Category Archives: Dessert

Tahini Cookies

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It is officially cookie season.

As the brittle leaves gently flutter to the ground in vibrant reds and yellows and oranges, and a slight chill whispers down every street and under every door (well, maybe not here in sunny California, but one can pretend), there is one thing on everyone’s mind — the holidays.

The holiday season holds a very special place in each of our hearts for one reason or another. For some it is the family reunions, the warm and fuzzy sweaters, the sparkling menorahs/Christmas trees/kinaras, and the Starbucks holiday drinks that are so attractive (hello, pumpkin spice latte). For others, the endless list of excuses to embrace the consumer within and the overall holiday cheer that take the cake. No matter what we love most about this time of year, just about everyone can emphatically argue that the holidays are a great time to be a human being on Planet Earth.

To me, the holiday season means many things. Near the top of that list lies one of the greatest manifestations of human innovation in all of history — the cookie. Gingersnap, snickerdoodle, chocolate chip… what more could one ask for than a classic, time-honored American cookie?

I’ll tell you. How about a classic, time-honored, non-American cookie? For decades, Americans have been laying out the same kinds of cookies for Santa. He simply must be tired of them. I say that it is time that we branch out to the far corners of cookiedom in search of cookies that we have not tried before. After all, one can only eat that dry sugar cookie so many times before they loses their appeal. So how about baking  something new?

Let us begin our cookie exploration with a famous treat from the Middle East — the tahini cookie. These delectable, melt-in-your mouth cookies are nutty, buttery, and addictively sesame-y. As for categorization, they are probably best described as something between peanut butter cookies and pecan sandies. So come on and give this recipe a shot! I promise that these simple-yet-delicious cookies will soon be a mainstay of your famous holiday party cookie platter.


 Tahini Cookies

November 20, 2014


Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 stick softened butter
  • 1 1/4  cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup well-stirred tahini
  • 1/4 cup shelled pistachios (or almonds, chocolate chips, pine nuts, etc.)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt

 

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Turn the oven to 350F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the softened butter and powdered sugar.20141118_170404-001

Using a whisk attachment (or a fork), cream the butter and sugar together until the mixture is light, fluffy, and smooth.20141118_170458Drizzle in the tahini, and fold it in with the butter and sugar until the mixture is completely homogenous.

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In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Proceed to mix the dry ingredients in with the wet.20141118_171403

The resulting dough should be neither wet nor dry; however, it should be some what harder and more play-dough-like than your average cookie dough.20141118_171602Pinch off a large-olive-sized piece of dough. Roll the dough between your hands until it forms a smooth ball, then gently squeeze the ball on two sides, flattening it until the dough is about 1/2 inch thick. Repeat with the rest of the cookie dough.

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Lay the cookies two inches apart in a staggered pattern on a greased baking tray. Lightly press one shelled pistachio piece into the middle of each cookie.

Slide the tray into the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, until the cookies reach your desired level of brownness. Bake for around 10 minutes for golden brown, soft, chewy cookies. Bake for 15 or more minutes for richer, crispier cookies with caramel and brown-butter undertones. Or, chose a baking time somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes for the best of both worlds!

20141119_070011When the cookies have reached your desired level of doneness, let them cool on the pan for 10 minutes, then remove them and allow them to cool more thoroughly on a rack.

20141119_070446Once the cookies have cooled (or before that if you are impatient), it is time get your munch on! These tahini cookies are a phenomenal mid-morning snack — especially alongside some strong Turkish coffee (accentuated with a dash of cardamom, if you want to take the experience to a whole new level)! I am sure that these delightful treats will soon hold a cherished spot in your holiday cookie repertoire. Please let me know what you think!

Enjoy!

And don’t forget — if you like this recipe, please donate to The After School Special’s fall season fundraiser for UNICEF’s Children of Syria charity! There is only one more month left to reach this season’s donation goal! Together, we can make a difference in the lives of children in need.

