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.

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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.