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.

Barazek Ice Cream

Barazek Ice Cream | Brownie Box

I remember having black sesame ice cream for the first time at a Japanese restaurant in NYC and I immediately fell in love with the intense nutty flavor. At first I thought it was a very odd ice cream choice, especially that its color is a muted dark grey, but it ultimately became one of my favorite ice cream flavors.

Barazek Ice Cream | Brownie Box

The idea of making white sesame ice cream came up when I had a lot of Barazek cookies from my previous post (read more about these sesame pistachio cookies here), and I wanted to create a recipe that incorporates them. I looked at the ingredients list: sesame, honey, butter, milk, pistachios – and it occurred to me that I could make white sesame ice cream and add in bits and pieces of crunchy Barazek in it. To make this dessert even more impressive and special, I roasted a handful of whole shelled pistachio with butter and honey.

Barazek Ice Cream | Brownie Box

Barazek Ice Cream | Brownie Box

Ingredients:
Honey Roast Pistachios Topping:

100g raw shelled pistachios
1 tbsp honey
10g unsalted butter

Toasted Sesame Seed Ice Cream: (Makes 1 Litre – Recipe adapted from Milk and Honey)
80g sesame seeds
240ml whole milk
3 tsp tahini
1 tsp vanilla extract
500ml heavy cream
6 egg yolks
120g caster sugar
15-20 Barazek cookies, broken into pieces

Directions:
Make the topping:
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C) and place a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet.
2. Melt the butter and honey in small pan. Remove from the heat and mix in the pistachios.
3. Spread them out on the parchment paper and roast in the oven for 8 minutes.
4. Remove from the oven, stir, and let cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container.

Make the ice cream:
1. Toast sesame seeds in a shallow frying pan over medium heat. Stir or shake the seeds often while toasting them until golden.
2. Pour the toasted seeds into a small saucepan. Add the milk, 250ml of the cream, tahini and vanilla extract and bring to a boil.
3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the mixture cool down to room temperature then place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight to infuse the flavor.
4. Once the mixture has chilled, strain it through a fine sieve and discard the seeds, reserving the milk-cream. Pour it into a saucepan with the remaining 250ml of cream and bring to a boil.
5. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale (almost white in color). Turn the mixer on low and carefully pour the hot cream mixture in a thin line.
6. Place the egg mixture back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until it thickly coats the back of a wooden spoon (8-10 minutes). Pour into a clean bowl and chill in the refrigerator until completely cold (around 4-6 hours).
7. Churn the mixture in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions. Once you’re done with the churning, mix in the barazek pieces and transfer into a container. Top with honey roast pistachios.
8. Freeze until firm enough to scoop.

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.

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.

Orange Chocolate Cookies

A lot of people ask me about my favorite basic cookie recipe, and these orange chocolate cookies is one of them.

First of all, the combination of chocolate and orange is my weak point; I absolutely love using these two ingredients in almost everything. Second, the cookies are so soft, buttery, and delicious that they are just… happiness in its pure form.

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In this post, I really want to stress on the importance of weighing your ingredients on a kitchen scale. After baking these cookies twice – once using a scale, and the second time using cups- I noticed that a slight difference in the amount of ingredients you add to your mixture changes the texture of the dough dramatically. I had a harder time shaping and flattening the dough when I measured my ingredients in volume and because of that it took me twice the amount of time to finish making them. At the end I was so frustrated because I could’ve easily used a scale for accurate and consistent results.

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Think about it, when you fill a cup with let’s say chocolate chips the amount in volume depends on several factors: the style of the cup, the size of the morsels, and how tightly you’ve packed it in. But you don’t have to worry about these inconsistencies when you start weighing your ingredients.

Despite all of that, I included in this recipe measurements in cups and spoons because I know that a lot of readers don’t own scales. However, if you are serious about baking regularly and trying out different recipes then I really recommend that you invest in a kitchen scale, no matter how basic.

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Ingredients: Makes about 24 biscuits
• 100 g (1 stick, ½ cup) soft unsalted butter, room temperature
• 40 g (1/3 cup) caster sugar
• Zest of ½ medium orange, finely grated
• 125 g (1 cup) flour, sifted
• 2 g (½ tsp) baking powder, sifted
• 100 g (½ cup) dark chocolate

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375 °F). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Beat the soft unsalted butter with a hand mixer until creamy.
3. Slowly add the sugar and grated orange zest, beating until the mixture is light. Blend in the sifted flour and baking powder.
4. Using two teaspoons form the dough into balls about the size of a whole walnut and place on the baking sheet. Flatten dough with the palm of your hand.
5. Put the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 10 minutes or until the biscuits are golden. Remove from the oven and cool on rack. (Don’t overbake!)
6. Melt the dark chocolate chips in the microwave or over a bain-marie.
7. Dip each biscuit halfway into the melted chocolate and place on a new parchment paper. Refrigerate for 15 minutes or until the chocolate hardens.