Halloumi Mint Scones with Heirloom Tomato Spread

Here’s a recipe for crumbly cheesy halloumi scones that are delicious for breakfast or served as a side at the dinner table. Throw in some chopped mint in the dough for a refreshing herbal note and serve hot straight out of the oven. I always eat halloumi cheese with tomatoes, so I was inspired to make the tomato spread on the side. The Heirloom variety is the best because of their complex, wine-like, sweet taste that’s less acidic than the regular ones. Hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do – Sahtein!

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Scones:
300g (2½ cups) all-purpose flour, cold
15g (1 Tbsp) granulated sugar
15g (3 tsp) baking powder
1 tsp fine grain sea salt
½ lemon zest
¼ cup chopped mint
140g (5oz) grated halloumi
112g cold butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
180ml (3/4 cup) cold buttermilk
1 large egg, cold

Egg wash:
1 small egg
pinch of fine grain sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF (220ºC). In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon zest. Add the cold cubed butter and pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Pour the mixture in a large bowl and lightly mix in the grated halloumi.

3. In another bowl, beat the cold buttermilk and egg. Slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the dry ingredients and gently fold just until all of the flour has been moistened. Do not overwork the dough. Dump the dough out on to a large piece of parchment paper and gently pat the dough out until it’s a 1″ (2.5cm) thick rectangle.

4. Transfer to a large baking sheet and rest for 20 minutes in the fridge. Cut the dough into 9 squares using a knife and space them out on the baking sheet. You can freeze the dough at this point if you are planning to make these a few days in advance.

5. For the topping, beat together the egg and salt. Lightly brush the tops of the dough with the mixture being careful not to drip on the sides (or it will prevent the scones from rising). Bake for 20 minutes, rotating halfway, until the scones are golden brown.

6. Rest the scone for 2 minutes then transfer to wire rack to cool for another 10 minutes, Serve warm the same day.

Heirloom Tomato Spread:
1kg (2 LB.) Heirloom tomatoes, cored and chopped
50g (¼ cup) granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
Pinch of crushed red peppers (optional)
Add ins
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp pomegranate syrup

1. In a large saucepan, combine the chopped tomatoes, sugar, salt, and crushed red peppers. Set over medium heat and cook uncovered, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until most the tomatoes are glossy and thick and most of the liquid has cooked off, approximately 2 hours.

2. Press through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the tomato skins and stir in the lemon juice and pomegranate molasses. Let cool and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

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Za’atar Honey Butter Rolls

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There are countless ways I use za’atar while snacking or cooking, and if you love it as much as I do then you would totally understand why I want use it in almost everything including these soft honey bread rolls.

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I’ve baked these bread rolls a couple of times especially at dinner gatherings because not only are they easy to make but also every person who tastes them says that they’re light, fluffy, and airy. I just love a good home made bread recipe that always gives consistent and reliable results. So after mastering the basic recipe I decided to add za’atar in the dough (that always seems to be a great idea to me). The result is incredibly delicious – the combination of the sweet honey and earthy thyme flavor makes it so hard to eat just one roll!

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Recipe adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction

240ml (1 cup) whole milk, 110°F
21g (2¼ tsp) instant dry yeast
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
85g (¼ cup) honey
1 large egg + 1 egg yolk
60g (¼ cup) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
½ teaspoon salt
450g (3½ cups) bread flour
45g (½ cup) za’atar

30g (2 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature very soft
15g (1 Tablespoon) honey
Extra za’atar for sprinkling

1. Pour warm milk into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment. Sprinkle yeast and 1/2 teaspoon sugar on top of the milk. Give it a light stir with a spoon and allow to sit for 5 minutes. The mixture will be frothy.

2. Turn on the stand mixer running on low speed, gradually add the honey, egg, egg yolk, melted butter, salt, and 3 cups of flour. Beat for 1 min and add remaining ½ cup of flour. Beat for another minute on low speed. The dough should be thick, slightly sticky and pulling away from the sides of the bowl as it mixes. If the dough is too sticky add more flour 1 Tablespoon at a time.

3. Form dough into a ball and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 2 minutes, then place into a large bowl greased with olive oil and coat all sides of the dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in a slightly warm oven to rise until doubled, about 2 hours. For this, I turn on the oven to 200°F (93°C) for a minute only then turn it off. I also place a bowl for boiling water to increase the level of humidity and keep the oven lights on (helps create a warm environment),

4. Once doubled in size, punch down the dough to release any air bubbles. Remove dough from the bowl and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Using a dough scraper, cut the dough in half. Cut each half into 8 evenly sized pieces for a total of 16 pieces (the balls have to be equal in size to bake uniformly). Shape into balls and arrange in a greased 9×13 baking pan. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled in size and puffy, about 1 hour.

5. 30min before baking, preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Bake the rolls for 20min until the tops are golden brown and the edges of each roll look cooked. While the rolls bake, mix the topping ingredients. Remove the rolls from the oven when they are done and brush a generous amount of honey butter onto each warm roll and sprinkle with za’atar.

6. Cover leftovers and keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months, then thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Warm up in a 300°F (149°C) oven for 10 minutes.

Make ahead tip/overnight: After dough has risen two hours in step 3, punch down the dough inside the mixing bowl and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight or for up to 2 days, then remove from the refrigerator and continue with step 4.

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.

Sfouf bi Debes (Carob Molasses Cake)

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Sfouf is the most popular recipe on my blog: it’s a semolina anise seed tea cake that’s fluffy, moist, incredibly flavorful and vegan. The baking time is actually longer than the time it takes to mix all the ingredients together; it’s no wonder why it is the most viewed page on this site!

This version of sfouf is made with carob molasses (also known as debes el kharrub in Arabic) instead of refined white sugar. It’s a healthy and popular alternative to regular turmeric sfouf especially during Easter lent.

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Since the carob tree is native to the Mediterranean region, carob molasses is widely consumed in Lebanon. The pods of the carob fruit are mashed with water to release their sugar, then strained and boiled down until a dark thick syrup is formed. In fact it is very common in these regions to make syrups from fruits and there’s an incredible variety ranging from pomegranates, dates, grapes, to mulberry, prickly pears, and figs.

Carob molasses has a very distinctive earthy flavor that’s almost reminiscent of cocoa. That’s why it’s a great alternative to chocolate in many recipes, especially when you taste it in its raw form (I think it looses the rich cocoa taste when baked). So there you have it: an even healthier vegan sfouf cake that’s naturally sweetened. Feel free to experiment with other types of molasses if you can’t find carob at your local food market.

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Ingredients:

1 tbsp tahini paste
1 cup boiling water
2 tsp anise seed
2 cups fine semolina flour
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
3 tsp baking powder
1 cup carob molasses
1 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup toasted white sesame seeds for decoration (you can also substitute with pine nuts or halved blanched almonds)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 180ºC (355ºF) and grease a 11″ (28cm) round tin pan with the tbsp of tahini.
2. Seep anise seeds in the boiling water for 5 minutes, then strain and set aside to cool.
3. Meanwhile, toast the white sesame seeds in a non stick pan on medium high heat until fragrant and barely golden. Set aside to cool.
4. In a large bowl, mix the fine semolina, flour, baking powder, and ground anise seeds until homogeneous.
5. Slowly add the anise tea, carob molasses, and vegetable oil to the dry ingredients and mix until no lumps remain. The batter will be slightly thick.
6. Pour batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the top with sesame seeds.

7. Bake for 30-35 min, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

9. Let cool in the pan completely before inverting onto a wire rack.
10. Cut into square or diamond shapes, and store in an airtight container (cake can be frozen up to 3 months).

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.

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).

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.