No traditional Jewish-Italian hamantashen exists. But don’t worry. One thing I learned early on and I see played out every year in recipe compilations is that these triangle-shaped pastries, like kids in their Purim holiday costumes, can be just about anything. Even deliciously Italian-themed.
Hundreds of years ago, that would be hard to imagine. Hamantashen, which is Yiddish for Haman’s pockets (Haman being the villain whose plot to kill the Jews was foiled), originated in Germany as a blond yeast or cookie dough shaped into an open triangle and filled with poppy seed or prune and plum (lekvar) filling. After the pastries came to America with Eastern European immigrants, it took decades for them to gain popularity beyond Jewish circles. But spread they did and so did variations for both fillings and dough.
As I developed my cookbook, I took this flexibility to heart and created my first original hamantaschen recipe nodding to Italian flavor—a delicate chocolate cream cheese crust filled with a Nutella and cream cheese swirl. It’s my all-time favorite. But this year, somewhat unexpectedly, I revisited Italian flavor and hamantaschen and now have another recipe vying for favorite status.
It all started when I made an impulse buy of a carton of ricotta cookies at my local Italian store. Research, I told myself. So after I completed all the, ahem, research, I was hooked on that gentle vanilla, butter, and cream flavor as well as the nice bite to these dense cookies. I had gone into my experiment thinking of making my own ricotta cookies, but I soon realized the concept of ricotta-laced dough had hamantashen potential.
From my first try, the flavor and rich cakey texture were outstanding. But the dough tended to collapse during baking (the problem that bedevils many hamantashen). I tried several batches to balance the ingredients (less baking powder, adding an egg yolk, and so forth) to give the dough the heft it needed. And then we get to the fun part, where the triangle can do something the traditional drop cookies can’t—hold a filling. And there was no question I wanted the creamiest of them all, Italian mascarpone cheese. Just imagining this made me happy.
And because mascarpone is already slightly sweet, the filling needed no additional sugar, just a good dose of vanilla extract. And a little spice. I chose cinnamon because it’s such a natural complement flavor-wise, is used often in Italian sweets and on top of cappuccino, and it was favored by Romans in the past. I also added it to the pastry dough to give each bite that spicy warmth.
To balance and unify these mild and not-too-sweet ‘tashen, I wanted a glaze. Thinking of that cappuccino and the general Italian love of a good espresso, I created a mocha drizzle by combining bittersweet chocolate chips, confectioners’ sugar, and espresso (you can also use strong coffee). The flavor result is surprisingly mild and nuanced, with just hints of the coffee and chocolate, and combined with the pastry, it even suggests caramel. And it looks pretty on top.
The tricky part of making these hamantashen is the dough. I have to warn you it can be finicky to work with. Adding ricotta creates tenderness in the finished cookie but combined with the butter makes a very delicate raw dough (similar to doughs made with cream cheese). Your refrigerator and freezer are your best friends here. Chill the dough at least a couple of hours before you start rolling, and after you roll it out once, it helps to roll and then refrigerate or freeze the scraps before cutting and shaping them. Dabbing or brushing the beaten egg white around the edge of the hamantaschen before you form the triangle helps the pastry stick together in the oven. So does freezing the pan of pastries for 30 minutes before baking.
Because the hamantashen are moist, they are best enjoyed the day they are baked. If I don’t need the whole batch, I’ll freeze some to bake later. If you do have leftover hamantaschen, simply cover them loosely. If you seal them in an airtight container, they will be become spongy.
I don’t mind a little extra care when I get a big payoff like this—a unique and delicious crust giving way to a creamy layer, both brought together by espresso and chocolate. Italian-themed hamantashen, all dressed up and ready to go.
Did you know Hamantaschen can be luscious? Indeed, when these triangle-shaped delicacies are laced throughout with Italian-inspired flavor, yes, they can. The pastry dough resembles moist and rich vanilla-scented Italian ricotta cookies, and then gives way to a creamy layer of Italian mascarpone blended with cinnamon and vanilla. And it all tastes (and looks) even better with a mocha glaze. Because these pastries are very moist, they are best enjoyed the day they are baked.
- 1/2 cup whole milk ricotta cheese (drained if runny)
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 egg yolk (white reserved for topping)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional as needed
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 8 ounces (1 container) mascarpone cheese
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 egg white (reserved from above) and 1/8 teaspoon salt, lightly beaten together with a fork
- 1 tablespoon bittersweet chocolate chips
- 1 shot (1½ tablespoons) espresso or strong coffee
- 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
- Pinch (1/8 teaspoon or less) of salt
- Tear off two large pieces of plastic wrap and set aside.
- To make the dough, cream the ricotta and butter until smooth. Stir in vanilla, egg yolk, and sugar. Add flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon, and blend to create a soft dough that you can form into a ball. If too sticky to handle, add a little more flour. Divide the dough in half, roll each in a ball, and place each on the separate sheets of plastic wrap. Flatten with your hand to large disks. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for 2 hours or ideally overnight.
- When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line one large baking sheet or two smaller ones with parchment paper.
- In a small bowl, combine the mascarpone, vanilla, and cinnamon until smooth.
- To make the pastries, unwrap one dough disk and roll on a lightly floured surface or between two sheets of wax paper to a smidge less than 1/4-inch thick. Use a 3-inch drinking glass or biscuit cutter to cut rounds. Place 1 heaping teaspoon mascarpone mixture in the middle. Use your little finger or a small brush to apply a thin film of the beaten egg white along the outside 1/4–inch of the circle.
- Fold in 3 edges to the center to form a triangle, leaving the top open. Firmly pinch the 3 points completely closed. Gently press the top of the triangle slightly down toward the filling (but keep the top open). Transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough. (If the dough gets too soft, roll it between two sheets of wax paper and transfer the dough and paper to the freezer for 2-4 minutes before continuing.) Place the pan of shaped hamantashen in the freezer for 30 minutes. Remove and brush the tops and sides of the pastries with the beaten egg white.
- Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until tops and edges are lightly browned. Remove from oven and let the pastries rest on the pan for 8 to 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.
- When completely cool, make the glaze. Place chocolate chips in a small cup or bowl and pour the piping hot espresso or coffee over top. Stir vigorously to melt the chocolate. Immediately pour 2 tablespoons of the espresso mixture over the confectioners’ sugar, stirring vigorously and adding more espresso a drop at a time as needed until the mixture becomes smooth and just liquid enough to drizzle. You will not need all the espresso mixture (it’s great to drink, though!). Drizzle the glaze in a loose pattern over the pastries and let stand until set.
- These are best enjoyed the day they are made. To store, cover loosely (do not put in an airtight container, or they will get soft).
- Unbaked hamantashen can be tightly wrapped and frozen and then baked later. To bake, remove from freezer, brush with beaten egg white, and bake, allowing an extra minute or two.