Ma’amoul Mad bil Tamer

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Ma’amoul mad literally means ma’amoul spread in Arabic. It’s a slightly tweaked version of the regular semolina date cookies I posted in January, where the date filling is spread between two pieces of dough and cut into squares or diamonds before baking. I changed the ratio of the fine to coarse semolina for the dough to hold its shape when sliced. You’ll also notice that I used clarified butter called samneh in Arabic instead of regular unsalted butter for a couple of reasons that I listed below.

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Unlike most types of oils and fats that are composed of 100% fat, butter is an emulsion of roughly 80% butterfat, 15% water and 5% milk proteins. Butter has a low smoking point when melted because the proteins burn quickly, and it’s also prone to turn rancid fast from the high water content (Source: Serious Eats). When butter is clarified (i.e. milk proteins removed and water evaporated to get pure butterfat) the resulting samneh has a high smoking point and a longer shelf life. That’s why it’s so commonly used in Arabic sweets.

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This version of ma’amoul is way faster and easier to make than the individual ones, and it tastes just as good with a crumbly semolina crust filled with melt-in-your-mouth date paste spiced with mahleb and scented with orange blossom and rose water. It goes without saying that the higher the quality the dates the better the end result.

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Clarified butter – Instructions from Serious Eats
You can clarify any quantity of butter for future use. For this recipe, I used 300g of unsalted butter (roughly 2.5 sticks). Store any leftovers in the fridge.

Cut the butter into pieces and melt in a heavy-duty saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil (the milk protein will foam the surface). Once boiling, turn the heat to medium and let the butter simmer for roughly 10 minutes: first, the white foamy surface will break apart then the milk proteins will sink to the bottom and the boiling will begin to slowly cease.

Once the butter stops boiling, remove from the heat and pour through a cheesecloth-lined strainer or a coffee filter into a heatproof container to remove the browned milk solids. Let cool, then transfer to a sealed container and refrigerate until ready to use. Clarified butter should keep for at least 6 months in the refrigerator.

Date Filling
600g high quality soft medjool dates, pitted, peeled and white interior skin removed
1 tsp rose water
1 tsp orange blossom water
½ tsp ground mahleb
50g (2 Tbsp) clarified butter samneh, room temperature

Semolina Dough
340g (2 cups) coarse semolina flour (Smeed)
160g (1 cup) fine semolina flour (Farkha)
30g (2 Tbsp) granulated sugar
½ tsp instant dry yeast
½ tsp ground mahleb
210g (1 cup) clarified butter samneh, room temperature
2 Tbsp rose water
2 Tbsp orange blossom water (1/4 cup and 1 tablespoon)
Icing sugar (optional)

Make the date filling:
Mix the cleaned dates, rose water, orange blossom water, ground mahleb and clarified butter with your hands until a homogeneous paste is formed. Cover date paste with plastic wrap and set aside until later use.

Make the semolina dough:
In a large bowl mix the coarse semolina and fine semolina, sugar, yeast, and ground mahleb. Add the clarified butter and rub mixture together with the palm of your hands until the mixture is grainy and the butter is fully absorbed in the flour (about 5 minutes). Cover in plastic wrap and let it sit on the kitchen counter overnight or at least 2 hours.

After resting the dough, add the rose and orange blossom water, mix again and cover with plastic wrap leaving it to rest for another hour.

Preheat oven to 360°F (180°C). Brush a 9″x13″ rectangular baking pan or glass pyrex dish with clarified butter. Divide the semolina dough in half and cover the other half to prevent it from drying out. Roll out the first dough to roughly 9″x13″ inch and transfer to the baking dish (I find it easier to roll it between two sheets of wax paper). Use a bench scraper to smooth the dough and make sure that it’s evenly leveled. Repeat the same process with the date paste and the second half of the semolina dough.

Using a sharp knife, carefully slice the unbaked ma’amoul 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 (alternatively, cut crosswise to make rectangles). Bake for 35 minutes, or until the top is golden and the edges are a light brown.

Take out the pan from the oven and let cool completely (preferably overnight). Dust the pieces of ma’amoul with icing sugar only before serving. Store in an air tight container up to a month or freeze up to 3 months.

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Coconut Mastic Macaroons

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I tried a variety of coconut macaroon recipes in the last couple of months but none of them made me want to make them again, until I saw this recipe for irresistibly golden coconut macaroons. I was so intrigued but the technique that requires cooking the coconut batter on the stovetop before shaping into balls and baking (that was definitely a first!). It resulted in macaroons that are delicately crunchy on the outside and incredibly moist and chewy on the inside.

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What I love about this recipe is that it’s very adaptable, and you can adjust it based on your favorite tastes. Naturally, I made a couple of tweaks to Claire Ptak’s original recipe and added in freshly ground mastic to the batter. The refreshing smell the mastic paired with coconut is my favorite combination of all time! You can get really creative with this by adding a piece of almond in the center, dipping half of the cookies in dark chocolate, mixing in chopped dried fruits, or just bake them plain!

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Recipe adapted from Violet Bakery Cookbook
Makes 20 tablespoon sized macaroons

4 large egg whites
200g (1 cup) granulated sugar
1 tbsp honey
200g (1+1/3 cups) unsweetened shredded coconut
¼ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp ground mastic (about 4 pea sized mastic resins)

1. Preheat the oven to 355°F/180°C. Line a baking sheet with two parchment papers (to prevent the bottom of the macaroons from burning).
2. Grind the mastic resins in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle with a pinch of granulated sugar. Measure all the ingredients into a medium heavy-bottomed pan and place over medium low-heat, stirring constantly. As the mixture warms up, reduce the heat to low and stir until the mixture dries out and holds together into a cohesive mass. Let the mixture cool down before proceeding with the next steps (it will be easier to shape the macaroons).
3. Using a tablespoon, scoop individual portions of the mixture on to the lined baking sheet, leaving enough space between each one so they have room to expand.
4. Bake for 16-18 minutes until the macaroons are puffed and golden. Cool completely on the baking sheet before serving or storing. They will keep well for one week in an airtight container, or frozen up to a month.

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.