Purim, as they say, is in the air. With Corona finally nothing more than an unpleasant memory, the joys and fun of the festival is back in full swing. Meshloach manot baskets are being advertised and shul and fundraisers have already kicked off. Invitations for festive meals are being sent out and plans are underway for parties and parades. Costumes and accessories are being hawked and marketed for children of all ages, and it won’t be long before we see the iconic duo from the Megillah strolling through the streets together with Disney princes and princesses (and maybe a villain or two) and the valiant super heroes and heroines from cartoons and comic books. And, of course, bake shops and supermarkets are lining their shelves with the most delightful of all holiday treats, hamantaschen.
More intriguing, however, is that Purim is distinguished by being the only Jewish holiday or festival where a number of its major customs are meticulously followed but are, for many of us, only remotely understood, to say the least. The actual mitzvot of the holiday are relatively few and easily – other than the Fast of Esther – pleasantly fulfilled. A lingering question, though, centers around hamantaschen. What precisely hamantaschen – or oznei haman– represents has yet to be definitively dealt with. Oh, for sure, even a cursory search results in more than a few purportedly authoritative discourses on what Haman’s pockets (taschen in Yiddish) or ears (oznei in Hebrew) have to do with the festivities of the day, but they’re usually forgotten by the time the bottom line is arrived at. My only complaint, actually, is that I’ve yet to encounter a sound reason as to why these wonderful pastries are not sold throughout the year.
Which brings up another controversial activity closely associated with Purim festivities: inebriation. The practice of getting soused is one aspect of the festival that has generated considerable debate. Rabbinical sources, both ancient and contemporary, differ as to whether this practice is indeed a custom or an obligation, and vary widely on how exactly one is to fulfill the specified requirement to reach a state of “not knowing the difference between Blessed is Mordechai and Cursed is Haman.” During the more youthful period of my life, my friends and I found innovative ways to determine if that tricky parameter has been met; Heshy, I recall, successfully recited the magic words while standing on his head, and therefore continued to indulge.
Well, I’ve always believed that it’s better to be safe than sorry, so come Purim, I make sure to have three things ready well in advance: a loud grogger to drown out the name of the evil Haman during the Megillah reading, a wig of blond curls which I wear when making my meshloach manot deliveries, and a bottle of good bourbon. Figure that if I’m going to fulfill a mitzvah – even one where there are considerable differences of opinion as to what exactly the mitzvah is – may as well do it right.
It wasn’t purely coincidental, I suspect, that an interesting thought came to me not long after I enjoyed a bit of Gentleman Jack one recent Shabbat afternoon. Checking the bottle to make sure there would be enough left for the upcoming Purim gaiety, an intriguing way to combine two of the festival’s culinary customs dawned on me: bourbon laced hamantaschen.
Using spirits in cooking is by no means original or novel. Sauces, marinades, and puddings are very frequently spiced up with the addition of wine or brandy, and I’ve come across more than a few recipes that call for a jigger or two of the harder stuff as well. Strange, I thought, that I’ve never yet encountered spiked hamantaschen.
Surely, they must be out there, I said to myself. And indeed, they are. Others, I found, also came up with the idea of infusing the, um, spirit of the holiday by adding spirits of various proofs to the prune, poppy seed or apricot filling. Rum and Irish Cream liqueur have been used, and I imagine the results were more than a little interesting, although I suspect that during the baking process much of the alcoholic potency gets burned off. And yet, within the vast literature contained uploaded into the Internet, there is nary a mention of Adult Hamantaschen, at least not with the addition of what might distinguish these tasty treats from the ones enjoyed by the more traditional and less adventurous. A woeful omission that calls for an immediate correction.
To correct this oversight, it is high time that a new Purim tradition – spiked hamantaschen – be added to the ancient customs that we impatiently look forward to each year.
The beauty of this idea lies in its simplicity. Most hamantaschen recipes call for one sort of liquid or another, with orange juice being the most popular. All that’s needed is to replace the same amount of required liquid with a good quality whiskey, plus an additional jigger for good measure. All other aspects of whatever recipe the baker uses remains the same.
Not that the idea is altogether foolproof, however. Some precautions need to be taken:
- Bourbon should be used rather than scotch, rye or rum. I could probably come up with some excellent reasons for this, but the fact is I like bourbon and am less partial to the others.
- The bourbon used should be at least 8 years old and be no less than 80 Proof. Wild Turkey, Knob Creek or, of course, my good buddy Jack are the ones I recommend.
- Walnuts or dates are the fillings of choice. Prune and apricot clash a bit with the wonderful complexity of the bourbon, and poppy seed is best left for the kids.
Here, I know, a recipe should be provided. Baking, though, is not one of my wife’s many strong points and with neither my mother nor grandmother still around, I really can’t take responsibility for an old world hamantaschen recipe. Not that they would have been of much help, frankly. Yahrzeit glezlech (the glasses in which 24-hour yahrzeit candles come in) was the standard measurement tool used in the day, and I generally throw the ones I use out at the end of the day of remembrance.
A friend, however, recommended a recipe from a cite she regularly accesses. She’s made these in the past and assures me they’re good enough to make your head spin. Well, with my modifications, they undoubtedly will.
So, enjoy, and may you all have a very, very freilich Purim. With or without the assistance of my Adult Hamantaschen.
Date Filled Adult Hamantaschen
For the dough:
21/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
21/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. melted margarine
1 egg, beaten lightly
3/4 cup high quality bourbon, plus one jigger
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt, mixing well. Add the bourbon, melted margarine and egg, then mix again. On a floured board knead well and roll out to about 1/4 cm. thickness. Cut out rounds about 6 cm. in diameter.
4 cups chopped dates
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup sweet red wine
1/4 cup high quality bourbon
1/4 cup margarine
3 tsp. cinnamon
Place the dates, wine, bourbon and margarine in a small saucepan. Cook over a low flame, stirring constantly, until the mixture is paste-like (about 8 – 10 minutes). Allow to cool 10 minutes and then stir in the cinnamon and nuts.
On the center of each round, place 1 heaping tsp. of the filling. Pinch the three sides of the round together to form a triangle and place individually formed cookies on a greased cookie sheet. Bake in an oven that has been preheated to 180 degrees Celsius until the cookies are golden brown (25 – 30 minutes). (Yields about 30 hamantaschen).