One of the most important customs of Purim, the Jewish holiday that begins at sundown Thursday and lasts through sundown Friday, is the giving of food. The practice, called mishloach manot in Hebrew, entails sending at least two ready-to-eat foods to the elderly and the poor, friends and family. Whatever else is in the package, hamantaschen, the Eastern European symbolic, triangle-shaped, filled Purim pastries are a must.
Traditionally, hamantaschen are filled with poppy seeds or preserves made from dried fruits such as prunes or apricots. The pastry can be a short dough or a yeasted one. The prepared dough is rolled and cut into circles and the edges are folded up to form a triangular “crust,” which holds the filling. In Middle Eastern countries, a cookie called ma’amoul, filled with cinnamon-flavored ground walnuts, is favored. Nowadays, we see inventive, even savory hamantaschen fillings such as dates, cheese with red peppers and spinach, cranberries and sage, chocolate and even Nutella.
While hamantaschen are essential, variations are popular. Layered poppy seed pastries stack layers of a poppy seed filling and a cinnamon-walnut filling between sheets of pastry. The result is traditional Purim flavors with a lot less work than shaping individual pastries. Nut and seed treats are another less labor-intensive option; they omit the pastry step altogether. Easiest of all, no-bake nut balls have the flavor of Purim and you can make them while the hamantaschen are baking.
In this pandemic year, there won’t be customary gatherings to read the Purim story from its source, the Book of Esther. However, hamantaschen have always been delivered “from a distance” and will be a welcome taste of tradition in this non-traditional year.