguably the best holiday of the entire year. While the holiday’s narrative is centered around the persecution and eventual perseverance of the Jewish people in Ancient Persia in line with most Jewish holidays, the traditions associated with the holiday essentially defines Purim as the ‘Jewish Halloween.’ People traditionally dress up as both characters from the religious narrative, the “Megillah (Book of Esther),” as well as anything and everything. The emulation of an elaborate feast and such food goodies like hamantaschen, the spread-filled sugar cookie named after the holiday narrative’s villain, are delectable and so easily consumable.
Hamantaschen have become a staple in Jewish culture as a result of the exchange between non-Jewish Germans and German Jewish populations around the 1500s. Its origins are rooted in a German medieval pastry called mohntaschen, translated to poppy seed pockets. It is inferred that German Jews claimed the cookies for the holiday, likely referencing that the villain’s pockets are corrupted and filled with stolen money and bribes. To this day, one of the most common Hamantaschen fillings is mohn- poppy seed. In line with Jewish food standards, hamantaschen can be made dairy or pareve- that is the neutral standard of kashrut that is neither meat nor dairy- but since the Purim feast is usually dairy-based, hamantaschen most likely consumed around Purim are dairy.
In retrospect, it is blatantly obvious that Purim was the vehicle in which I could express my queerness within the confines of the religious standards I grew up governed by. Dressing effeminately or cross-dressing were permissible as it was relative in the tradition of the holiday, and I absolutely took advantage of it. Throughout elementary school, some of the costumes I adorned included Tracy Turnblad from the musical “Hairspray,” an old grandma and a 1970s female hippie. Aspects of the Purim narrative and holiday traditions feel and appear queer, and it can be inferred without a doubt that the holiday served as a vehicle of gender and identity expression for queer Jews for hundreds and hundreds of years.
This Purim, I aimed to find and eventually claim a hamantaschen recipe that perfectly encapsulated the childhood nostalgia of holiday festivities: one that was pareve (non-dairy), with a fruity center and a slightly citrusy sugar cookie. I found Jamie Geller’s Olive Oil Hamantaschen recipe on her website and fell in love with it. This recipe is practically her exact recipe with a few tweaks to make it my own — my version of queering the holiday in my own authentic way. You can absolutely sub the raspberry jam filling for any sweet filling of your choice; in my opinion, raspberry jam compliments the cookie so well, but apricot jam or chocolate spread also compliment.
YIELD: 36 cookies
TIME: 30 minutes
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 eggs
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- ½ tablespoon lemon zest
- 2 ⅔ cups all-purpose flour
- 2½ teaspoons baking powder
- Pinch of kosher salt
- ½ tablespoon vanilla extract
- Sweet filling of choice
- Preheat the oven to 375 F. Lightly grease two cookie sheets and line the cookie sheets with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, mix extra-virgin olive oil with granulated sugar, two eggs, lemon juice and lemon zest.
- Add flour, baking powder and salt, and mix gently until dough forms. I found that gradually adding the flour to the wet ingredients helped form a better dough, but to each their own.
- Lightly dust the parchment paper-lined cookie sheets with flour. Divide the dough in half and roll it out to roughly ⅛-inch thick (this is how specific Jamie got in her recipe, but I honestly free-balled its thickness).
- Cut out approximately 3-inch circles with a round cookie cutter or even a drinking glass. Fill with 1 teaspoon of your favorite filling. Fold the left side over the filling into the center, then fold the right side over and then fold the bottom up, creating a triangle. The cookie dough recipe should yield 36 cookies, but no big deal if you don’t yield that exact amount (you’ll just have a range of cookie sizes).
- Place cookies on prepared sheets and bake for between 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. Let the cookies cool and rest prior to consumption.
Hamantaschen are usually made and eaten around the Purim holiday, but you can find cases of hamantaschen at most Jewish delis or appetizing stores. They are so delectable and easy to eat that you will crave them year-round.
A version of this article appeared on p. 10 of the March 9, 2023 version of the Daily Nexus.