Ma’amoul Bil Tamer (Semolina Date Cookies)

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For as long as I can remember, all the women in my family have made these Ma’amoul cookies for the Christmas and Easter holidays. They would all gather together at my grandma or mom’s home to bake the cookies while drinking fenjan ahweh (Arabic Coffee), gossiping about family members, and passionately discussing current events. It literally took them all day to make roughly roughly 3-4 kg (7-8 pounds) of Ma’amoul which are then distributed among different families.

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Ma’amoul are extremely popular in Lebanon, and they’re typically filled with date paste, ground pistachios, walnuts, or almonds. Each flavor has its own shape and geometric design: Dates (Tamer) are typically round, pistachios (Festok) or walnuts (Joz) are domed, almonds (Loz) are crescent. The dough is incredibly soft and crumbly with a toothy semolina crunch that’s flavored with mahleb (more about this spice here), orange blossom water, and rose water.

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There are a lot of good recipes of Ma’amoul in cookbooks and online that call for other ingredients or techniques, but that’s my family’s version and it’s the most valuable one. This recipe produces more than a sweet snack or a delicious treat, it connects me to my roots, brings up memories, offers comfort and nourishes me way beyond its nutritional value. It’s been passed on and tweaked across generations of women in my family who spent countless of hours in the kitchen together working on their skills and creating experiences. Knowing that – not only instills a gratifying sense of wonder and excitement – but also drives me to keep our tradition alive by baking.

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Recipe: – Yields roughly 40 cookies

Dough:
• 400g farina (smeed – coarse flour)
• 200g semolina flour (farkha – fine flour)
• 300g unsalted butter, melted and warm
• 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
• 1¼ tsp mahleb powder
• 60ml (1/4 cup) orange blossom water, warm
• 60ml (1/4 cup) rose water, warm
• 3 tsp orange blossom water, warm
• 3 tsp rose water, warm

Date Filling:
• 800g high quality, soft medjool dates pitted and white interior skin removed
• 100g unsalted butter
• 1 tsp orange blossom water
• 1 tsp rose water

Day 1: Prepare the dough
In a large bowl mix the farina flour, semolina flour, and mahleb powder. Gradually add the warm butter and vegetable oil and mix with your hands. Gently rub the mixture with the palm of your hands for about 5 minutes until it’s no longer lumpy. Cover in plastic wrap and let it sit in a warm place overnight.

Day 2: Make the date filling and bake the cookies
1. After removing the pits of the dates and cleaning them, place them in a medium saucepan with the butter over medium heat. Stir for 20 minutes until a date paste is formed.
2. Let it cool down for a few minutes then transfer to a food processor and add the rose and orange blossom water. Pulse a few times until homogeneous.
3. Using a tablespoon, form roughly 40 balls, place on a large plate or baking sheet and cover with a damp kitchen towel to prevent them from drying out.
4. Uncover the dough from Day 1, add the 1/4 cup of each rose and orange blossom water, and knead with your hands for about 2 minutes until it comes together – Don’t worry if it’s still crumbly at this point.
5. Divide the dough into three even portions and cover with a damp towel. Take out one portion and add 1 teaspoon of each rose and orange blossom water and knead on a clean surface until it becomes a smooth and silky dough.
6. To make the cookies: Prepare 2-3 large baking sheets and line with parchment paper. Scoop 1 tablespoon of the semolina dough, roll into a ball and flatten with the palms of your hands. Place a date ball in the middle, bring the edges of the dough together and roll again into a ball then flatten to form a short cylinder. Using a wooden spoon, poke a hole in the middle of the cookie. Smooth the edges and use a decorative pinch or fork to create a design. Place the cookie on the baking sheet. Repeat this step until all the cookies are molded then repeat step five with the rest 2/3 of the dough.
7. Pre-heat oven to 350°F (180°C). Place the baking sheets in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, rotating halfway, until lightly golden around the edges. Let cool completely before serving.

Notes:
• Serving suggestion: dust the ma’amoul with powdered sugar before serving.
• Ma’amoul cookies will keep unrefrigerated in an airtight container for one month or frozen up to 4 months.

Karabij (Semolina Rosewater Pistachio Cookies)

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I’ve always been curious about the science of baking. Understanding how ingredients work together to create specific baked goods is so fascinating and that’s what keeps me driven to try out new recipes and techniques. For example, when I think of a simple pie crust recipe, so many questions rush through my mind: Should I use American butter, European butter, or vegetable shortening? Do I need a fork, pastry cutter or stand mixer to blend in the cold butter? Ice cold water, vinegar, or vodka? Ceramic, aluminum or glass pie dish? Not one technique is “correct” or the best – it’s all a matter of using your best judgement and understanding how all these factors result in unique outcomes.

