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Pinned for Purim!

Thanks to Yael Shuval for choosing my Low-Carb Hamantaschen for her board at Pinterest.com.

Three years ago I developed almond-meal based hamantaschen for my daughter, who had been diagnosed with Type I diabetes only a couple of weeks earlier and needed something that was low enough in carb that (at the time, anyway) she could actually have one or two when all the other kids were having theirs and without having to get an extra shot of insulin.

Almond meal has only about one-fourth as much carbohydrate per cup  as wheat flour, so it seemed like a good substitute. To our surprise, although the dough was a little finicky to work with, the hamantaschen came out tasting pretty good, and they were indeed pretty low carb, about 4-5 grams per mini-hamantaschen. Granted, they were also pretty small, but it was a symbolic triumph in the first few weeks and made us all feel like being diabetic wasn’t going to be the end of having fun.

Now that my daughter is on an insulin pump, getting an extra shot is no big deal, though in our experience the pitfall is that it’s now just a little too easy, especially for a preteen, to “eat anything you want, at any time, without thinking about it, as long as you program the insulin for it” which is one of the less responsible marketing messages in Medtronic’s brochure for teenagers (note: the pump itself is pretty good, but it still doesn’t mean you don’t have to be careful about what you’re eating). Those sour gummy heart candies the teacher handed out for snack earlier this week and left on my daughter’s desk, for instance….well, candy never seems like as much food as it really is, and I think my daughter gained a valuable lesson when she added up what she’d really eaten…she wouldn’t be the first one.

It’s always good to have a general plan in place for holiday eating so you don’t overdo the treats or eat an entire meal’s worth of carb in just a few cookies or candies or whatever…what can I say, we’re working on it.

Still. In the last year or two I’ve mostly gone back to making standard hamantaschen based on Joan Nathan’s classic cookie-dough recipe, which I like a lot and which looks and tastes much, much better than the dry, pasty-white horrors at the annual Purim carnival.


What I like about the standard flour-based recipe, other than that it tastes and looks good and is easy to work with, is that I can roll the dough out very thin and get crisp, delicate hamantaschen that are a decent cookie size but still hold together nicely and are not extravagantly carb-laden, particularly if the fillings are reasonable and you don’t eat ten at a time (the big challenge). They’re not as low-carb as the almond meal ones, but they still work out okay–about 7 grams apiece for a 1.5-2″ cookie. They taste good even made with pareve (nondairy) margarine instead of butter.

The LA-area idea of hamantaschen usually involves M&Ms, colored sprinkles, anything completely artificial. I bet gummy sour hearts (this afternoon’s culprit) would be a huge hit too. I don’t think they’ve heard of either prune or poppyseed out here in at least a generation.

Traditional fruit or nut fillings are a much more decent bet for carb, and they taste better (and look nicer too, because I’m not 6 years old and don’t insist on rainbow colors anymore). They’re also easy to make from scratch in a microwave or on the stove top so that you can decide how much sugar to put in them.

Which brings us to the recipes themselves, and a snort of disdain or perhaps pity once again for the hapless L.V. Anderson of Slate.com, whose main assignment, it seems to me, is to serve as the staked goat every time by serving up unusually silly and wrong-headed advice with Emily Litella-like precision every time she posts another “You’re Doing It Wrong” cooking column. The only good thing about it is that every one of her columns manages to generate a large number of indignant reader responses and therefore buzz about her unnecessary and overly complicated food “fixes” for otherwise less-than-fascinating food prep issues.

This week’s fiasco is her advice on hamantaschen, in which she insists that

  1. Poppyseeds are the only acceptable stuffing (or in other words, stuff prunes, apricots, nuts, chocolate and jam as alternatives) and
  2. Orange juice has no place in cookie dough of any kind.

On both counts her (purposely?) warped and misinformed take on hamantaschenkeit has led her sadly astray, as readers are quick to respond.

My hamantaschen dough, as I say, is based on Joan Nathan’s original recipe. I don’t know if she’s modified it over the years since the original spiral-bound edition of The Jewish Holiday Kitchen from 1984 and I don’t care, except to hope that she hasn’t messed with it.


My much-used 1984 spiralbound edition of “The Jewish Holiday Kitchen”…

This is the recipe, with one small but important modification: a couple of tablespoons of orange juice substituting for water or milk. Yes. Take that, L.V., because it works beautifully. Fact. It’s not overtly orange-y in flavor and isn’t meant to be–just a hint of citrus playing off the vanilla, and the little tinge of acidity provides the twist other recipes attempt by adding salt.

This dough is great with poppyseed filling, but prune lekvar is no slouch either, and frankly, my dear, apricot fruit spread with or without chocolate chips is also pretty fantastic. You don’t have to limit this dough to Purim either–I’ve used it very happily to make apricot fingers (roll a longish wide strip very thin, spread apricot jam down the middle, fold the edges over partway, slice crosswise and bake).

Finally, and perhaps also not for Purim, though you could, press the dough into mini-muffin cups and fill it with lightly sweetened labaneh. No eggs or flour are necessary for it to bake up like a mini-cheesecake. Actually, you could probably do that with the almond-taschen dough as well, perhaps baking the shells dry for a few minutes first before filling them.

