Not only for Christmas: Cookies with a Middle Eastern flavor you can enjoy year-round
Rose flower Turkish delight bars, tahini cookies, and date disks are just a taste of some Jewish Middle Eastern delicacies.
A few years ago I brought a platter of freshly made latkes to my kids’ public school in order to share them with the young students while explaining about Hanukkah. As I was serving the latkes to the kids, one little boy approached me and handed me back the latke.
“I’m not allowed to eat those,” he said.
“Why?” I asked, thinking of the many food allergies kids have these days.
“I’m not Jewish,” said the good Christian boy.
I remembered him this week when I went over yet another cookie collection in one of the food magazines. Dozens of tempting looking cookies, bars, macaroons, wafers and snickerdoodles were staring at me from the glossy pages. Am I allowed to eat them? Is it okay if I eat the cookies but don’t enjoy them? Is this even fair?
Just to be on the safe side, here’s a small array of Jewish Middle Eastern cookies to enjoy year round. Even in December.
Rose Flower Turkish Delight Bars
Slices of Turkish delight are baked on top of shortbread cookie. The rose flour variety looks the best, but you can use any type of Turkish delight.
Yields 24 bars
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup powdered sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 lb. rose flower Turkish delight
24 raw pistachios, peeled halved
1. Oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large bowl mix flour, powdered sugar, butter and salt using your fingers to form crumbly dough. Press the dough onto a parchment-paper lined baking sheet to a ¼ inch thick square.
3. If the Turkish delight is coated with powdered sugar, gently wash it in water. Slice each Turkish delight cube into two, and put the slices on top of the shortbread dough one next to the other. Top each Turkish delight square with half a pistachio.
4. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the shortbread is baked through. Transfer to a cooling rack. After 10 minutes cut the shortbread around the Turkish delight to form the bars. Let it cool for another 20 minutes before separating into bars. Store in an airtight container up to a week.
An Israeli obsession in the last decade or so.
Yields 60 cookies
3½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter
9 oz. tahini
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1. Oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl mix all the ingredients using your fingers to form crumbs. Using your hands, roll the crumbs to create 1” balls and arrange them 1” apart on the cookie sheets.
3. Bake for 10 minutes and cool on a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container up to a week.
Date Disks (Baba B’Tamar)
From the Iraqi cuisine, a special treat that was prepared mainly during the holidays.
Date paste (also known as baking dates) is available from Middle Eastern markets. You can substitute with pitted dates and prepare them as directed in the recipe.
Yields 40 cookies
2¼ cups warm water, divided
⅔ cups sugar
1 bag (¼ oz.) active dry yeast
8 cups (2.2 lb.) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons cardamom
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup vegetable or corn oil
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1½ lbs. date paste or pitted dates, preferably medjool
½ cup sesame seeds, preferable roasted
1. In a small bowl put ¼ cup warm water and 1 teaspoon sugar. Mix well, then add yeast, mix and let it foam for 10 minutes.
2. Put flour, the rest of the sugar, salt, cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook and mix briefly. Add yeast mixture and mix. Add oil, butter and 2 cups warm water and knead for 5 minutes on medium speed. Remove bowl from mixer, cover with wet towel and let stand in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours, until dough has doubled in volume.
3. If you’re using date paste, skip to the next stage. If you’re using pitted dates, put them in a pot over medium-low heat and cook while pressing them with a spoon to create a paste. Remove from heat and transfer the dates into a bowl to cool down.
4. Oven to 350. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Break the egg into a small bowl, add a tablespoon of water and beat until smooth. Put sesame seeds in another bowl. Keep aside.
5. Divide dough into 40 2-inch balls. Flatten each ball on a working surface into a thin disk, put spoonful date paste in the center, and wrap the dates with the dough to create a ball. Holding the ball at its seam, dip its round bottom into the egg and then into sesame seeds. Put back on the working surface, seam side down, and flatten with a rolling pin to about ⅓ inch thick. Transfer to the cookie sheet and prick twice with a fork. Continue with the rest of the dough.
6. Bake date disks for about 25 minutes, until golden. Cool on a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container up to a week.
Vered Guttman is a caterer and a food writer based in Washington DC. Growing up in Israel she took her first lessons in Jewish cooking sitting at the tables of her two grandmothers, one from Poland, the other from Iraq. In Modern Manna, Vered will share a mix of new Israeli trends and old Jewish traditions, sprinkled with a distinct Sephardic flavor. Follow Vered on Twitter @veredguttman