Latke v. Hammantaschen Debate: The Solution is Salty-Sweet Caramel Hammentaschen

Designer Doughnuts
December 22, 2011
The Ugliest Dessert You’ll Ever Love
March 16, 2012
As a pastry chef who must spend her days tasting all things sweet, what I really want at the end of the day are potato chips. Some days, even moments after tasting a particularly delicious new sweet dessert component, I find myself literally running for kids’ snack drawer. So if you ask me for my position in the great latke v. hammentaschen debate, it really is a no-brainer; I will want latkes every time. To bridge the two worlds, this Purim I offer up salted caramel hammentaschen with a black pepper spiked crust. Recipe below.
Last Sunday, my synagogue, Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase, Maryland, convened a formal “Latke versus Hammentaschen Debate” complete with a panel of experts. One of those experts agreed to share his argument:
“All of us are aware of the cool, Zen-like clarity of design of all things Apple versus the prosaic, workaday efficiency and ubiquity of Microsoft’s Windows operating system for PCs.
But what accounts for this great technological divide? What was the inspiration for the elegance and simplicity of design that became the hallmark of Apple products such as the MacBook and the iPhone? And why did Microsoft adopt clunky, virus-prone products that lacked the sleek lines and beauty of Apple?
The true story was mistakenly omitted in Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, but secret sources have shown us notes from a meeting that took place between Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, and Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the co-founders of Apple. Let me quote directly from Isaacson’s notes of his interview with Jobs:
* * *
Jobs: So Woz [Steve Wozniak] and I were taking a lunch break after putting in several hours designing the GUI (graphic user interface) for the Macintosh. I was having a turkey club, and Woz had brought a couple of potato latkes and a plate of hammantashen for dessert. Woz was telling me that the guys at Hewlett Packard always ate their latkes with apple sauce, while the guys at Atari always used sour cream.
“Woz,” I said, “forget about apple sauce and sour cream. Look at the latke.”
Wozniak: “Why?”
“Because it’s beautiful. It’s perfect!”
“I don’t think the latke is perfect, Steve,” Woz told me “It’s pretty greasy.”
“No, you dolt. As usual, you are focusing on the wrong thing. Look at the latke. Look at the lines.”
“But the latke is round, Steve,” Woz said.
“Exactly. Round. Beautiful in its simplicity. No extra switches or buttons.”
“Steve, I don’t think latkes need any switches or buttons,” Woz offered.
“Yes, but look at those hammantashen. Look how angular they are. Pointy. And they need that poppy filling. But latkes don’t need a filling. They are perfect on their own. THAT’S IT! That’s what we need to do with our GUI! We need to make Apple products look like a latke.”
And I started jumping around the room. It had taken me so long, but seeing that latke made everything clear. I saw everything that day – the Mac, and the iPod and the MacBook and iPad. Everything would have the simplicity, the wholeness and beauty of the latke.
Just then, the intercom buzzed and the receptionist announced that Bill Gates had come to visit with us.
“What does Bill Gates want to talk about with us,” Woz asked.
“Isn’t it obvious,” I said. “Gates is coming here to steal our ideas! We can’t let that happen. Quick, hide the latke.”
“What? Hide the latke! Why should I hide the latke? Do you think Gates is going to eat my latke?”
“No, Woz, he’s not going to eat the latke. But that latke represents everything that Apple products will stand for. And Gates cannot get anywhere near that. Just hide the latke and push those hammentashen into the center of the table. Then just follow my lead when Gates gets in here.”
So Gates sits down and, with that big innocent look in his eyes, asks Woz and me what we’re working on.
I know that he knows we are working on the GUI. So I told him that. And he acts all surprised.
“Can I see it,” he asks.
“Sure, Bill, there it is, right there on the table.,” I said, point to the hamantashen.
Well, Gates has no idea what I’m talking about. He’s never seen a hammantashen, right? He lives in, like, Washington state, right? So I said, “Yeah, Bill, that’s it, that’s our design for the GUI.”
“’Wow, that’s the design for the GUI? Can I touch it,’” he says.
At this point, I can see that Woz is about to break out laughing, so I give him a look, and then turn to Gates and say, “Sure, Bill, go ahead.”
So Gates picks up the hammantashen, and turns it over in his hands, and he gets this dreamy look in his eyes, and starts talking to himself. I don’t think he even knew that Woz and I were in the room. He says, “Look at this thing. It’s got different layers, and it has a filling. And it has pointed edges. It’s so . . . complicated. I bet it would get hard and stale after a few days sitting around, and it would crumble and break. So the customer would have to come back and buy new ones. And the next version could have a different filling – maybe cherry or peanut butter. It wouldn’t taste any better than the original, but the customers wouldn’t know that.”
And just like that, as if in a trance, Gates walked out of the office, still holding the hammantashen.”
* * *
And the rest, as they say, is history. It is really no exaggeration that the development of technology over the last 30 years emerged from the basic tension between the latke and the hamatashen. Apple went on to develop products based on the simplicity of the latke, while Microsoft was mired in the complexity of the hammatashen.
As for me, I LOVE latkes, but created this hammantaschen to try to bridge the gap between the salty and sweet worlds. Happy Purim!
Salted Caramel Hamentaschen (Dairy)
makes 4 dozen
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon orange juice
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon black pepper
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting parchment and dough
Caramel Filling
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ teaspoon salt
To make the caramel, place the sugar and water in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook on medium-high heat until sugar melts. After several minutes, the sugar will start to color. Stir the mixture so all the sugar browns. When it is a uniform amber color, turn heat to low, remove saucepan from heat and add the cream. The mixture will bubble up. Add the butter and salt and stir. Return tothe heat and cook for one minute, or until mixture is smooth. Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl and let cool. Chill in the fridge for at least a half hour to thicken the caramel. Store in the fridge for up to fivedays.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line 2 large cookie sheets with parchment. You will bake in batches.
In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, sugar, oil, and orange juice. Add the baking powder, pepper and flour and mix until the dough comes together. I like to use my hands for this because it kneads the dough well. Divide the dough in half.
Take another two pieces of parchment and sprinkle flour on one, place one dough half on top, and then sprinkle a little more flour on top of the dough. Place the second piece of parchment on top of the dough and roll on top of the parchment until the dough is about 1/4-inch thick. Every few rolls, peel back the top parchment and sprinkle a little more flour on the dough.
Use a glass or round cookie cutter about 2 to 3 inches in diameter to cut the dough into circles. Place a a little less than a teaspoon of the filling in the center and then fold in 3 sides to form a triangle, leaving a small opening in the center. Pinch the 3 sides very tightly. Place on the prepared cookie sheets. Repeat with the rest of the dough and re-roll and cut any dough scraps you have. Place the cookies sheets in the freezer for ten minutes; this helps the hammentaschen hold their shape and not open up while baking.
Bake for 12 to 16 minutes, or until the bottoms are lightly browned. Slide the parchment onto racks to cool the cookies. If desired, drizzle any remaining caramel over the cookies. Store covered with plastic or in an airtight container at room temperature for five days or freeze for up to three months.