Halawet El-Jibn (Sweet Cheese Rolls)

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Making Lebanese desserts may seem impossible – especially if you live in an Arab country where the best sweets are readily available. But it’s not as hard as you think, and all the ingredients used for this Halawet El-Jibn recipe are not hard to find.

I bet you’ll be surprised to know how easy it is to recreate this fabulous dessert at home: it’s simply a mixture of mozzarella cheese and fine semolina melted together to form a smooth dough that’s rolled out and filled with fresh kashta cheese or this whipped ricotta cheese mixture. It is then served cold with ground pistachios, rose petal jam, and simple syrup.

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The traditional process of making this dessert is very delicate and requires a precise ratio of ingredients that are cooked using specific utensils. It is said that some of the best Halawet El-Jebn can be found in the city of Tripoli in Lebanon, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t make it from scratch if you’re craving Arabic sweets or feeling adventurous in the kitchen!

Ingredients and Directions: Makes about 12 rolls

Simple Syrup:
1 cup water
1 ½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¼ cup rose water
¼ cup orange blossom water

• Place the water, sugar, and lemon juice in a saucepan over a low heat, and stir until the sugar dissolves.
• Turn off the heat and stir in the rose water and orange blossom water.
• Let cool to room temperature.

Cheese Filling:
250g fresh kashta cheese
(or halve this whipped ricotta cheese mixture)

Cheese Dough:
420g grated mozzarella cheese
160g fine semolina
175ml water
2 tbsp orange blossom water
2 tbsp rose water

• Generously coat a 30 cm x 40 cm (12″x15″) baking sheet with simple syrup.
• In a non-stick pan or saucepan, heat the fine semolina for 3-4 minutes until fragrant and evenly heated.
• Stir in the mozzarella cheese until just combined.
• Immediately add water, orange blossom, and rose water to the pan.
• Keep stirring quickly (to prevent the cheese from burning) until a smooth and elastic dough is formed.
• Take the pan off the heat and turn the dough onto the baking sheet.
• Using a small rolling pin or the back of a wooden spoon coated with syrup, roll out the dough to cover the whole baking sheet.
• Refrigerate for 15 minutes then cut the dough into 11 cm x 13 cm (4″x5″) rectangles.

Assembly:
• Take a rectangular cutout, place 2 tablespoons of kashta (cheese filling) on the short side. Slightly fold the long sides towards the center, then roll the cheese dough and place seam side down on a plate.
• To serve, sprinkle each piece with ground pistachios, rose petal jam, and a drizzle of syrup.

Apple Cranberry Pie

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I feel like the last to post an apple cranberry pie recipe. This should’ve been posted before Thanksgiving, but I’ve been too busy whipping up pies for family dinners (yes – there were several) and that allowed me to experiment with creative decorative pie crusts: crimped edges, braided edges, cut out shapes, honeycomb pattern, lattice tops. The variations are so pretty and endless!

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I couldn’t find a cookie cutter with this specific leaf shape so it was time to improvise. Using a paring knife, I “cut-out” same sized leaves and drew in veins. It was a bit challenging to work with the dough for the first time because the buttery crust gets warm and melts fast while working – not fun. But let me assure you, it gets easier the second and third time around when you get comfortable with pie baking. You also learn (or come up with!) a few tricks that make decorative pie crusts a breeze to work with. For example, I always keep a chilled ceramic plate by my side to place the cut outs on, or pop the dough in the freezer for a few minutes in case it gets hard to work with.

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Just like everything else in life, the key to success in any field is a matter of practice, practice, practice! So if you want to become a better baker then go to your kitchen, put on that apron, and turn your oven on. The hardest part is always taking that first step, but the results are always priceless.

Recipe adapted from Williams-Sonoma

Dough Recipe (Pâte Brisée): Yields 2 single 9″ (23 cm) pie crusts – Serves 10 people.

