Chocolate and Fig Hamantaschen
Plus: Challah Art and The Four Questions Interview with Jason Diamond!
Hello newsletter friends both old and newly-arrived,
In this week’s newsletter, I have a recipe for Chocolate and Fig Hamantaschen for you (they are so good!), and a chance to participate in an incredible challah-related art installation. I’m also excited to feature one of my Jewish writing heroes, Jason Diamond, in this week’s The Four Questions Interview.
But before we dive in, let’s take a quick look at The Jewish Table from the past month. For folks who aren’t subscribed to the weekly newsletter yet, here’s what you missed:
Sabich Pizza with Green Tahini, plus a little history behind the beloved Iraqi-Israeli street food.
Maple Buckwheat Granola. (Who knew buckwheat could make homemade granola even more addictive?) Plus, an exploration into the notion of Yidishn tam - foods that just *feel* quintessentially Jewish.
Walnut and Pistachio Stuffed Dates, and a dispatch from my trip to London, where I spent a dreamy afternoon with the one-and-only Claudia Roden.
Syrniki (Curd Cheese Pancakes), and some thoughts on what to say/do when the world feels impossibly hard, and you have no answers.
Never miss a recipe or story (and get access to the full recipe archive) by subscribing to The Jewish Table’s weekly newsletter.
Bake Challah, Make Art
Have you ever noticed the gorgeous braid imprints that form on parchment paper when you bake challah? (If not, see above!) So has Rob Shostak, a Canadian artist and creator of the Parchment Project - an art installation he is launching in collaboration with the Fentster Gallery in Toronto.
The installation will feature a series of imprinted parchment paper sheets that elevate the practice of baking challah into something visually and emotionally powerful. And he is looking for submissions - from YOU! Whether you are a weekly challah baker, or a yeast dough novice, you can bake challah and send in your parchment by March 25 - with a little luck, your creation might just be included in the installation.
Chocolate and Fig Hamantaschen
“Hamantaschen symbolize resilience in the face of flagrant wickedness.”
When I read those words in a caption Russ & Daughters posted on Instagram earlier this week, my eyes welled up with tears. The sentiment is so spot on. Yes, hamantaschen are a delicious, triangle-shaped cookie. But Purim’s beloved pastry is also designed to represent the pocket (or the hat, or the ear, depending on whom you ask) of Haman - the cruel-hearted advisor to the ancient Persian king Ahasuerus.
Haman’s plot to kill all of the Jews in the Persian empire was thwarted by the heroic acts of Queen Esther. And in an act of sweet revenge (quite literally), Ashkenazi Jews bake hamantaschen on Purim to symbolize the triumph over Haman’s evil, and celebrate Esther’s resilience and bravery in spite of great danger.
In that spirit, bakers around the world have been making and sharing #hamantaschen_for_ukraine, while raising funds in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, who are currently showing unimaginable bravery despite Putin’s flagrant and unrelenting wicknedness.
Another Purim custom, matanot la’evyonim, obliges people to give to charity during the holiday, as a way of spreading the joy and hope of the season. If you feel inspired and are able, please consider making a donation to the humanitarian organization, HIAS. For more than 140 years, HIAS has helped support and resettle refugees fleeing hostile situations - first Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe in the 1880s, and today refugees from all walks of life and hailing from all around the globe - including those leaving Ukraine right now.
Chocolate and Fig Hamantaschen
There are two tricks for making hamantaschen that don’t pop open and leak jam all over the baking sheet. 1. Fold your triangles before you pinch them! (See the recipe for instructions). Some folks also suggest refrigerating the filled triangles for 10 minutes before baking. I never do it, but if you have the patience, it can’t hurt! 2. Use a thick jam or other filling that will stay put inside the cookie better than a watery jelly. I like to pulse the jam with nuts, for extra flavor and staying-power.
Makes about 30 cookies
For the Dough:
2 1/2 cups (350 g) all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup (60 ml) vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
1 tablespoon water, plus more if needed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon almond extract, optional
For the Filling:
3/4 cup (175 g) fig jam
1 cup (145 g) whole, unsalted almonds
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (80 g) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
In a stand mixer (or using a handheld electric mixer and a large bowl), beat together the oil, eggs, sugar, water, vanilla extract, and almond extract, if using, until well combined. Add the flour mixture in two additions, beating on low after each, and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary, until a firm but pliable dough comes together. If the dough looks too wet or dry, add flour or water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until the desired consistency is reached.
Gently knead the dough a few times in the bowl, then gather and form it into two flat disks. Wrap each disk tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to overnight.
Meanwhile, make the filling: Add the jam, almonds, lemon zest, and cinnamon to a food processor and pulse until a thick, sticky paste forms. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl and fold in the chocolate chips.
