It was December 1974 when I made my first batch of hamentashen, earning me first place in the AZA Regional Convention Bake Contest, Jewish Desserts category. We went on to win Best Chapter that year and for the next two years. Three-peat for my three-cornered cookies and for Rose AZA! For the next half century, I continued making my award-winning recipe.
That is, until this morning.
Inspired this year by my son’s decision to make hamentashen and the pictures of him and his girlfriend baking, I fired up the oven to 350°.
The first indication that this year might be different from all other years was my inability to find Solo-brand pie filling. Perhaps pandemic baking had crippled the supply chain for canned fruits. But as is so often the case, this bump in the road went under-appreciated.
Next, I became distracted and lost count of how much flour I had put in. Brimming with arguably legitimate self confidence, I decided I would know the correct ingredient ratios when I felt the dough consistency. Still feeling invincible, albeit conscious of the tendrils of doubt beginning to form in the recesses of my frontal cortex, I completed my batch of golden delight — quartered, wrapped and stored it in the fridge for its obligatory two hours of hibernation.
I believed then as I do now, still clinging to remnants of bravado and minimizing the rising tide of nascent humility, that the proportions were close enough.
Once I began rolling out the dough, it became clear that 2022 was going to be a different year for hamentashen. Not because of the missing cans of Solo — and not the uncertainty of ratios, because the hubris from being on top for so long makes a person blind to telltale signs that are obvious to everyone else. Instead, it was the feel of the dough as I rolled it to its destined, if not desired thickness. It had heretofore never, in my memory, exhibited “bounce.” That elasticity you encounter with pizza dough, indicating that a delicious pie is imminent. Cookie dough does not, should not be like when the moon hits your eye, right? More doubt.
Buoyed by a playlist of indie and alt rock encouraging me to kick out the jams and keep going, I rolled and cut my three-inch circles, the central architecture of this historic pastry, designed to be a reminder of our Fiddler-on-the-Roof fragility and historical lesson that the Hamans of the world are ever present and plotting for our demise.
Next a dollop of pie filling that wasn’t pie filling. “Pie filler” I made by taking a hand blender to the whole fruit pie filling I bought instead of Solo-brand pie filling. Then fold up my three-cornered “hats.” Brushed with egg and into the oven went the springy dough with their artisanal, improvisational sweet centers.
Timer on and then my world collapsed. The corners — the corners separated! I had seen this happen to hamantaschen countless times, but never to my hamantaschen. Not to The King! Now my hamantaschen looked like wayward sugar cookies, flat with fruit sprawling out from the center.
Crashing. No hope for salvation. I’m not going to dump the batch. Inconceivable. I’m certain, adding something to the dough at this stage is futile, so I decide to go British. Keep calm and carry on.
Failure. The only word I can muster. Why the bravado? Where was the haimish humility of my ancestors? I was left to ponder my thoughts.
A changing of the guard. The King is dead. My children, now all accomplished young adults, will rise. Was I a good role model? A good father? Did I ever do anything right?
After two very long minutes of self-flagellation, I concluded my pity party and refocused on what went wrong.
Ho ho! There it was. Gluten! Gluten makes dough doughy and bouncy and is great for bread and pizza. I was using Bread flour.
I was using bread flour? Could that singular oversight be the entirety of the problem? Of course it could!
And how thankful I didn’t throw out the 3” water glass I had been using for dozens of years. The last of its kind left from the set we got as newlyweds. I had thought after all this time, that somehow the glass edge would no longer cut — because today it was no longer cutting. But it wasn’t the glass. It wasn’t cutting because of the gluten. GLUTEN!
It would be dangerous, a missed opportunity to not reflect on the moment and choose growth.
I have been blessed. I have a lovely wife who chooses every day to continue to love me and stay by my side. I have three great kids who I adore. I am the husband and father I have been. Not perfect — so, so far from perfect. And aware that life is dynamic, thermodynamic even. I can be better. I want to be better.
Hamentashen baking is a metaphor for my life. I am not The King. I have to begin each day wanting to try a little harder, to be a little better.
But I will not forget I took a baby step toward growth, toward humility as a means of recognizing humanity. I will continue my endeavor to be ever better. To always remember I don’t know everything and I’m not the smartest guy in the room.
Next year on Purim, I will triangulate with patience and care.
Next year on Purim, I will get Solo rather than go solo.
Next year on Purim, I will use All-Purpose flour.
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