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.

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.

Halawet El-Jibn (Sweet Cheese Rolls)

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Making Lebanese desserts may seem impossible – especially if you live in an Arab country where the best sweets are readily available. But it’s not as hard as you think, and all the ingredients used for this Halawet El-Jibn recipe are not hard to find.

I bet you’ll be surprised to know how easy it is to recreate this fabulous dessert at home: it’s simply a mixture of mozzarella cheese and fine semolina melted together to form a smooth dough that’s rolled out and filled with fresh kashta cheese or this whipped ricotta cheese mixture. It is then served cold with ground pistachios, rose petal jam, and simple syrup.

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The traditional process of making this dessert is very delicate and requires a precise ratio of ingredients that are cooked using specific utensils. It is said that some of the best Halawet El-Jebn can be found in the city of Tripoli in Lebanon, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t make it from scratch if you’re craving Arabic sweets or feeling adventurous in the kitchen!

Ingredients and Directions: Makes about 12 rolls

Simple Syrup:
1 cup water
1 ½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¼ cup rose water
¼ cup orange blossom water

• Place the water, sugar, and lemon juice in a saucepan over a low heat, and stir until the sugar dissolves.
• Turn off the heat and stir in the rose water and orange blossom water.
• Let cool to room temperature.

Cheese Filling:
250g fresh kashta cheese
(or halve this whipped ricotta cheese mixture)

Cheese Dough:
420g grated mozzarella cheese
160g fine semolina
175ml water
2 tbsp orange blossom water
2 tbsp rose water

• Generously coat a 30 cm x 40 cm (12″x15″) baking sheet with simple syrup.
• In a non-stick pan or saucepan, heat the fine semolina for 3-4 minutes until fragrant and evenly heated.
• Stir in the mozzarella cheese until just combined.
• Immediately add water, orange blossom, and rose water to the pan.
• Keep stirring quickly (to prevent the cheese from burning) until a smooth and elastic dough is formed.
• Take the pan off the heat and turn the dough onto the baking sheet.
• Using a small rolling pin or the back of a wooden spoon coated with syrup, roll out the dough to cover the whole baking sheet.
• Refrigerate for 15 minutes then cut the dough into 11 cm x 13 cm (4″x5″) rectangles.

Assembly:
• Take a rectangular cutout, place 2 tablespoons of kashta (cheese filling) on the short side. Slightly fold the long sides towards the center, then roll the cheese dough and place seam side down on a plate.
• To serve, sprinkle each piece with ground pistachios, rose petal jam, and a drizzle of syrup.

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 semolina paste by combining it with butter over low heat.

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2. Prepare the sugar syrup, which holds the dry ingredients together and forms a paste.
3. Grind the unsalted pistachios in a blender to get a fine texture.

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4. Mix these three together to get a sweet pistachio semolina paste, and roll it out using a rolling pin.

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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

• Place the water, sugar, and lemon juice in a saucepan over a low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
• Turn off the heat and stir in the rose water and orange blossom water.

Semolina Paste:
1 cup semolina
113 grams (1 stick) cold butter

• Combine semolina and butter in a small saucepan, and place on low heat.
• Keep stirring until the butter melts and the semolina becomes a bit lighter in color. (about 5 minutes)
• Pour the mixture over the sugar syrup and mix with wooden spoon.
• Place it aside (or in the fridge) to cool.

Pistachio Semolina Paste:
Semolina Paste (above)
500 grams unsalted pistachios (shells removed)

• Place pistachios in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process the pistachios until they are finely ground.
• Transfer to a big bowl and reserve ¼ cup on the side for decoration.
• Add the semolina paste to the big bowl and mix to form a firm and smooth paste. (If the mixture is too liquid, add semolina to harden it)

Kashta Cheese Mixture:
4 medium drops of mastic
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
500 grams kashta (or ricotta cheese)
3 tablespoons heavy cream (or 5 tablespoons if you using ricotta cheese)
1 tablespoon rose water
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
Rose petal jam (for decoration – optional)

• Grind mastic drops and 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 inch) 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.
• Trim the edge of the paste to form a circle.
• Spread the cheese mixture over the first layer of pistachio paste.
• Roll out the second half – following the same instructions as above – and place on top of the kashta cheese mixture to close it off. Trim the edges.
• Add the reserved ground pistachio on top and spread out to cover the whole surface.
• Add the reserved kashta cheese in the center and on the sides using a small spoon.
• Decorate with rose petal jam (optional).