Ricotta-Mascarpone Hamantashen with Mocha Glaze

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.



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