As a child, I knew the story of Purim only vaguely but had always thought of it as the “Jewish Halloween” due to the custom of children and adults celebrating dressed in costume. Still, my family would receive gift baskets called mishloach manot from friends, filled with candy and toys. Though we didn’t celebrate the holiday, receiving the mishloach manot every year always made me feel connected to it.
This year, I thought it might be fun to try my hand at making hamantashen, a sweet cookie filled with prunes, poppyseeds or fruit preserves and commonly eaten on Purim. Hamantashen are named for their triangular shape which alludes to the three-pointed hat worn by Haman, the villain of the story of Purim. For those curious, keep reading and I will explain the significance of this popular holiday along with a delicious recipe for gluten-free hamantashen.
The Story of Purim
Purim is a story of good and evil. It tells of how a Jewish woman named Esther saved her people from near destruction in Persia. In the story, Esther is chosen by King Ahasuerus to become his new wife after a feast celebrating the third year of his reign. At the advice of her relative, Mordecai, Esther chooses not to reveal her Jewish identity and assumes her position as Queen. Meanwhile, Mordecai learns of a plot to kill Ahasuerus. The King is informed of the plot and sentences the conspirators to death.
Ahasuerus then appoints Haman (our story’s villain, as you remember) as his prime minister and orders everyone to bow down to him. When Mordecai refuses to do so, Haman becomes furious and devises a plan to kill not only Mordecai but the rest of the Jewish people as well. He convinces King Ahasuerus of his plan and casts lots to determine when he will kill the Jews, choosing the 13th day of Adar in the Jewish calendar.
Upon hearing of Haman’s decree, Mordecai sends a message to Esther asking her to change the King’s mind. She replies and says she will but first requests that all Jews join her in fasting for three days. Despite the King not having summoned her to his chambers, Esther approaches Ahasuerus after the third day and invites him (and Haman) to enjoy multiple feasts. The King is pleased with her after the feasts and asks if there is anything she requests from him. Revealing herself as a Jew, she asks that her people be spared. Having recently learned of Mordecai’s loyalty during the plot to take the King’s life, Ahasuerus miraculously orders that Haman be hanged instead and pardons the Jewish people. As an additional reward, Mordecai is offered Haman’s place as minister.
Today, Purim is regarded as a joyous holiday. It is celebrated on the 14th and 15th days of the Adar, preceded by a fast celebrating Esther’s heroism. During the festival, the Book of Esther is read aloud during which the name of Haman is drowned out by the sounds of groggers (noisemakers which ward off the evil figure). Celebrants wear masks to hide their identity suggesting that goodness may often be hidden as Esther hid her identity at first to protect herself and her people. Additionally, doing good deeds (matanot la’evyonim) is encouraged and the mishloach manot are given to friends. And of course, hamentashen are eaten by all.
Gluten Free Hamantashen
(Adapted from a recipe by “debmidge” in the Gluten-Free Forum)
1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons orange juice (or lemon juice)
1 teaspoon vanilla (or almond extract)
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon xanthan gum
1 1/4 cups almond meal flour
1 1/4 cups Pamela’s Gluten-Free Baking and Pancake Mix
Filling: Apricot, prune, poppyseed or strawberry preserves
In mixer, cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg. Add orange juice and vanilla. In separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and xanthan gum. Add flour slowly to mixture. Refrigerate dough for several hours or overnight.
Take cold dough out of fridge and roll onto generously gluten-free floured surface. Make sure the dough is still cold, otherwise the cookies with spread out in the oven. Roll to 1/8 to ¼ inch thickness. Cut into circles with 2 ½ inch wide glass. (**I used a single hamburger press, which worked beautifully.)
Fill each circle with about ½ teaspoonful of filling of your choice. Fold up 3 sides of circle and pinch edges firmly to form triangle with opening at center to let filling peek through (shown below).
Bake at 375F degrees on parchment covered cookie sheet for about 8-10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool before transferring to plate.
Filling and Shaping the Hamantashen: