Coconut Mastic Macaroons

CoconutMacaroons_BrownieBoxBlog-1

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.

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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.

Homemade Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is good… Homemade peanut butter is delicious!

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I recently found out that peanut butter is simply ground peanuts. It never crossed my mind to make my own because I always thought that thick peanut butter contained ingredients that are not available in my pantry. Surprisingly, you only need roasted peanuts, peanut oil, and honey (to add a touch of sweetness). Since I love making things from scratch, I had to try it out.

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But first, I decided to do some research about peanut butter: where did it originate? why is it called peanut “butter”?

I found out that peanuts are actually legumes! Yup, I was surprised too. Unlike walnuts or almonds that grow on trees, peanuts grow underground and they provide the best source of concentrated protein. Its origin goes back to the Aztecs who used to crush roasted peanuts into a paste. It wasn’t until 1908 that it came to the U.S. market. It’s called peanut “butter” simply because its consistency resembles softened butter.

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What I love about this recipe is that I can enjoy eating peanut butter without worrying about the amount of sugar, salt, or additives in my food. I usually buy high quality freshly roasted peanuts from the local roastery, but you should always check the ingredients for any harmful additives since the peanuts are the main ingredient.

I noticed on foodgawker and a few other blogs that the color of  homemade peanut butter differs from one person to another. That’s because the color depends on the type of the peanuts used for processing. So it can turn out darker or lighter than the store brought version.

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I love eating peanut butter with toast, bananas, or apples! I usually slice an apple into rings, spread some peanut butter, and top it off with homemade granola. Yum! You’ll get the healthy fiber, fats, and whole grain servings with this nutritious and filling snack.

It’s really fun to make your own peanut butter 🙂 Let me know what you think!

Ingredients:

200 grams, about 1+1/3 cups, lightly salted roasted peanuts (you can also roast your own peanuts)
2 Tablespoons peanut oil (or walnut, canola, but not olive oil)
1 Tablespoon raw honey

Directions:

1. Put the peanuts in the food processor.
2. Process for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
3. Add the oil and honey, then process until smooth (about 3-4 minutes), or until you reach the desired consistency. (be careful the machine could overheat)
4. Transfer to an air tight container and refrigerate up to 2 months.

Note: For crunchy peanut butter, stir in 1/2 cup chopped roasted peanuts after processing is complete.