Baking is like a fun guessing game: you never know what you’re going to end up with. Once you get the basic principles of how ingredients work together, then you feel so liberated to experiment with recipes and use your creative imagination to create almost anything. So when people ask me how I got into baking, or why I’m so passionate about it, that’s usually my answer. Baking makes me feel happy, powerful, and liberated. I love that word.

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So I’m sharing a Karabij recipe today. For those of you who are not familiar with these cookies, they’re typically traditional Lebanese cookies made with a semolina butter rosewater dough that’s filled with a sweetened pistachio paste. I’ve been baking a lot with semolina and pistachios lately. They’re two of my favorite ingredients – and I really can’t wait to play around with some baking techniques to (hopefully!) create a completely new recipe for my next post.

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Make about 35-40 cookies (mine were about 1″ wide and 2.5″ long / 2.5cm x6cm)

Semolina dough:
200g semolina flour (or farkha, finer wheat)
100g farina flour (or smid, coarser wheat)
10g powdered sugar or 1 tablespoon
100g (1 stick) melted butter
26g (2 Tbsp.) rose water
26g (2 Tbsp.) water

Pistachio paste:
100g (3.5 oz or 1 cup) ground pistachio
60g (5 Tbsp.) powdered sugar
15g (1 Tbsp.) rose water
10g melted butter

• Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
• In a medium bowl, mix the semolina flour, farina, and powdered sugar.
• Add the melted butter and mix well. Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter for an hour.
• Mix in the rose water and water then cover with the damp cloth or kitchen towel and leave the dough to rest for another 30 minutes. If the dough is still crumbly, add water until it just comes together.
• In a small bowl, mix the ground pistachio, powdered sugar, rose water and melted butter until homogeneous and forms a dough. Cover with damp cloth or kitchen towel, set aside.
• Preheat oven to 375°F (200°C).
• Scoop one tablespoon of the semolina dough and roll into a log between the palm of your hands then flatten it to form a thin dough.
• Scoop approximately 2 teaspoons of the pistachio dough and put the filling down the middle. Shape the cookie into rounded logs or fingers with rounded edges.
• Fill and shape the remaining dough and transfer the baking sheet to the preheated oven.
• Bake the cookies for 25 minutes until golden (don’t bake too long or the cookies will harden!) If you prefer a reddish toasted top, place the sheet for 5 minutes under a broiler at the end of the baking time.
• Take out the baking sheet and let the cookies cool down completely. Dust with icing sugar before serving.
• Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks, or freeze for up 3 months.

Pistachio Baklava

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The intense smell of melted butter began to swirl in my tiny apartment. I peeked into the oven to assure that the little diamond shaped baklava pieces were nicely bronzed and crisp. I knew it was time to take them out. Placing the pan on the stove, I quickly reached for the cold rose flower and orange blossom sugar syrup and poured it slowly between the cracks of the baklavas. As soon as the syrup hit the crisp phyllo dough, a satisfyingly loud sizzle took me aback. I marveled at the bubbly golden surface that looked insanely delicious and wondered how I’m going to get through the next couple of hours waiting for them to cool down. I sprinkled some leftover crushed pistachio nuts on the glazed pastries and immediately started taking pictures on my phone to send to my family in Beirut.

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A few minutes later, my mom inundated me with questions “Is the phyllo dough crunchy? Are they too sweet? Do they taste like REAL baklavas?” I could tell from her voice that she was filled with skepticism about the idea of baking Lebanese baklava at home. But let me assure you that these delectable pastries tick all the criteria of a really good baklava: browned buttery crackly top, thick middle layer of lightly sweetened ground nuts, and chewy bottom with just the right amount of sugar syrup oozing out with each bite. I’m not comparing its taste to the best Lebanese sweet shops who have decades of experience in baking these delicacies, but these come pretty close. It’s a worthwhile weekend baking project that will surely impress people and put a beaming smile on your face.

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Recipe adapted from Wandering Spice

Ingredients:
Sugar Syrup
400g (2 cups) granulated sugar
240ml (1 cup) filtered water
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp rose flower water
½ tsp orange blossom water

Nut Filling
450g (3 cups) high quality whole shelled unsalted raw pistachios
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp rose flower water
4 tbsp sugar syrup
240 ml (1 cup) clarified butter (recipe below)

Clarified Butter
226g (2 sticks, 1 cup) unsalted butter, cubed

Decoration
2 tbsp. ground pistachios

Directions:

1. Remove phyllo dough from the fridge and thaw according to package instructions.

2. Prepare the syrup: place sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Allow the syrup to boil for 3 minutes without stirring. Add the lemon juice and continue boiling for 10 minutes until it reaches a light, syrupy consistency that coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and stir in the rose flower and orange blossom water. Set aside to cool down completely and store in fridge (this step can be made a couple of days in advance).

