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.

Bohsalino (Pistachio Paste filled with Kashta Cheese)

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Bohsalino reminds me of my grandmother’s kitchen and how dedicated she is as a cook and baker. I always watch her prepare this Lebanese dessert when she visits Lebanon. It used to look so complex to me: grinding the pistachios, magically turning them into a sweet paste, and sandwiching it with creamy kashta (fresh Lebanese cheese, which can be substituted with Ricotta cheese). I am still fascinated by the whole process and how good it tastes! I’m not lying when I say that I can live on bohsalino instead of chocolate. That’s a dangerous statement don’t you think?

For some reason this dessert always seems to be a mystery to me. No one but my grandma makes it. When I tell people about it most of them have no clue what I’m talking about; that’s because it’s not as popular as other Middle-Eastern desserts such as sfouf, knafeh, or baklava. So I decided to write a post about bohsalino, because I want to be able to whip up a big plate whenever I want and tell the whole world that they are missing out a fabulous dessert, possibly one of the best ever.

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This fall, I called my grandma to ask for the recipe so that I could figure out how to make it. Like most grandma recipes, there was a list of ingredients, approximations of quantities, and inexact instructions. When I asked her: “How long do I cook the semolina?”, “How much heavy cream do I add to the kashta?”, or “How much rose water do I need for this recipe?!” She simply replied to me to figure it out “3al nazar” (common Arabic expression that means add to taste or ‘visually’). I had no choice but to make it through trial and error, and write down the exact quantity of ingredients for consistent results.

Bohsalino is very rich with flavor additives such as rose water, orange blossom water, and mastic. The latter is a well known ingredient in Arabic, Greek, and Turkish cuisines. Mastic (miskeh or arabic gum) are very aromatic resin drops mainly used in pastries, breads, puddings, and desserts because it enhances the taste of the ingredients. You can buy mastic in Greek/Middle-Eastern/international stores, or online.

I divided the recipe into separate sections to make it easier for assembly at the end.

1. Prepare the sugar syrup, which holds the dry ingredients together and forms a paste.
2. Cook the coarse semolina flour and butter over medium heat to reduce the gritty texture.

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3. Grind the unsalted pistachios in a food processor.

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4. Mix these three together to get a sweet pistachio semolina paste and then roll out into a 12.5″ circle.

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5. Prepare the kashta cheese mixture, which will be spread out on top of the paste.

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6. Add the second paste on top of the cheese to close it off, and trim the edges.

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7. Finish off with some decorations on top.

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Here’s the recipe for Bohsalino. It’s easy, quick to prepare, and excellent for a crowd.

Ingredients and Directions:
Sugar Syrup:
1 cup water
1 ½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¼ cup rose water
¼ cup orange blossom water

Stir the water and sugar in a small saucepan over a low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Once it starts boiling, add the lemon juice and continue boiling the mixture for another 2 minutes. Take the saucepan off the heat, stir in the rose and orange blossom water, and set aside to cool.

Pistachio Semolina Paste:
1 cup coarse semolina (not semolina flour)
113 grams (1 stick) cold butter, cubed
500 grams raw unsalted shelled pistachios (shells removed)

Combine the coarse semolina and butter in a small saucepan and place on low heat. Stir until the butter melts and the semolina becomes a bit lighter in color (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and pour mixture in a large bowl.

Grind the raw pistachios in a food processor until finely ground and reserve ¼ cup on  for later use. Add the rest of the pistachio flour to the semolina paste and mix with until homogeneous.

Slowly pour in the sugar syrup while mixing with wooden spoon just until a firm dough is formed (you will end up with extra syrup). It’s important not to work slowly and be careful not to pour all the syrup at once or you will end up with a gooey pistachio paste that doesn’t hold its shape*. Once your dough is ready, place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Kashta Cheese Mixture:
4 medium drops of mastic
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
500 grams kashta (or ricotta cheese)
3 tablespoons heavy cream (or 4 tablespoons if you using ricotta cheese)
1 tablespoon rose water
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
Rose petal jam (for decoration – optional)

Grind mastic drops with the sugar in a mortar and pestle until it turns into powder. Sift the mixture to get rid of clumps. Mix the kashta cheese with the mastic powder, heavy cream, rose water, and orange blossom water. Reserve ¼ cup on the side for decoration.

Assembly:
Divide the pistachio semolina paste in 2 halves. Cut out two sheets of wax paper, large enough to cover a 32 cm (12.5″) serving plate. Sandwich one half of the paste between both sheets of wax paper. Press the paste down with a rolling pin and move it from the center out. Roll into a 32 cm (12.5 inch) circle and then transfer to round serving plate.

Spread the cheese mixture over the first layer of pistachio paste. Roll out the second half of the dough and place on top of the kashta cheese mixture to close then trim the edges. Add the reserved ground pistachio on top and spread out to cover the whole surface. Pipe the reserved kashta cheese on top and decorate with rose petal jam (optional).

*Troubleshooting tip: If you added too much syrup and the dough is too soft or sticky,  slowly add coarse semolina to the mixture and re-heat again until the gritty texture is gone and the dough is smooth and shiny.