Purim isn't exactly a well-known Jewish holiday, so for the goyim, we offer a quick primer based on Star Wars:
Esther and Mordecai, cousins, are the heroes, kind of like Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker. Haman is Darth Vader except that he sports a triangular hat rather than a menacing black mask (Jewish moms don't like to scare their kids during story time). Mordecai refuses to bow down to Haman, thus pissing him off, so Haman decides he wants all Jews (read: the Rebel Alliance) killed. Esther and Mordecai prevail.
For unknown reasons, someone thought it would be a good idea to make a cookie shaped like Haman's hat, a cookie that would be eaten during Purim. Thus, these triangular, jam-filled treats are called hamantaschen, though SFoodie still can't figure out the symbolism of eating someone's hat. No one we know ever eats hamantaschen at any time other than Purim, but three bakeries in San Francisco bake them year round: Cinderella Bakery and House of Bagels, both in the Richmond, and Noe Vallery Bakery. With Purim coming up on Sunday, March 20th, we sampled all three, with apricot jam as our choice of filling, to find the city's best.
The hamantaschen at Cinderella Bakery ($1.75) were heavy, literally, with the biggest visible jam imprint. The cookie was dense, sweet, and smacked of almond extract. The jam reminded us of off-brand supermarket jelly, thick and sugary, and tasted nothing like apricots (no zing, in other words).
The ones at House of Bagels ($2.25) are lighter in texture and prettier to look at, with neat pastry folds. The vanilla-tinged cookie crumbled when we took a bite, giving way to a small spread of jam that tasted more like apricot than the jam Cinderella's bakers use, but with a mouth feel like well-chewed gum. It ruined the whole cookie.
The petite hamantaschen from Noe Valley Bakery ($1.60) were deceiving: There seemed to be almost zero filling, but one bite and we knew had our winner. The fruity, tart, generously spread jam with great apricot flavor made us wonder aloud if it was homemade. The crunchy cookie was far less doughy than its competitors and, like House of Bagels', breathed vanilla, though in this case with a far more natural essence.
Just as Star Wars fanatics hiss at Darth Vader, Jewish kids shake their groggers at the very mention of Haman. In that spirit, SFoodie shakes its grogger at the hamantaschen from Cinderella Bakery and House of Bagels ― only Noe Valley Bakery turned out to be worthy of Esther and Mordecai's praise. We'll still be eating them come Passover. Happy Purim everybody, and may the force be with you.
Oh, and back to the question of eating Haman's hat? Well, it could be a whole lot worse:
Cinderella Bakery: 436 Balboa (at Sixth Ave.), 751-9690.
House of Bagels: 5030 Geary (at 15th Ave.), 752-6000.
Noe Valley Bakery: 4073 24th St. (at Castro), 550-1405.