Brioche with Mahleb Date Paste and Walnuts

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There’s something about making brioche from scratch that brings comfort and pleasure: the rich smell of butter and yeast, the pillowy soft dough beneath your hands, the quiet hours of the kitchen, the dark golden loaf rising in the oven. The whole process calms me and makes me forget about stressful weekdays and the constant buzz of people in this chaotic yet charming city.

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The flavors I used here are inspired by K’aak bi M’aamoul, these little round semolina cookies filled with dates, nuts, and orange blossom water. They remind me of home – Beirut – and my family’s traditional recipes. What I love about this combination is  the thick pockets of mahleb date paste layered with crunchy walnuts and the soft aerated brioche dough.

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A freshly baked warm slice of buttery brioche brings a smile to my face but if you end up with leftovers the next day, go ahead and make french toast. The bread is naturally sweetened with dates so there’s no need to douse it with honey or maple syrup.

Brioche dough recipe adapted from Bouchon Bakery Cookbook
Makes two 9″x4″ (23 cm x 10 cm) loaves

Ingredients:

Date Paste
250g pitted medjool dated
30g butter
3 Tbs water
1 tsp orange blossom water
¼ tsp ground mahleb

Make the Date Paste:
1. Place the dates and butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat, and stir until the dates get really soft.
2. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and add the rest of the ingredients.
3. Blend until a smooth thick paste is formed. Cover and set aside.

Roasted Walnuts
1 cup, chopped roasted walnuts (reserve a handful to sprinkle on top of the loaves)

Brioche
372g bread flour
8g instant yeast
45g granulated sugar
5g fine sea salt
186g eggs, room temperature
63 g whole milk, room temperature
170 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 1/8th inch dice
1 small beaten egg with a dash of water  (for the egg wash)

Make the Dough:
1. Spray a large bowl with nonstick spray.
2. For the brioche, place the flour and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix for 15 seconds to distribute the yeast evenly.
3. Add all of the remaining dough ingredients except for the butter and mix on low speed for 4 minutes.
4. Add the butter a few pieces at a time, incorporating after each addition before adding the next. Stop and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and push the dough off the hook. Mix for a total of roughly 20 minutes on low speed. (it is ready when the dough is elastic and holds together in one piece)
5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Fold the left side over to the right, the right over to the left, then the top to the bottom and the bottom to the top so you have a “package” with the seam at the top. Place the dough seam-side down in the prepared bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it ferment for 1 hour.
6. Repeat the folding process, place it back in the bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight (up to 24 hours).

7. Grease a 9×4 inch (22 x 13 cm) loaf pan. Line the tin with parchment paper, making sure to let it slightly overhang the sides. Set aside.
8. Remove the brioche from the refrigerator and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Work with one piece of dough at a time while keeping the other half in the refrigerator.
9. Lightly dust your working surface with flour and using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to form a rectangular shape, about 10 x 15 inch (25 x 40 cm).
10. Spread half of the date filling onto the brioche using an offset spatula, reaching all the way to the edges but leaving half an inch (1.3 cm) of dough bare on one of the long sides. Sprinkle with half of the chopped walnuts.
11. Brush the bare part with water. Starting from the other long side, roll up the dough tightly and evenly. Refrigerate the dough for 15-20 minutes on a parchment lined baking sheet.
12. Using a large knife, make a cut in the dough log. Place the right half of dough over the left, then repeat until you have a “braid” of dough. Gently press the ends of the dough together them together, then place in the prepared loaf pan.
13. Place a piece of oiled plastic wrap lightly on the surface of the brioche and let it proof in a warm place for 2 hours. (Note: I turn the oven for a minute and place boiling water in a cup to add some steam – make sure the oven is not too hot!). Take the brioche dough out of the oven.
14. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Lightly brush the brioche with egg wash, sprinkle with more walnuts, and bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes.
15. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before slicing. (Repeat the process for the second brioche dough).

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Orange Blossom Peach Pie with Whipped Labneh

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When I visit the farmer’s market on Sundays, I always buy a couple of necessary things like grape tomatoes, goat cheese, fresh farm eggs, herbs, mushrooms, berries, and of course tree ripened peaches. I can’t get enough of peaches during the summer time and they make wonderfully seasonal sweet pie fillings.

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The combination of the sweet peaches and buttery, flaky dough is a perfectly classic American baked good. I decided to add a twist to it by including orange blossom water in the filling and serving it with whipped honey’d labneh on the side. Distilled from the essence of orange tree flowers, orange blossom water adds a delicate and refreshing floral scent and taste that elevates the pie to an almost otherworldly fruit dessert.

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Pie Crust:
Yields two 9″ (23 cm) pie crusts. Recipe Adapted from Pastry Affair

315 grams (2 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
226 grams (1 cup) unsalted butter, freezer cold, cut into 1/2 inch dice
4 tbsp + 2 tsp ice water
1 tsp white vinegar

Egg wash (1 whole egg + 2 tsp water)
Demerara sugar

• In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt.
• Add half of the cold, cubed butter and rub the butter and flour between your fingers until it resembles coarse sand. (Alternatively, you can use a food processor or mixer with a paddle attachment)
• Add the second half the cubed butter and rub in into the flour, but leave it in larger pieces (approximately the size of a hazelnut).
• Gradually add the ice cold water and vinegar and mix the dough together until the dough holds together when squeezed in your hand. Add more water one teaspoon at a time if needed.
• Place the dough on parchment paper and use the paper to press the dough into a disk. To make the dough uniform, fold the dough in half, using the paper. Press down and fold in the opposite direction. Repeat until the dough appears uniform.
• Cut the dough in half, and shape into two disks, wrap each in plastic wrap, and chill for at least an hour – preferably overnight (or up to 2-3 days). Pie dough can be also kept in the freezer wrapped tightly up to 3 months.
• Working quickly, roll out the first disk on a lightly floured surface into a 14″ (35 cm) round for a 9″ (23 cm) pie pan. Wrap dough lightly around a rolling pin and transfer to the pie pan. Gently press dough into the bottom and sides of the pan. Trim the dough to allow a 1″ (2.5 cm) overhang.
• Pour the strained peach filling (see recipe below) into the pastry shell.
• Roll out the second pie crust to top the filling and create small slits to allow venting. Or create a decorative lattice top.
• Brush the pie crust with the egg wash and sprinkle generously with demerara sugar. Refrigerate the pie for 20-30 minutes.
• Meanwhile, place a large baking sheet in the middle rack of the oven and preheat to 375ºF (190ºC).
• Place the pie on the baking sheet and bake for 80-90 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