2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar (optional)
1 cup (2 sticks, 226 grams) unsalted butter cut into small cubes and chilled
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

Using a Pastry cutter:
1. Cut butter into cubes and place in the freezer to chill.
2. Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl.
3. Add the cold cubed butter and, using a pastry cutter, blend the butter into the flour until
pea­-size crumbles form.
4. Gradually add 1/4 cup of ice water and mix together the dough with your hands until it holds together when squeezed. Add more ice water by the tablespoon if needed.
5. Form dough into 2 disks, wrap individually in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight before using. Dough can be stored up to 1 month in the freezer.

Using a Food Processor:
1. Pulse the flour, sugar, and salt a few times to combine.
2. Add the cold cubed butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand, and pieces of butter are still visible.
3. Slowly add 1/4 cup water while pulsing until the dough holds together when squeezed. If needed, add more ice water by the tablespoon until the dough reaches this consistency. Do not over-process!
4. Form dough into 2 disks, wrap individually in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight before using. Dough can be stored up to 1 month in the freezer.

Apple-Cranberry filling:

3 lb. (1.4 kg) Braeburn and honey crisp apples, peeled, cored and
cut into thin slices (¼” or 0.5 cm)
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
¼ tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
10 oz. (285 g) fresh cranberries
¼ cup water

1 egg white, beaten with 1 tsp. water
2 tsp. granulated sugar

Directions:
1. In a 5 Liter Dutch oven, toss together the sliced apples, light brown sugar, ¼ cup of the granulated sugar, spices, salt and cornstarch until the apples are evenly coated. Set over medium heat, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are just tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and vanilla extract. Let cool for 45 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, mix the cranberries with the remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar and water. Set over medium-high heat and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries have broken down slightly and the liquid has thickened to the consistency of jam. Let cool for 45 minutes.

3. Add the cranberry mixture to the apple mixture and stir to combine.

4. While both mixtures are cooling, prepare the pie shell. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out half of the dough into a 12″(30 cm) round about 1/8″ (0.3 cm) thick. Fold the dough in half and then into quarters and transfer it to a 9-inch deep-dish pie dish. Unfold and gently press the dough into the bottom and sides of the dish. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. On a large sheet of lightly floured parchment paper, roll out the remaining dough disk into a 12-inch round or use a cookie cutter to create a decorative crust. Refrigerate the dough round/cutouts for 30 minutes.

5. Position a rack in the lower third of an oven, place a baking sheet on the rack and pre-heat the oven to 400°F.

6. Transfer the apple-cranberry filling to the pie shell and gently place the dough round over the pie and press the top and bottom crusts together to seal with crimped edges. Cut in a few slits in the center of the pie for the steam to release. Alternatively, cover the pie with dough cutouts.

7. Brush the entire top crust with the egg wash and sprinkle with the granulated sugar and place the pie dish on the preheated baking sheet.

8. Bake until the crust is crisp and golden brown for 1 hour, covering the edges with aluminum foil if they become darker than the center.

9. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool for at least 2 hours before serving.

Butternut Squash Scones with Dates and Walnuts

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Let’s talk about scones shall we?

I’m no expert at scones, but I learned a few tips and tricks that will help you make great scones every time. And since I go completely crazy over butternut butternut squash every fall, I decided to post a recipe that combines a few of my favorite things. So here it is a light and flaky scone recipe with a subtle hint of butternut squash, walnuts, and sweets dates.

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The first thing to keep in mind when making these is to handle the dough gently and as little as possible. Start off by sifting the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt twice. Yup, twice. Why do you ask? Sifting helps in breaking up existing clumps which will produce lovely light pastries. It also blends the dry ingredients which gives more consistency and therefore better results.

Then proceed in grating the frozen butter and mixing it with your fingers until it resemble crumbs. When adding in the chilled wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, you don’t want to mix it more than it all just coming together or the scones will turn out chewy. As soon as the dough comes together, tip it onto a floured surface and form it into a thick round circle, and slice it into eight wedges. If you prefer small scones (like the ones pictured) then continue reading the directions below. Now, the dough may be sticky and that’s totally okay. If it is too sticky, I found that putting the dough in the freezer for a few minutes makes it easier to handle.

