As Purim approaches, it’s time to pass judgment on one of the most pressing issues of the day: where to find good hamantashen.
Tablet Magazine investigated. A meticulous and hungry bunch, we ordered hamantashen from bakeries in six cities across five states, driven by recommendations of what different people claimed were the best hamantasheries in the country. The array of flavors and sizes that arrived boggled the mind: poppy, prune, apricot, cherry, and chocolate; crispy and chewy; compact and supersized. Dedicated to the cause, we tasted them all.
Our tasters graded each cookie on a scale of 1 to 5, higher being better, in five categories: appearance, filling-to-dough ratio, overall taste, texture and consistency, and how badly we wanted another. The judges’ scores were compiled, the individual scores were averaged, and we found a winner.
1. Russ & Daughters, New York. Family-owned and almost a century old, this Lower East Side institution is best known for its smoked fish. But it also sells all sorts of traditional Jewish sweets—rugelach and babka and macaroons and, of course hamantashen. We picked up a sampling—conveniently, it’s located right down the block from our office—and were thrilled with these small, soft wonders. A “sublime dream cookie,” one of our judges said. Score: 3.9
2. Silver Moon Bakery, New York. Celebrating its 10th year on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, this shrine to butter specializes in assorted continental baked goods. When they go traditional, however—as they do for nearly every major holiday of the year—Silver Moon is tough to beat. Their large and crispy cookies were elegantly shaped, with the dot of filling visible from the outside making promises the generously stuffed interior more than fulfilled. Our judges found themselves yearning for a cup of tea in which to dunk these “fantastic” cookies. Score: 3.8
3. Ricki’s Cookie Corner, Memphis. Ricki Krupp, owner of this two-decade-old bakery, believes the secret to perfect hamantashen lies in the dough. Her hamantashen are tiny works of art, each hand-pinched in a way that perfectly resembles the three-cornered hat it is meant to evoke. The dough is also mixed with vanilla and laced with cinnamon, which makes for a sweet and enticing bite. While our judges were impressed by the “nicely pinched” shape, they were less enthusiastic about the filling, which they said recalled the horrors of Hostess’s baked goods. But, still, Ricki produces a delicious cookie. Score: 3.2
4. Pratzel’s Bakery, St. Louis. This European-style bakery opened its doors in 1913, and it keeps its baked goods pretty traditional. These hamantashen most resembled the home-baked kind, which charmed some of our judges and repulsed others, and the apple-pie filling flavor was a nice, creative touch. Still, all those around the tasting table agreed that “the strange smell” and the “undercooked texture” made Pratzel’s cookie less than perfect. “If these are Haman’s ears,” quipped one judge, “I’d like to see his nose.” Score: 2.3
5. Eilat Café and Bakery, Los Angeles. A favorite late-night dessert spot in North Hollywood, Eilat, which opened in 1983, is known for its challah and other staples of Jewish baking. Our judges, however, found the hamantashen to represent all that’s lamentable about traditional pastry. “This cookie,” said one judge, “reminded me of something I may find at my shul’s Kiddush.” Another compared them to the handiwork of a talentless relative. The judges disliked nearly everything about this minuscule, hard, and largely flavorless cookie. “This,” one judge harshly mused, “is the bakery I would skip.” Score: 2.2
6. Kupel’s Bakery, Brookline, Massachusetts. Since it opened in 1978, Kupel’s has been known for hand-rolling the best bagels in Boston. Our judges, however, liked little about Kupel’s hamantashen, wondering whether anyone at Kupel’s has “even been to a Jewish home.” The “cherry cough drop” filling and “formless and flavorless” dough suggested not. Score: 1.7