Peach Filling:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup corn starch
2.5 pounds peaches, around 8 small peaches sliced (peeling is optional)
1/3 cup orange blossom honey
Zest of half an organic lemon
2 tbsp orange blossom water (Mazaher)

• Mix the sugar and corn starch in a large bowl until homogeneous. Add the sliced peaches, honey, lemon zest, and orange blossom water and gently mix with a spatula until homogeneous.
• Let it sit in the fridge for 20 minutes, then strain the mixture before pouring it into the pie shell.

Whipped Labneh:
1/2 cup labneh (see recipe here)
2 tbsp heavy cream
1 tbsp orange blossom honey
1/2 tsp orange blossom water (Mazaher)

• Using a hand mixer, whip all the ingredients until airy. Serve cold dollops of whipped labneh with warm peach pie slices.

Apple Tart

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When it comes to small family gatherings, I’m always asked to bring dessert with me. So what I usually do is head over to Foodgawker or Pinterest and look up some inspirational images or go through my list of “recipes I want to try”. The Apple Tart is definitely on my “to-try” list. I’ve had my eye on this recipe for months!

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I noticed that there are so many variations of the apple tart filling: some add heavy cream, lemon zest or juice, rum, ground almonds, caramelized apples etc ! I ended up adapting my own recipe from what I’ve read online, and I am so happy with the result. I only added apricot preserve between the dough and the apples. The crust turned out very thin and flaky, and the apples buttery soft with a tinge of sweetness. It looks so impressive, I couldn’t believe that I did it all by myself! I’ve already baked 3 tarts in two weeks! When my family saw the tart they screamed out “You made that?!” (They think that it took hours preparation, and I didn’t deny it). Seriously, this beautiful tart will make you look like a pro in no time. (who said you’re not a pro anyway?)

First, start making the dough which is essentially pate brisée (French for shortcrust pastry – It doesn’t rise when baked and it has a buttery flaky texture).

Chopped Butter
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It is made from equal parts of cold butter and flour blended into pea sized bits, then held together with a small amount of ice cold water to form a crumbly dough. Transfer the mixture onto a working surface, then shape into a disc and place it in the fridge for an hour at least or overnight.
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Next, peel, core (I used a melon baller), halve apples, and thinly slice them while keeping them together to retain the halved apple shapes. Then take out your dough, roll it out on a heavily floured surface to avoid sticking to the work surface. I rolled it out on a baking paper because it made the process of transferring the dough to the tart pan much easier. If you don’t have a tart pan, you can fold in the sides of the dough galette style, and bake on a baking sheet.

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Next, brush the dough with apricot preserve and place the sliced apples on the dough in concentric circles. Finish off by sprinkling sugar, cinnamon, and few cubes of butter. Bake until deep golden brown in color and serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream!
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Here it goes: A simple flaky thin crusted apple tart filled with buttery soft apples.

Ingredients:
Dough:
1+1/4 cups flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon sugar (optional, to make the dough sweeter)
115 grams (1 stick, 1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
1/4 teaspoon salt (to make the dough less sticky)
4 tablespoons ice-cold water

Tart:
11 small apples, peeled, cored, and halved
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
50 grams butter (about 4 tablespoons butter)
3 tablespoons apricot preserve

Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, for serving

Directions:
1. Add flour, sugar, butter, and salt in a food processor.

2. Pulse 10 times until pea­-size crumbles form- meaning, turn the food processor on and off in short cycles. It’s very important to use cubes of COLD butter, to avoid melting it into the dough. Do NOT break down the butter too much, you won’t get a flaky dough if the tiny bits of butter are not visible.

3. Slowly add 4 tablespoons ice­-cold water and pulse until dough is moistened, about 3—4 pulses. Do not pulse the dough to form a mass — keep it loose and crumbly, it will come together eventually

4. Transfer dough to a work surface and form into a flat disk using your hands; Plastic wrap the dough and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to 2 days.

5. Peel, core, halve, and thinly slice apples — keeping the slices together.

6. Unwrap dough and transfer to a generously floured work surface. Press down the dough with a rolling pin and move it from the center out. Roll into a 25 cm (10 inch) thin circle and then transfer to a 22 cm (9 inch) tart pan, and trim edges. Work quickly to keep the dough cold and to avoid stickiness. If the dough softens, chill it in the freezer for a few minutes. — I used a glass tart pan, you can also use a non-stick tart pan with a removable bottom. The dough rolls out up to 30 cm or 12 inch.

7. Brush apricot preserve onto the bottom of the pastry.

8. Heat oven to 190ºC or 375ºF.

9. Transfer halved sliced apples to the tart pan and press gently as you are placing them next to each other. Start out at the outer edge of the pan working your way to the center.

10. Combine sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.

11. Sprinkle the tart with the sugar-cinnamon mixture, and add small cubes of butter (Use as much or as little as you like).

12. Bake until golden brown, around 50-60 minutes. (It took me 50 minutes)

And you’re done!