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It is very important to keep the whole mixture cold all the time because you don’t want the butter to melt. These cold bits of butter will create pockets of air when they’re in the oven, therefore making the scones airy, light, and flaky. If you have some extra time, chill the sliced wedges for 20 minutes before placing them in the oven: this will help in making the scones flakier and rising higher.

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Serve the scones as soon as they’re out of the oven with some jam, butter, or cheese!

Ingredients: Makes about 24 mini scones

1 large egg, cold
1/2 cup butternut squash or pumpkin puree*, chilled
3 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt, chilled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
310g (2+1/3 cups) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
55g (1/4 cup) packed brown sugar
113g (1/2 cup, 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, frozen
175g (1 cup) chopped dates, tossed in flour (to avoid pieces to stick together)
100g (1 cup) chopped walnuts

*To make butternut squash puree, simply cut a squash in half, discard the seeds, and bake in a 400°F (200°C) preheated oven until tender (about 45-60 minutes). Scoop the softened squash in a blender and puree until smooth.

Directions:

1. In a small bowl combine egg, pumpkin, yogurt, and vanilla extract and mix well and keep refrigerated.
2. Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C)
3. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices twice. Mix in the sugar.
4. Using the largest holes on a box grater, grate the frozen butter into flour mixture and mix with your fingers until it resembles coarse meal.
5. Stir the chilled wet ingredients into flour mixture. Using your hands, mix all the ingredients together until just combined then turn out onto a floured surface.

For regular sized scones:
Using the palm of your hand, shape the dough into a 7″ (18 cm) circle, 1″ (2.5 cm) thick, and cut into eight equal wedges. Then transfer each wedge to a lined baking sheet spacing them apart and brush with cream or egg wash (a mix of 1 tablespoon of water or milk with a whole egg). Bake for 20-25 minutes or until just golden then cool. Serve immediately.

For mini scones:
Pat the dough with the back of your hand and shape into a large rectangle, about 10″ (25cm) long, 7″ (18cm) wide, and 1″(2.5cm) thick. Straighten the sides with a dough scraper. Cut the rectangle into 3 long rectangles, and then each into small triangles using diagonal cuts. Place them on a baking sheet 1/4 inch (1cm) apart. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until just golden then cool. Serve immediately.

Apple Rum Raisin Walnut Loaf

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Freshly ground cinnamon, apple cider, dried fruits, roasted nuts, spiced rum. That’s the lovely smell of Fall and damn it is GOOD.

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I’m kicking off fall baking season with the classic Apple Rum Raisin Walnut Loaf. It is one of my favorite cakes, and seriously the reason why I love fall. It is an unbelievably moist cake swirled with cinnamon coated apples, crunchy walnuts, and bursts of rum soaked raisins. In other words, pure happiness.

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Now that the weather is cooling down and the colors of the leaves are changing, the best thing for you to do is to bake this loaf and fill your apartment with a cozy autumnal smell. Then cuddle up on the couch and enjoy a hearty piece of cake while sipping some tea or coffee. Nothing gets me more excited than baked good– I hope you do too!

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On a side note, you can follow me on Facebook and Instagram for the latest updates (don’t forget to let me know if you have any recipe requests!).

Ingredients:

100g (2/3 cup) dried raisins
75ml (1/4 cup) Rum or Orange Liqueur300g (2 ¼ cup) all purpose flour, sifted2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1½ teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
150ml (1/2 cup+2 tablespoons) walnut oil or vegetable oil
170g (3/4 cup) caster sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
400g (about 3 medium) apples, peeled and cut into small cubes
Zest of 1 lemon
100g (1 cup) chopped walnuts

Directions:

1. Bring to a boil the dried raisins and rum in a small saucepan, remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
2. Preheat the oven to 340°F (170°C).
3. Grease and line a 18×9 cm (3.5″ x 7.5″) loaf cake pan.
4. In a medium bowl, sift the flour, cinnamon, bicarbonate of soda, and baking powder and set aside.
5. In a large bowl beat together the oil and the sugar with a hand mixer. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well after each addition.
6. Add the sifted ingredients and beat just until incorporated. Fold in the raisins, apples, lemon zest, and walnuts with a spatula.
7. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and level the top with a spatula.
8. Bake for 90 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
9. Let cool for 15 minutes then turn onto a wire rack.