Syria Donate Button

 

{click the UNICEF button to donate to The After School Special’s fundraiser for children in Syria}

Halva Studded With Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

Halloween is on my mind.

I’ve always loved Halloween. From the scary stories to the cool costumes, Halloween is arguably the best time to be a kid. What kid wouldn’t want to run around with friends, sporting the costume of his or her favorite fictional character or real-life idol and collecting a lifetime supply of free candy?

Nowadays, however, Halloween doesn’t seem to carry the same magic for me. Maybe I’m just getting older. Honestly, at 16 years old, dressing up as someone else is probably the least appealing thing I can think of — I’m trying to figure out who I am after all, let alone act like someone else. Especially with college lurking right around the corner.

The only thing that holds that last glimpse of Halloween magic for me is the candy. With a sweet bite, I can take myself back to the days when I could go out and celebrate the holiday without worrying about studying for the following day’s tests.

And let it be known, not all Halloween candy is created equal. I have always been partial to the chocolaty candies, as the fruity ones tend to be cloyingly, tooth-achingly saccharine. Anything from Twix to Rolo to 3 Musketeers will do, but my all time favorite, however is Reese’s. The secret to this candy lies in the ratio — a perfect combination of smooth milk chocolate and salty, slightly gritty peanut butter. Yum.

Yesterday, the idea hit me that hit me that I should combine my favorite Halloween candy with a Syrian confection to feature on my blog. I realized that Syrian halva, which is a deliciously nutty, sweet, creamy-yet-crumbly sesame fudge, would go perfectly with Reese’s. Halva traditionally comes either studded with nuts or marbled with chocolate, so I thought that the peanut butter cups might just provide the best of both worlds to create a mind-bogglingly delicious dessert.

Boy, was I right.


 

Halva Studded With Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

October 21, 2014


Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lb tahini (sesame paste, can be found at most grocery stores)
  • 1 1/4 lb granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 cup chopped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (or a combination of Reese’s, chocolate chips and peanut butter chips)
  • 1/2 Tbsp kosher salt


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Grease two 9×5 loaf pans.

Measure out the sugar, water, and salt, and mix them together in a large pot.
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Stir the sugar-water-salt mixture and scrape down the sides until the liquid reaches a boil, after which do not stir at all. Use a candy thermometer to make sure that it gets up to exactly 248F.

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Meanwhile, measure out your tahini and microwave it for 1 minute.

(is my tahini tub big enough???)

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Pour the warmed tahini into a stand mixer or large, sturdy metal bowl. Cover it to keep the tahini warm until the sugar comes to temperature.

Now is also the time to chop up the Reese’s.

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Once the sugar reaches 248F, turn off the heat and carefully pour it into the warm tahini.
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With the cover off to release steam, mix the tahini and boiled sugar on very low speed. It will look like a gloopy mess at first.

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This is how the mixture should look after about thirty seconds. You can start to see clear lines, but it is still very gloopy.

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After about a minute, the mixture will look crumbly but still moist, just like good cookie dough. Immediately stop mixing! If you mix more, your final product will be crumbly and not creamy.

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Working quickly, spread 1/4 of the mixture into each loaf pan, and cover the rest of the mixture so it doesn’t dry out.

Sprinkle the chopped Reese’s on top (as you can see, I opted for a combination of Reese’s, chocolate chips, and peanut butter chips because that is what I had on hand. Just using Reese’s is absolutely fine).

Divide the rest of the tahini-sugar mixture in half, spreading each half over the top of the Reese’s layer. Don’t worry about the candy melting, it actually creates a lovely marble effect.

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Spread the top layer evenly and press it down to make the halva nice and compact.

Cover the halva with plastic wrap and let it cool for at least an hour.
20141020_082406Once the halva is cool, cut it into cubes and serve! Or, for an even more decadent treat, try tipping the halva in tempered chocolate to create a sort of “Reese’s inside a Reese’s” effect.

Enjoy!