3. Place the pistachios and cinnamon in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Slowly pour 4 tbsp. of sugar syrup and the additional ¼ tsp of rose flower water into the mixture. Continue pulsing until the pistachios are finely ground. Reserve 2 tbsp. for decoration.

4. To clarify the butter: Line a sieve with paper towel and place over a bowl. Melt the cubed butter in a saucepan over medium heat until it begins to foam. Using a spoon, skim the foam from the top and discard. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the melted butter into the lined sieve. Leave at room temperature.

5. Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F) and line the bottom of a 9″x13″ (23cm x 33cm) baking dish with baking paper – I used a glass pyrex.

6. Unroll the phyllo dough and cut the stack of dough (20 sheets) in half to fit the size of your baking dish (40 sheets total). Place a clean, damp cloth on top to keep them from drying out.

7. Generously butter the bottom and sides of the lined pan with clarified butter. Lay one sheet of phyllo in the pan and brush clarified butter onto it. Add a second sheet of phyllo and brush with butter. Continue stacking and brushing sheets until you have 20 sheets on the bottom of the pan.

8. Pour the ground pistachio mixture on top of the phyllo stack, and spread out evenly throughout the pan.

9. Repeat the buttering and layering process with 20 more sheets on top of the nut mixture. Once done, refrigerate for 10 minutes to allow the butter to firm up and hold its shape.

10. Using a sharp knife, carefully slice the raw baklava into 1.5″ vertical strips, making sure to slice all the way to the bottom of the baking dish. Then, slice diagonally in a crossways pattern, to create diamond shapes (or, just cut crosswise to make rectangles).

11. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the tops of the baklava have puffed and are golden brown.

12. Pour the cold syrup between the cracks of the baklava diamonds – it will sizzle. Sprinkle the chopped pistachios on top. Set aside to cool and serve at room temperature. Store covered in a container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Light Banana Bread

Brownie Box | Light Banana Bread

Would you believe me if I said that I can never get banana bread recipes right? Whenever I have overripe bananas on hand I prefer making pancakes, muffins, or ice cream because I used to dread ending up with a failed banana bread. No matter how many recipes I tried, the result is always the same: a cooked outside with a dense/raw center. But I recently decided to give it another try, after all it should be in every baker’s repertoire.

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In a desperate attempt to bake the perfect loaf, I tried Joanne Chang’s recipe from her book Baking with Less Sugar. While, yes, the technique of whipping the eggs and heating bananas are extra steps to a seemingly easy banana bread recipe, they made me wonder if the end result will be successful. And to my surprise it turned out perfect from the first time! Moderately sweet, airy, tender and fool-proof. I added a streusel-ish topping consisting of walnuts, oats, and cinnamon to give an extra chew, but you can leave it out if you prefer a simpler version.

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Recipe adapted from Baking with Less Sugar

Ingredients:

• 80g (¾ cup) raw walnuts, coarsely chopped
• 175g (1¼ cups) all-purpose flour
• ½ tsp baking soda
• 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
• ¼ tsp kosher salt
• 3 large eggs, room temperature
• 80g (6 tablespoon) sugar
• 70g (1/3 cup) vegetable oil
• 4 medium very ripe bananas
• 90g yogurt
• 2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Topping:
• 2 tbsp rolled oats
• 2 tbsp chopped toasted walnuts
• 2 tsp coconut oil
• 2 tsp honey

Directions:
1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and pre-heat to 325°F (165°C). Butter and line the bottom and sides of a 9″x5″ (23×13 cm) loaf pan with parchment paper.
2. Put the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
3. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
4. Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs and sugar on medium speed for 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy.
5. With the mixer on low speed, slowly drizzle in the vegetable oil. Be sure to pour it carefully to avoid deflating the air in the batter.
6. In a microwave safe bowl, mash 3 bananas with a fork (I prefer leaving a few chunks) and microwave for one minute until they are hot. Alternatively, cook in a saucepan on medium-high heat until soft and mushy for 2 minutes. Whisk in the yogurt and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Mash the remaining banana and add it to the mixture.
7. Add the banana mixture to the egg mixture and mix on low speed until just combined.
8. Fold in your dry ingredients and nuts by hand with a rubber spatula until combined, making sure that there are no white streaks in the batter. Then pour the batter into the prepared pan.
9. Mix the oats, walnuts, coconut oil, and honey in a separate bowl and sprinkle over cake batter.
10. Bake for 55-60 minutes until the top of the banana bread is golden and springs back when you poke the center.
11. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before turning it on a wire rack.
12. Banana bread can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 day, or tightly wrapped in the freezer for up to two weeks then thawed overnight at room temperature.

