I love a good raspberry or apricot hamantasch, but as you’ve seen (most recently with my spin on Chanukah latkes), I can’t quite resist the urge to offer a new take on traditional foods. As it happens, hamantaschen have been a ripe target for innovation in the kosher food blogging community (corndog hamantasch anyone? Yes, please!). To be honest, even I started looking askance at all the new variations hitting my newsfeed every day. In fairness, it wasn’t the innovation that turned me off, it was the sheer scale of hamantasch deviants – I guess I discovered I’m a traditionalist at heart, or maybe just confused :-)
In any event, this year I became infatuated with matcha and saw fit to create a hamantasch that offers a new experience while still hewing to the basic form: a sweet dough with fruit filling. My matcha hamantaschen with white chocolate, toasted pecans, and sake-infused Bing cherries are a multi-faceted treat. Tucked inside the crispy sweet and mellow cookie is an array of textures and flavors befitting the cast of characters in the Megillat Esther Purim story itself.
Matcha is a special kind of green tea grown in the shade, which slows growth, stimulating more chlorophyll production in the leaves. As a result, matcha is intensely green and has a strong vegetal taste. You might not realize it, but you probably had your first experience with matcha watching love bloom between Daniel and Kumiko during the tea ceremony in The Karate Kid, Part II.
I’m always looking for balance of flavor, and if I can get it in unexpected ways, all the better. That’s why I chose to steep dried Bing cherries in sake (Japanese rice wine), imparting a musky bitterness. Yes, I intentionally put something musky and bitter into my hamantaschen, and you’ll thank me for it. There are many kinds of sake – I used junmai-shu, which is not diluted with added grain alcohol. More importantly for my purpose, it’s nigori, or unfiltered, meaning it still contains rice solids that haven’t fermented, yielding a creamier texture with more sweetness. The tartness of the Bing cherries themselves provides a nice counterpoint to the grassy matcha.
(As an aside, I think bitterness gets a bad rap as a taste. Our innate aversion to bitter things evolved because many toxic plants and substances tend to be bitter, which is why our tongues have so many more types of bitter taste receptors than sweet, sour, salty, or umami. That said, there are also many non-toxic bitter foods that offer an intriguing complexity, should you be open to cultivating a taste for it. Jennifer McLagan’s cookbook Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor celebrates this complexity, and I celebrate her initiative.)
White chocolate can be cloying, but used here in moderation (and making sure to use the real stuff that contains cocoa butter), its unctuous and simple sweetness grounds the other textures and flavors, reminding us that we are firmly in dessert territory. The oils in the toasted pecans serve as a complement and reinforce the earthiness of the sake. Their crunch bounces off the matcha dough’s crispness and the cherries’ chewiness, and everything comes full circle, um, I mean triangle.
This conception of the A Jew’s Bouche hamantasch is a bit of a compromise since they’re being shared with a lot of family, friends, and colleagues, not all of whom have an open palate. My ideal version would have pine nuts instead of pecans and less sugar in the dough to bring out more of that vegetal matcha amino acid taste I love. Although I love innovation and exploring new flavor territory, in the spirit of Purim I decided in this case to give people something a little different that still has mass appeal. I scared my sister off a long time ago with my fermented ginger beer and my spherified upside-down pumpkin pie, but maybe she’s repressed those enough to try my hamantaschen. I think even she would enjoy them.
MATCHA HAMANTASCHEN WITH WHITE CHOCOLATE, TOASTED PECANS, AND SAKE-INFUSED BING CHERRIES
NOTES: This makes a sticky dough that can be challenging to work with. It started off a frustrating experience, but I found a couple of tricks that worked for me, and I ended up enjoying the process. Also, the intensity of the matcha flavor may vary depending on the type or brand of matcha powder you use. Dough recipe adapted from Paula Shoyer’s The Holiday Kosher Baker: Traditional & Contemporary Holiday Desserts. As it turns out, Jeff Nathan scooped me with a similar filling and I credit him at the very least for letting me know that I’m on the right track.
- 3 large eggs
- 1½ cup sugar
- ½ cup canola or vegetable oil
- 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
- 2 TBSP matcha (green tea) powder
- 3¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- In a large bowl or mixer, mix together the eggs, sugar, oil, and lemon juice. Add the green tea powder and mix well. Add the flour and salt and mix to uniform consistency and color.
- Cover the dough and refrigerate at least one hour to firm up. (I like to transfer it to a quart container sprayed with oil).
FILLING (feel free to adjust measurements and ratios to your taste)
- 8 oz. sake (Japanese rice wine, not mirin), or enough to cover cherries in container
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 8 oz. dried Bing cherries
- 8 oz. pecans, lightly toasted in oven or skillet
- 4 oz. white chocolate, roughly chopped (for best quality, make sure it includes cocoa butter in the ingredients)
- Pour sake to cover dried cherries in a narrow, sealable container like a half-quart size. Add sugar, seal, and shake briefly to dissolve sugar. Let cherries steep in sake in refrigerator overnight. (If you’re short on time, let them infuse on the counter for at least an hour, shaking to agitate every so often).
- Remove cherries from sake and drain, reserving sake for some other delicious l’chaim or cocktail (because you didn’t just prepare sake-infused cherries, you also made cherry-infused sake!). Cut cherries into quarters.
- Toss cherries with chopped pecans and white chocolate.
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Line two or three large baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats, or plan to bake in batches. Divide the dough in half.
- Take another two pieces of parchment paper and spray one with a flour/oil spray like Baker’s Joy (though regular oil spray should work well, too). Place one dough half on top, spray the second piece of parchment paper with flour/oil spray, and lay over the dough to make a paper|dough|paper sandwich. Roll on top of the parchment until the dough is about ¼” thick.
- Use a 2- to 3-inch drinking glass or round cookie cutter to cut the dough into circles (you’ll avoid problems with sticking if you oil the lip of the glass first). Use a metal flat-blade spatula or short knife to carefully lift up each circle of dough and place it on the prepared baking sheet.
- Place up to 1 teaspoon of filling in the center of each dough circle and then fold the three sides in toward the middle to form a triangle, leaving a small opening in the center. Pinch the three sides together very tightly.
- Repeat with the remaining dough. Re-roll and cut any dough scraps, making sure to spray under and over the dough before you roll, if needed, to prevent sticking.
- Bake for 9-13 minutes, or until the bottoms are lightly browned but the tops are still light. Remove to wire racks to cool.