And don’t forget, if you enjoy this recipe, please consider donating to The After School Special’s fall season charity for UNICEF’s Children of Syria fund below. Thank you so much!

Syria Donate Button

 {click the UNICEF button to donate to The After School Special’s fundraiser for children in Syria}

Attar: Citrusy, Floral Simple Syrup

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Attar is the Arabic name for rose/orange blossom-flavored simple syrup. Attar is used as a major ingredient in many Middle Eastern dessert recipes. It adds a floral, citrus-y sweetness to baked goods, and also prevents them from drying out. Two classic desserts that use attar are harissa, which is a popular semolina cake, and the world-renowned baklava.

Fortunately, attar is incredibly simple to make. Start by mixing 2 cups of sugar with 1 cup of water, and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Add in 1 Tbsp of lemon juice (or zest) and 1 tsp rose water or orange blossom water, and lower the heat to medium-low. Let the mixture simmer for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the syrup cool, stirring every once and a while to prevent crystallization on the surface. Only use the syrup after it has cooled completely. Store the attar in a jar in the refrigerator.

Harissa: Syrup-Drenched Semolina Cake

20141011_185020Before you call me crazy, let me clear something up: no, this dessert has nothing to do with harissa, the spicy North African chili paste. You see, harissa is also the Arabic name for a deliciously fragrant cake consumed all throughout the Middle East, particularly in Syria.

This cake, also called basbousa, was an extremely popular treat throughout the reign of the Ottoman Empire, and rightly so — the semolina flour adds an addictive nubby texture and sunny flavor while a douse syrup, called attar, keeps the cake moist while permeating it with fragrant sweetness. Although traditionally served with breakfast, harissa is definitely decadent enough to stand up against any dessert. This recipe will become a mainstay in your kitchen — unique enough to impress guests and delicious enough to keep them coming back for more!

The first step to make harissa is creating the attar, just like many other Middle Easter dessert recipes. The recipe for attar is incredibly simple, and can be found here.

If you try out this recipe for harissa and enjoy it, please consider donating to The After School Special’s fundraiser for children in Syria, or spread the word about it to friends and family!

Without further delay, the recipe:


Harissa — Syrup-Drenched Semolina Cake

October 13, 2014


Ingredients:

  • 2 cups fine semolina flour
  • 1 cup butter or ghee, melted
  • 3/4 cup milk or yogurt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup + 1 cup attar (rose simple syrup, recipe here), separated
  • 1/4 cup raw almonds (optional)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt (if using unsalted butter)

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Preheat the oven to 400F.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the semolina, sugar, baking soda and salt together.

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Stir the melted butter in until all of the dry ingredients are moistened. The clumpy mixture should look and feel like wet sand.

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Stir the milk and 1/4 cup of attar into the mixture to make a batter. Add more milk as necessary until the batter takes on the loose consistency and sunny, golden color of polenta or thick grits. Pour into a greased 9×9 baking dish. At this point, you can decorate the cake with almonds (or pistachios, coconut, etc) if that suits your fancy.

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Place the baking dish in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the cake takes on a beautiful golden brown hue and passes the toothpick test.

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While the cake is still hot, pour the remaining attar all over, using a spatula to smooth the syrup over every square inch and into every nook and cranny. The cake will absorb all of the syrup, becoming plump and just perfectly sweet (as the cake itself contains but a small amount of sugar).

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Wait for the cake to cool completely before cutting. The inside will then have set itself up completely, and a crunchy sweet crust will have formed on the surface.

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The final product: a rich, dense, moist cake with a distinct cornbread-like crumb and a sunny, golden yet nuanced flavor. It is no wonder that Syrians are so fond of harissa.

If you enjoyed this recipe, please consider donating to my fundraiser for children in Syria and spreading the word. Together, we can make a difference!

Syria Donate Button

 {click the UNICEF button to donate to The After School Special’s fundraiser for children in Syria}

Quick Turkish Delight With Pumpkin Spice Variation

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Many people have never experienced the magic of Turkish delight. Tragic, I know.