Blueberry Oat Muffins

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While Autumn’s here and the weather is getting colder, I couldn’t help but reach for the last bag of organic blueberries from the freezer to bake an end of summer treat. I wasn’t planning on posting a blueberry muffin recipe on the blog because I never found one that’s good enough to share with you. Whenever I bake with blueberries I end up with muffins that are either too moist or too dry. However these babies… these are exceptional. I was surprised with how much I enjoyed them.

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I purchased the One Girl Cookies book on a whim last week while visiting one my favorite bookstores in Soho. The charming photography and collection of recipes caught my attention although I was concerned that no weight measurements are given in any of the recipes. Ever since I started using a scale to measure ingredients I noticed better results in the kitchen and never looked back to using cups. Eventually, I got over my skepticism and bought the book anyway. Let’s just say that these muffins did not disappoint!

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Nearly every blog claims that their blueberry muffins are the best or the tastiest but when it comes down to it, the idea of a perfect muffin is relative to each person’s taste and this recipe comes exceptionally close to mine. They’re crispy around the edges, yet fluffy and soft in the center dotted with juicy blueberries. I did a few minor changes to the ingredients list, like adding more blueberries and lemon zest, using low-fat sour cream, and omitting the crumb topping to make them slightly healthier. They’re great for breakfast with a spoonful of jam or simply left plain!

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Recipe adapted from One Girl Cookies – Makes 16 regular sized muffins

Ingredients:
2/3 rolled oats
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp table salt
6 tablespoons (¾ stick, 85 grams) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup low-fat sour cream
¼ cup honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon zest
2 ¼ cups frozen blueberries

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (177ºC). Line muffin pan with 16 paper liners.
2. Process the oats in a food processor until they are powdery. In a medium bowl, whisk together the ground oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
3. In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using a hand mixer), beat together the softened butter and granulated sugar on medium speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
4. Add the eggs one at a time, and mix for 1 minute.
5. Add the low-fat sour cream, honey, vanilla, and lemon zest then mix for 30 seconds.
6. With the mixer running on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture and mix for 10 seconds.
7. Take the bowl off the mixer and fold in the blueberries with a rubber spatula.
8. Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups, filling them to the rim. Sprinkle with rolled oats.
9. Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, for 35 minutes or until the top of a muffin is golden and springs back when lightly pressed.
10. Let the muffins cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Double Chocolate Almond Biscotti

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Traditional biscotti never appealed to me. I always found them to be plain, way too crunchy, and sometimes tasteless. It wasn’t until recently that I completely changed my mind when I had an anise biscotti at a local neighborhood bakery. Their version of the cookie is crunchy from the outside yet chewy from the inside with a perfect balance of sugar and liquorice flavor. It was biscotti love.

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I sort of became obsessed with these anise flavored cookies, and was dreaming about them everytime I grab a cup of almond milk latte from that bakery. Then it hit me – I should be able to bake delicious biscottis from scratch that are not dry and rock hard! So I looked up a few recipes, played around with the ingredients, varied the baking time, and basically ended up with these incredible double chocolate almond biscotti:

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Not bad, huh?

Here’s the thing about biscotti that you must know before attempting to try this. The dough is baked twice to ensure a crispy yet chewy texture: once in a long log form and then in sliced form. Also, most original recipes only call for eggs as an adhesive ingredient, but recipes using butter (such as this one) yield softer and delicate cookies due to the added fat. So it all comes down to your preference!