Hamantaschen Dough à la Joan Nathan (but with orange juice)

  • 2/3 c. (1  1/3 sticks, more or less) pareve margarine (I prefer Fleischmann’s unsalted) or butter
  • 1/2 c. sugar (100 g.)
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 T orange juice (30 g.)
  • 1/2 t. or a bit more vanilla
  • 2 1/2 – 3 c. all-purpose or bread flour (360 g. for 3 c. if weighing)

Pulse everything but the flour in a food processor to blend until smooth. Pulse in 2 1/2 c. flour until the dough forms a ball and then pinch the dough to see if it’s thick enough to be smooth and workable yet. If it’s still too sticky to work with add the rest of the flour and pulse again. Gather the dough in a plastic bag, pat into a disk and freeze about 1/2 hour or chill several hours before trying to roll it out. You can freeze a well-wrapped disk of dough for several weeks if you need to.

When you roll out, work with about 1/4-1/3 of the dough at a time, leaving the rest in the fridge or freezer. Flour the dough and roll it out as thin as you can between two floured sheets of plastic wrap. Joan Nathan says 1/8 inch thick; I say roll it a bit thinner, not quite lasagne-thin but close. You can, with this dough.

To shape hamantaschen: Cut 2-3 inch circles of dough with a juice glass or cookie cutter. Spoon about a half-teaspoon of filling in the middle of each, clean and dry your hands, and pinch up the outside edges of each circle into a triangular shape, like a three-cornered hat, around the filling. Pinch the corners well to prevent leaks. Place the hamantaschen on foil-lined baking sheets (this dough is short enough that you don’t really need to grease them) and bake at 375°F for 10-15 minutes or until they just turn golden brown at the edges. No pasty-white horrors allowed!

Makes about 48 hamantaschen and bakes up delicate and crisp if rolled out very thin (recommended), or 36 if rolled out standard, about 1/8 in. thick.

Carb Counts

Per cookie: for 48-50 cookies,  7 g. carb for the dough and 3-4 for the filling, about 10-11 g apiece. For 36 cookies, 10 g for the dough plus 3-4 for the filling, about 13-14 g carb apiece.

Carb count for the whole batch of dough, using 360 g (3 c.) flour: 368 (plus whatever jam or filling you include)

Total batch weight: about 685 g (you might want to weigh yours out and divide by the total weight, then multiply by the carbs for the total if you’re doing just a portion of the raw dough)

Poppyseed Filling

Note: some recipes call for egg white. When I’ve cooked it into the filling, it separates and turns to white rubbery shreds. I guess you could stir it in after cooking the filling, perhaps as a further binder, but it doesn’t seem necessary to me. You could probably substitute 1/2 c. honey for the sugar and water as well.

  • 1 c. fresh poppyseeds [NOTE: Toast a spoonful and taste them first–they go rancid fairly easily! Always store poppyseeds in the freezer!]
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1/4 c. orange juice
  • 1/2 to 1 t. vanilla or a spoonful or two of brandy

Grind poppyseeds slightly in food processor, blender or coffee grinder to help them thicken the filling when they cook. Pulsing a few times is fine, you don’t want a dusty powder, just to crack some of the seed coatings. Boil up (or microwave 1-2 minutes, checking and stirring periodically) with the water and sugar. Once the mixture thickens to a stiff paste, stir in the vanilla or brandy and just enough orange juice to make it stirrable. You still want it pretty thick. NOTE: Do not panic if it’s still pretty liquidy while hot. It will thicken as it cools. Don’t stir it vigorously and DO NOT add more sugar–the sugar can seize up and solidify rock hard very quickly!

Prune Lekvar

  • 1 c. pitted prunes
  • 2-3 T. orange juice
  • 2 T brandy
  • Cinnamon, pinch of clove, etc optional

Combine prunes and orange juice in a microwaveable bowl with a lid and microwave 1-2 minutes. Mash or blend to a loose paste in a food processor with brandy. Taste and decide if you want to add a pinch or so of the optional spices.

Apricot (use with or without chocolate chips)

Apricot fruit spread (Trader Joe’s reduced sugar jam is good)


make an apricot spread substituting dried apricots for the prunes above, adding a tablespoon or so of sugar and a squeeze of lemon just to taste, and perhaps skipping the brandy and spices. ADVANTAGE: this apricot paste and the prune filling are much less likely to bubble up and run like standard jam when you bake them because they contain a lot more real fruit and less syrup.

Labaneh Cheesecake-Style Filling

  • 1 c. labaneh (sour cream-like dairy product, but I’m not sure if sour cream itself is thick enough to substitute for it here; I haven’t tried it so don’t quote me)
  • about 2 T sugar (or more “precisely”, lightly sweeten to taste)
  • grating of orange or lemon peel
  • few drops of vanilla

Stir to blend — you want the consistency to be like whipped cream cheese, so more or less still a paste, not something runny. You can make hamantaschen with this but it might be better and more elegant to use it for filling mini tartlet shells made of hamantaschen dough (a mini-muffin pan is handy for this). Either way, bake at 375° F for 10-15 minutes or until set and the dough is golden around the edges.

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