I’ve always loved hamantaschen, the triangular cookies named after the villain of the Purim story (more about that here). But the traditional white dough can taste plain and almost pasty, even if it surrounds a pocket of sweet filling in a playful shape. Also, the process of making them has a reputation for being tricky, whether they open and spill in the oven, or crack when being filled and folded.
So I’ve added new twists to hamantaschen over the years, and this time I decided to incorporate toasty browned butter (which a friend of mine rightfully calls “a total kitchen game changer”). By pre-cooking the butter until it’s golden brown and fragrant, the cookie dough is imbued with a rich, warm depth and a hint of nuttiness. And here, the butter’s charred bits are kept intact (without straining), which adds a faint whisper of complementary smoke. Finally, I paired it with molassesy brown sugar instead of white, and created a soft and tender roll-and-cut dough.
Traditional fillings are poppy seed, prune, and apricot — all of which are delightful — but for this recipe I chose raspberry preserves, since its tartness balances nicely with all that buttery warmth. (Really, you can choose whatever jammy filing you wish, minding the two tips I share below.)
After a pre-oven stint in the freezer to help them hold their shape, the cookies’ edges can be swept with a tad of leftover butter then dipped lightly in salty sugar. This creates delicately crusted corners whose satisfying seasoning really highlights the butter within. Lastly, baking the hamantaschen up high in the oven ensures a toasted texture from top to bottom, all surrounding the soft, fruity center they’re known for.
Purim is a truly lovely occasion for these cookies, but I’ll be making them all year long.
Brown Butter Hamantaschen
Makes about 30 cookies
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces/one stick) unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup (5.3 ounces/150 grams) dark brown sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups (10 ounces/286 grams) all purpose flour, plus more for rolling and cutting
- 1.25 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 2 tablespoons half & half (or cream, or whole milk)
- 1/2 cup raspberry preserves or jam*
For the optional salty-sugar crust:
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- leftover brown butter (see recipe)
*Use a thick (not runny) jam or preserves; I prefer raspberry. Try to choose one that does not contain high fructose corn syrup; its concentrated sugar elevates the heat and can cause filling to bubble up and leak from the cookies.
In a small saucepan, place the butter over medium heat until melted. Allow butter to cook and bubble, staying nearby. Using a heatproof spoon or whisk, stir regularly and scrape bottom of pan to prevent burning. Beware of hot butter spatters. Watch closely, letting butter become golden brown in color with a nutty fragrance.
Remove from heat as soon as this point is reached; it can burn quickly. Let browned butter cool to at least room temperature, ideally enough that it has thickened some — not refrigerated and waxy, but ideally not liquid either. This will take about hour in cool kitchen, or can be done a day or two ahead.
(If you’re short on time and need to hasten the butter cooling process, transfer the butter to a cool heatproof bowl instead of leaving it in the warm pan. It’s not the end of the world if you use it in liquid form for the dough — as long as it’s no longer warm — but your dough will be softer and might feel floppy or tear easily, requiring a bit of fridge time before assembling the cookies.)
Stir the cooled butter to ensure any brown speckles are dispersed evenly. Measure out 1/3 cup of it, and place in a mixing bowl with the brown sugar. (Reserve the smidgen of remaining brown butter for the optional sugar crust, or for your own use; it’s divine on so many foods, sweet or savory.)
Beat butter and sugar on high until smooth and becoming pale. Add egg and vanilla; continue beating until texture is even and smooth, scraping sides of bowl with spatula if needed.
Sift flour, baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt over the bowl. Mix until a crumbly dough is beginning to form. Add half & half, mixing until dough wants to stick together. Use hands to form dough into a ball; cover and set nearby.
Dough will be rather soft, which I find nice for the folding process — it tends to bend easily and not crack. Keep in mind that the floured equipment will firm up the dough some. If you find it too soft to work with, try refrigerating for 10-15 minutes, then knead gently with hands. (You can also wrap dough and refrigerate up to two days; be sure to bring it back to room temperature before rolling and cutting.)
Lightly flour a flat workspace and rolling pin. Start with about a quarter of the dough; leave the rest covered to prevent drying. Roll it flat to a thickness of 1/4 to 1/6 inch (about 5 mm). Using a floured 2.5 inch (6.5 cm) round cookie cutter, cut rolled dough into circles.
Add a dollop (a little over a 1/2 teaspoon) of jam in the center of each circle. Gently fold up edges of edges of each circle to create a triangle, closing edges very firmly. There tend to be two main methods for this process: first, what I call the fold method, which I used for most of the cookies pictured here. It offers three clear steps, and tends to be slightly more secure in terms of the cookie staying shut. Second, there’s what I call the pinch method, which is quick and simple, and can result in a cleaner looking cookie, but can be slightly less reliable in terms of staying shut.
For either method, work one cookie at a time, and use a floured flat spatula to transfer each filled cookie to a parchment-lined cookie sheet. (If a cookie sheet won’t fit in your freezer, use a parchment-lined plate.) Repeat, re-flouring your equipment along the way. Place filled cookies in freezer for at least 30 minutes; this will both firm them up for easier handling and will ensure they hold their shape while baking. If not baking the same day, cover before freezing, and freeze up to two weeks.
When ready to bake, position an oven rack at the highest level, and preheat oven to 375 F. If desired, make the salty sugar crust while oven preheats: In a small bowl, whisk granulated sugar with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Melt the remaining brown butter. Working with one chilled cookie at a time, use your finger or a pastry brush to lightly apply a bit of butter along cookie’s outer edges, then dip edges in salty sugar.
Arrange chilled cookies on parchment-lined baking sheet at least an inch and a half apart from one another. Bake on top oven rack 10-12 minutes, or until both their top and bottom edges are golden brown. Remove from oven, and let cookies cool completely before eating (the filling stays quite hot!). Cover cooled cookies and eat within two or three days.
Maybe next time… I’ve enjoyed orange marmalade in these cookies; like raspberry, it offers a pleasantly contrasting tartness that plays well with the warm flavors, but it can be slightly runnier, so use it chilled. In addition — despite the fact that baking ingredients are almost always called for at room temperature — I tend to use both my egg and sugar chilled for this recipe (I actually store all my sugar in the fridge, thanks to ants.) It’s not necessary to chill yours, but it doesn’t hurt to use an egg straight from the fridge, for instance, since the dough is so soft. Finally, beware of playing with different flours. In my recipe testing, I first experimented with a portion of whole wheat flour which changed the dough’s texture enough that the cookies were quite frustrating to assemble.
Check out my videos on the fold and pinch methods below!