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I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome and I seriously did NOT expect them to be THAT delicious! That’s the best part of baking :)

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Makes about 14 biscotti

Ingredients:
57 g (¼ cup) butter, room temperature
150 g (¾ cup) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
190 g (1 ½ cups) all-purpose flour
45 g (½ cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
115 g (4 ounces- about 1 cup) slivered or chopped raw almonds
80 g (¼ cup) bittersweet chocolate chips

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 F° (180 C°).
2. Beat the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy.
3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
4. Mix in the vanilla extract.
5. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt over the mixing bowl. Mix with a spatula until it’s all incorporated– do not overmix. The dough will be slightly sticky.
6. Stir in the almonds and chocolate chips.
7. Shape the dough into a log 12-inches (30 cm) long by 3-inches (7 cm) on a parchment lined baking sheet.
8. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the dough cracks on top and begins to brown.
9. Take out of the oven and cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes.
10. Using a serrated knife, cut the log into ½-inch slices (1 cm). Place the slices cut side down onto the baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes on each side for a soft texture. For a crunchier texture, bake for 8-10 minutes.

Mango Sorbet

Mango Sorbet | Brownie Box Blog
What I usually do when my fridge is abundant with ripe mangoes (which is rarely the case) is whip up this fast and easy fruit sorbet. You see, a close family friend recently sent me a big box of fresh mangoes that he grows in his own back garden in Florida (is it just me or is anyone else extremely jealous here?!). Naturally my first instinct is to create a very simple dessert that enhances the wonderful and refreshing taste of mangoes.

Mango Sorbet | Brownie Box Blog
Sorbets are a combination of fresh fruit juice and sugar syrup. The latter sweetens the fruit juice and affects the sorbet’s texture– you don’t want it too icy or slushy but creamy and smooth instead. To reach that consistency, the ratio of fruit to syrup has to be just right; I read a great tip on The Kitchn that involves floating a large egg – yes and egg! – in the sorbet mixture before churning it in the ice cream maker. If the egg sinks below the surface then you need to add more sugar and if the egg is completely afloat, then you need to desaturate the mixture with either fruit juice or water. The sugar levels are balanced when you see a 1 inch (2.5 cm) size of an egg shell on the surface. Obviously this method might not work on all fruit sorbets since some fruit juices can be too thick, but it’s a good tip to keep in mind.

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I want to point out that every fruit is different and every sorbet mixture needs more or less sugar (less sugar for very sweet pineapples, for instance). Also, thicker fruit juices might need to be diluted with water to get a silkier structure. It’s all about understanding the science and process of creating sorbets from scratch (here’s another great read!).

Did you ever try making homemade sorbet? I’d love to hear about your trial and errors!

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Ingredients
5 cups of sliced/diced mangoes (about 4 small/medium mangoes)
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Freeze ice cream maker at least 24 hours before making the sorbet.
  2. Dice the mangoes into bite-sized pieces ∼ around 5 cups.
  3. Make the simple syrup by combining the sugar and water in a small sauce pan. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, and stir a few times until the sugar is completely dissolved in the water (2-4 minutes). Remove from heat and cool.
  4. Combine the mangoes and ¼ cup of the simple syrup in a blender or food processor and blend until the fruit is liquified.
  5. Strain the mix if the mangoes are too fibrous to remove any solids (you can use a cheese cloth or towel paper). Gently stir with a spoon as you strain.
  6. Test the sugar levels with the egg-float test that I described earlier and make the necessary adjustments. If the egg completely sinks then add more sugar syrup, and if the mixture is too thick then add more water.
  7. Stir the lemon juice.
  8. Cover the sorbet base and refrigerate until very cold, at least 1 hour or overnight preferably.
  9. Pour the chilled base into the ice cream maker and churn to get a consistency of a thick smoothie (15-20 minutes).
  10. Transfer the sorbet to a freezable container and cover. Freeze for at least 4 hours, until the sorbet has hardened. Can be stored up to a month.
  11. Let the sorbet soften for 10-15 minutes in room temperature before serving.