Making hamantaschen cookies: An Amherst family keeps a Jewish holiday tradition alive (w/video)

  • Moussia, left, and Yosef work on their batches of hamantaschen cookies. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Moussia pinches a cookie into its triangular shape. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ariel Kravitsky, who was teaching her children to make the recipe her mother used, drizzles the cookies, fresh out of the oven, with chocolate. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Rabbi Shmuel Kravitsky, holding Devorah, 10 months, watches as his children Zelda, 4, Moussia, 8, and Yosef, 7, make hamantaschen cookies at their home in Amherst, Feb. 21. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A hamantaschen cookie that needs to be pinched rests beside others that are ready for the oven at the home of Rabbi Shmuel Kravitsky, Feb. 21. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ariel Kravitsky shows Zelda the technique for adding chocolate filling. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • The Kravitsky family of Amherst spent a recent evening making traditional hamantaschen cookies for Purim. Above left, Zelda folds the dough around one of her creations. Yosef, right, adds chocolate filling to one of his while Moussia works on her batch. Rabbi Shmuel Kravitsky, holding Devorah, observes the proceedings. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Zelda Kravitsky, 4, makes hamantaschen cookies at home in Amherst, Feb. 21. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Family friend Zalmen Korf, left, and Rabbi Shmuel Kravitsky make cookies, too. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Moussia Kravitsky, 8, pinches a hamantaschen cookie after adding the filling. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Korf puts the finishing touches on one of his cookies. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/3/2017 2:33:15 PM

Yosef Kravitsky, 7, kneels on a chair at the kitchen island in his Amherst home, concentrating as he rolls out cookie dough. 

“Is this too thin, momma?” he asks.

“That looks perfect,” says his mother, Ariel Kravitsky.

Yosef and his sisters, Zelda, 4, and Moussia, 8, are learning how to make hamantaschen cookies, which are a traditional treat baked for the Jewish holiday, Purim, which falls on March 11 this year. The holiday celebrates the salvation of the Jewish people from a genocidal plot by Haman, the adviser to the king of ancient Persia. 

Yosef scoops chocolate sauce — a dairy-free concoction called Hashachar Ha'ole — out of a nearby bowl, grinning widely as he raises the spoon above his head and drips the contents over the circle of dough.

Thick sauce drips off of the spoon, almost in slow motion.

“If you put too much in, it is going to burst open in the oven, only a teaspoon total,” says his mother.

He folds three sides of the dough together around the chocolate, forming the palm-sized cookie into a triangle, pinching and smoothing out the corners.

The hamantaschen are said to resemble the evil Haman’s hat.

“They wanted to kill us and we made a cookie out of the whole thing,” says the children’s father, Rabbi Shmuel Kravitsky, who is cradling 10-month-old Devorah as Ariel, walks around the table, giving instructions.

The Kravitsky’s home on Amity Street also serves as the Jewish community center, Chabad Nation, where Shmuel Kravitsky serves as rabbi. Every year the family makes hamantaschen cookies before the holiday. Sometimes students from the nearby colleges join them. Some years, they will bake these cookies four or five times before the holiday. Tonight a few friends are helping out.  

“This is not one of those things that you have to be religious to do, it just tastes good,” says Shmuel Kravitsky.

Observant Jewish families might also celebrate the holiday by reading and reanacting the story of Purim in which the king’s wife, Esther, convinces him not to slaughter the Jews. Often children at Jewish schools dress up as characters from the story, called the Megillah, while adults might have a feast with wine to celebrate. 

Hamantaschen are the traditional Purim treat made with poppy seeds and sweet fillings, but people can get as creative as they like. 

“It is really anything goes,” says Ariel.

The children flatten out another round of dough from slabs that had been chilled in the refrigerator. Moussia sits near her father steadily patting the dough with the palm of her hand.

“Guys, don’t overwork the dough. Do it very lightly,” Ariel tells them. “Don’t touch it with your hands, only the rolling pin.”

This is a technique that she learned from her mother when she was growing up in Connecticut.

It is a recipe that came from her mother’s cookbook, “Jewish Holiday Style,” which sits on the counter, the page flipped to pictures of the cookies.

“My mother is like the Jewish Martha Stewart,” Ariel says, watching over her children as they work. 

Using glass cups as cookie cutters, the children make perfect circles. They work quickly to get the cookies, still cold, in the oven. This way, they hold together like a flaky, buttery pastry, Ariel says.

Moussia fills one of her cookie dough circles with SaraBeth’s Strawberry Jam.

Then, she places it on a tray of others headed into the oven.

Some of the cookies are filled with creamy peanut butter others with a marshmallow fluff.

“We will check on them in a few minutes,” Ariel says.

The smell of warm chocolate fills the room.

It takes just a few minutes to bake them, and when the cookies are finally pulled out of the oven, they all are drizzled with chocolate sauce and dusted with a bit of powdered sugar.

Those filled with jam are bursting at the seams with piping hot bits of strawberry but the most decadent of all are the chocolate-filled ones.

The group bakes about two dozen cookies, and as they wrap up, the counter top is scattered with stray bits of dough. The rabbi’s blue sweater is dusted with flour and most of the children have at least a little bit of powdered sugar on their faces. 

For a moment the room goes quiet. Everyone is happily chewing.

Lisa Spear can be reached at


The following recipe is  adapted from the Jewish Holiday Style cookbook by Rita Milos Brownstein.


Chocolate Hamantaschen

Makes 2 ½ dozen cookies

 2 sticks of unsalted butter

¾  cup of granulated sugar

2 egg yolks

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2¼ cups of flour

½ teaspoon of salt

½ teaspoon baking powder

⅓ cup of heavy cream

8 ounces chopped semisweet chocolate or a jar of chocolate Hashachar Ha'ole.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth.

Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder. Slowly add it to the butter mixture and mix until combined. Shape the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

In a small saucepan, heat the cream until boiling. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate. Keep stirring until smooth. Refrigerate until stiff. (If using Hashachar Ha'ole chocolate spread, skip this step. It can be used straight from the jar.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll dough to 1/8-inch thickness and cut into 3-inch circles. Place 1 teaspoon of chocolate filling in the center of each circle. Brush edges with water and bring dough together on three sides to form a triangle. Place each on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.

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