While much of the city is gearing up to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this weekend, tomorrow also marks the beginning of Purim, a Jewish holiday of charity and feasting. And you must, of course, eat hamantaschen, the three-corner pastries most traditionally stuffed with poppyseeds, to celebrate Queen Esther and Mordechai, who foiled Persian Grand Vizier Haman’s plan to slaughter the Jews.
Breads Bakery (18 East 16th Street, 212-633-2253) chef Uri Scheft turns out thousands of these treats each year, applying lessons learned in both Israel and Europe to his version. “I learned pastry in Denmark, and there is nothing like this in Europe,” he explains. “I approach them as little tarts. When I started to make them 15 years ago in Israel, I’d see them with a heavy, thick layer of dough. But if you make them like tarts, you get a very thin layer of dough, and more filling than dough.” He also incorporated almond flour into the dough, giving them a bit more depth.
He imported those treats here to New York, where he’s expanded his flavor line-up beyond the traditional poppyseed — made at Breads with carefully selected seeds ground in a special grinder just for them — and he now sells hamantaschen filled with pastry cream and chocolate chips, dates, apples, and chocolate.
Still, 30 to 40 percent of the hamantaschen that Scheft sells are poppyseed, but one of his next most popular flavors is not traditional at all: the marzipan. That cookie looks a little different from the others because it’s actually Danish. “You see the hat of Napoleon pastry in every bakery in Denmark,” he explains. “I saw the similarities and said let’s do that. The origin is very different.” That version, for the record, is our favorite — the pastry shell encapsulates a chewy almond-imbued center.
This is the second year Breads is offering hamantaschen, and Scheft expects sales to spike today and into the weekend. While the bakery makes treats to order based on demand, it can plan better with a little heads up — so if you’re pondering picking up a couple dozen, give the place a call.