Note: If you have a loaf pan that’s smaller than 9″x5″ pour less of the batter in the pan and bake the remaining mixture in a muffin pan.

Barazek (Sesame Pistachio Cookies)

Barazek Sesame Pistachio Cookies | Brownie Box

I don’t know where to start describing Barazek to people who are not familiar with this traditional Syrian pastry. The title of the post makes it seem like a simple recipe, but it’s definitely not your average everyday treat. The buttery crunchy texture of the thinly spread baked dough is contrasted with chewy toasted honey sesame seeds on one side and pistachios on the other side. They inevitably remind me of long lazy afternoons in Beirut, drinking arabic coffee with the extended family, and devouring these wickedly addictive cookies.

Barazek Sesame Pistachio Cookies | Brownie Box

Barazek Sesame Pistachio Cookies | Brownie Box

Damascus is known for creating the best barazek that are typically bought in tin boxes with other delicious sweets that the city is famous for. They’re made from butter (or ghee), flour, sugar, milk, and ground mahleb – a spice made from ground cherry stones. The dough is then coated with honey syrup, sesame seeds, and pistachios.

My family used to get these bite sized cookies from a sweet shop called Semiramis and I distinctly remember them having a very deep golden color with a serious sesame flavor. Lately I’ve been itching to try my luck in making them from scratch (especially that Syria feels like a world away), so I tried my best to recreate the same texture and taste here. It was a very tough process because of all the recipe variations available: some called for eggs, others called for adding semolina, rose water, cream of tartare, even vinegar! It’s quite the dilemma.

Barazek Sesame Pistachio Cookies | Brownie Box

After a lot of tinkering in my kitchen, I felt hopeless at times when the end result was not at all what I was aiming for, and at other times I felt like I conquered the world when the barazek turned out  just as good as the ones we used to get from Damascus. None of my friends or family believed me when I said that each bite made a good reason to spend a ridiculous amount of time making them (this recipe yields 90 cookies!). But let me assure you that they’re worth every effort and you can always freeze them for later cravings. I never tried freezing the dough, but I’m sure that it freezes just as well as any other cookie recipe.

Barazek Sesame Pistachio Cookies | Brownie Box

Makes approx. 90 cookies, 4cm- 1.5in diameter – They taste batter the next day!

Ingredients:
1/4 cup organic honey
1/4 cup water

200g (1½ cups) white sesame seeds
175g (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
150g (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
1g (½ tsp) baking powder
¼ tsp ground mahlab (optional)
312g (2½ cups) all-purpose flour
2.5g (1 tsp) active dry yeast
80ml (1/3 cup) skimmed milk
40g (1/3 cup) chopped or slivered raw pistachio

Directions:
Honey Syrup:
1. Combine honey and water in a small saucepan.
2. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring until honey dissolves (Around 3 minute).
3. Remove from heat and let it cool down.

Cookies:
1. Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat for 3-5 minutes until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool.
2. In a large bowl cream the butter and sugar (or use your hands).
3. Add ground mahlab and baking powder and mix.
4. Add yeast and flour and mix until homogeneous. Gradually add the milk to form a smooth hard dough (you might use less milk to avoid a tender dough).
5. Cover dough in plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes.
6. Pre-heat the oven to 325°F (160°C) and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper
7. Pour enough honey syrup on a medium sized plate just to cover the surface and sprinkle the sesame seeds on top (don’t use all the sesame, just enough to cover the syrup). Place the chopped pistachios on another shallow plate.
8. Shape about a teaspoon of dough into a ball and flatten slightly with the palm of your hands.
9. Dip one side into pistachios, flip and press the other side with the sesame mixture using your fingers to press the dough into a flat disc.
10. Place the cookies sesame side up on the baking sheet about an inch (2 cm) apart.
11. Bake for 25-30 minutes, rotating halfway, until the edges are a deep golden color.
12. Store in an air tight container up for up to two weeks or freeze for up to 2 months.

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 Liqueur
300g (2 ¼ cup) all purpose flour, sifted
2 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.