Purim, that most Mardi Gras of Jewish holidays, starts tomorrow. The two-day festival commemorates the deliverance of the Jews of the ancient Persian Empire from a plot to destroy them. In Israel, people wear costumes and masks, hold raucous parades, drink great quantities of alcohol, and exchange gifts of food and drink. In other words, it’s a lot of fun.
In both Israel and the States, the food most closely associated with the holiday is hamantaschen, the triangular cookie that takes its name from Haman, the royal vizier to the Persian king and the architect of the plot to exterminate the Jews. This makes him possibly the most palatable villain in Old Testament history — certainly more so than the pharaoh, who is remembered only by the dry, barren snap of matzoh.
Hamantaschen are traditionally filled with poppy seeds, nuts, and dried fruits, though as Joan Nathan has pointed out, Israeli bakers have started using more newfangled fillings, like halvah, chocolate-chip cream, and marzipan.
The folks at Russ & Daughters, however, stick to tradition: They offer their hamantaschen in plum and apricot. Priced at $12.98 a pound, they’re on the small and delicate side, nothing like the doughy behemoths that grace the windows of bakeries like Moishe’s. Those certainly have their place, too, but we’re partial to the tender crumb and plentiful sweet-tart filling at Russ. The hamantaschen here are more about the fruit than the cookie, with the latter functioning as a thin envelope for the vibrant filling, making them soft, two-bite delights that yield to the slightest pressure. They’re like a love letter written by the Old Testament, sealed with a sugary kiss, and addressed to appetites both pious and secular.
Russ & Daughters
179 East Houston Street