Preheat the oven to 350F (180C), and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Working with one half of the dough at a time (keep the other half wrapped in the fridge), roll it out on a lightly floured surface into 1/4-inch thickness. Using a 3-inch round cookie cutter (or a 3-inch glass), stamp out as many rounds as possible and carefully transfer them to the prepared baking sheets. Gather the scraps and reroll if desired.
Spoon 1 heaping teaspoon of the filling into the center of each dough round. Fold the left side over on an angle, followed by the right side. Fold the bottom flap up, tucking one end under the side flap to make a triangular pocket. Pinch the corners gently to seal.
Bake, rotating the baking sheets back-to-front and top-to-bottom halfway through baking, until lightly golden and browned at the corners, 15-18 minutes. Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool.
The Four Questions: With Jason Diamond
Welcome to the latest installment of The Four Questions, The Jewish Table’s semi-regular interview segment featuring Jewish food luminaries. This week I’m delighted to be joined by Jason Diamond.
Jason is one of my favorite writers - and not simply because he is also a Jewish geriatric millennial, and a Chicago suburbs-to-New York City transplant. Jason’s writing on culture, which can be found in GQ, Town & Country, and a million other publications, covers everything from Boyz II Men’s pioneering preppy style and why Elliott Gould is an icon, to the glories of the Chicago hot dog. He is also one of the few people I actually enjoy following on Twitter.
Jason’s sweet spot exists somewhere between the smoked fish counter at Zabar’s and this photo of Simon & Garfunkel hanging out in front of FAO Schwarz. It makes me so happy that, in a world increasingly dominated by social media influencers and “content creators,” Jason has managed to stake out a meaningful career writing thought-provoking cultural criticism about the things that make him (and by extension me and so many other readers!) happy.
While Jason isn’t exclusively a food writer, he has written some very compelling articles about the state of Jewish food in America. (Like this one. And this one.) In our conversation, he shared some thoughts on his favorite shuttered New York Jewish eateries, why too much nostalgia can be a bad thing, and how the scent of fresh dill *almost* brings tears to his eyes.
What is your relationship to Jewish food?
As I’ve gotten older, it has become more of an emotional thing than I would have expected. To me it is very sensory - like when I smell or touch dill, a Proustian response takes over. Dill is used in so many cultures, but to me it is a quintessential Jewish thing. When I go to my CSA and pick up dill, I will literally sniff it like it’s a flower. I get this overwhelming feeling - I’m not on the verge of tears, that sounds like a lot. But I feel this rush of happiness that I’m sure a scientist would link to a boost in serotonin.
To me it is just like, that’s my grandma who died when I was three, or that’s going to my in-laws and having dill sprinkled on top of my mother-in-law’s chicken soup. It all comes rushing back.
Your writing explores this fascinating niche of nostalgia for mid to late 20th-century America. It’s a time you didn’t personally experience - at least not as an adult. What is it that pulls you toward that time, and does it extend to food?
I have always lived by the Brian Wilson song, “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times.” Nostalgia is a tricky thing. If you are too nostalgic, you turn on blinders to the realities of the present. But I use nostalgia as a way of understanding the world in which I live, and the things that I enjoy. And maybe even in a sense my own personal history, because I had a weird childhood. I missed out on a lot of things. Building up an understanding of the past helps me cope.
With Jewish food, particularly Ashkenazi Jewish food, I feel like we have sort of forgotten about our culture. We have really let it slide too much into the realm of nostalgia. I am incredibly proud of my heritage, and am drawn to a fatty piece of brisket or a plate of latkes. But I also know there is more to Jewish food than that. I want to make sure we are paying tribute to the past - not just some idealized picture of it - and also looking to the future.
Which New York Jewish food establishments do you miss the most?
My first thought is that I was very upset by Barnum & Bagel closing in Skokie. I partly grew up in Chicago, and we had three things people think about when they think of Skokie: Nazis trying to march downtown, the dude from the heavy metal band Disturbed, and Barnum & Bagel. It was the quintessential old Jewish diner - it was a real nice thing.
In New York, honestly, I had a weird appreciation for Carnegie Deli and Cafe Edison, which were both tied to broadway and New York Jewish life. Cafe Edison was actually pretty good! And I like thinking that some of the Tin Pan Alley people showed up there. When I was a kid everyone talked about Carnegie like it was the Taj Mahal. New York got a lot sadder when it went away.
If you were going to name a deli sandwich after Elliott Gould, what would be in it?
I could see prime Elliott, circa 1973, eating a fried bologna sandwich not unlike the one you'd get at Wilensky's in Montreal. But his is on rye bread, and he has an egg cream after because he's a Brooklyn guy.