How could someone miss out on this sweet, sticky, chewy, ethereally smooth, prominently-flavored confection? Somewhere between chic pâté de fruit and the gummy candies of your childhood, Turkish delight is a unique, not-to-be-missed treat.

Although Turkish delight was first invented in Turkey, the confection spread quickly after its conception and soon became just as popular (if not more) in Syria and the rest of the Middle East.

I highly encourage you to give this simple candy a try. The recipe is astoundingly simple, using the microwave to cut the cooking time down significantly. And the end product is beyond worth it. Turkish delight is extremely versatile; it can take on endless flavor possibilities to suit your specific taste. This time I made the traditional lemon-rose flavor, as well as a special pumpkin spice variation to celebrate the start of fall.

So if you try this recipe and like what you’ve made, please consider giving back a small amount to Syria through The After School Special’s fall season charity for UNICEF’s Children of Syria fund.

So without further ado, the recipe:


 Quick Turkish Delight With Pumpkin Spice Variation

October 1o, 2014


 3 cups water

2 1/2 granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups + at least 1 cup extra powdered sugar, separated

2/3 cup + 2 tbsp potato starch (corn starch works as well), separated

1/4 cup gelatin (or 1/4 cup agar-agar powder)

1 tsp lemon zest (or cinnamon/other spices depending on desired flavor)

1/2 tsp rose water (or other extract of choice)

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp cream of tartar

3 drops pink food coloring (or any other color!)


Turkish Delight

In a large, microwave-safe bowl, combine the water, granulated sugar, and gelatin/powdered agar-agar and microwave the mixture for a total of 14 minutes. Stir once or twice to break up the 14 minutes.

Meanwhile, sift together the cream of tartar, 2/3 cup of potato starch/cornstarch, and the 1.5 cup of powdered sugar. Stir the dry mixture in with the microwaved sugar-gelatin mixture, and microwave for 6 more minutes without stirring.

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At this point, the base jelly should be thick and shiny, but still more liquid than solid.

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Now is the time to add in your food coloring. For the lemon-rose flavored Turkish delight, simply stir in 2 drops of pink food coloring.

For the pumpkin spice flavored Turkish delight, use 3 drops of orange food coloring (or alternatively, mix one drop of red with two drops of yellow). My red food coloring was especially strong and caused for a slightly darker-than-desired finished product, so I recommend adding very little at a time to achieve the perfect color.

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Once you’ve reached the perfect color, it’s time for the aromatics. For the lemon-rose flavored confections, stir  in the rose water and lemon zest. Dip a finger in to taste for flavor, and feel free to add more zest and/or rose water to suit your tastes.

For the pumpkin spice Turkish delights, stir in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and a rounded teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice ( equal parts ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and clove, adding up to a slightly overflowing teaspoon). Again, taste the mixture and continue to add vanilla and spice until the mixture fulfills your wildest pumpkin spice dreams.

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Spray or oil a 9×9 baking dish (or two 9×5 loaf pans if you split the recipe to make both pumpkin spice and lemon-rose Turkish delight).

Now the hardest part: pop the pan into the fridge and wait for at least four hours to enjoy the fruit of your labor.

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Four hours and significantly less patience later, slice the mass of jelly into 1 inch cubes with an oiled knife.

As you can tell, I was so excited that I forgot to take pictures before I took my first bite. Forgive me.

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Gems, I tell you.

Right before serving, sift the last cup of powdered sugar with the 2 remaining tablespoons of potato starch/cornstarch, and coat each piece with the mixture.

Devour quickly. Un-coated pieces should be left in the pan in the refrigerator, and must be eaten within a week.

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Enjoy!

And don’t forget, if you enjoyed making this recipe, please consider donating to my fundraiser for UNICEF’s Children of Syria fund. Your every donation makes a big difference for a child in need!

Syria Donate Button

{click the UNICEF button to donate to The After School Special’s fundraiser for children in Syria}