Middle Eastern Holiday Baking--Barazek
By: Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer
Some cookies have the power to take you to distant lands with one bite. Whenever I travel to other countries, I love to visit their local bakeries, where I can experience the taste, smells, and traditions of that particular culture. Usually, on the last day of my trip, I like to buy a little box of sweets to take home with me–the last taste of that country that I can share with family.
Middle Eastern sweet shops are filled with sensorial experiences: baklava dripping with nuts and honey, shredded filo layers filled with custard or cheese, buttery semolina shortbreads, and….barazek. Barazek cookies have elements of baklava, shortbread, and biscotti all in one. The base is a buttery crispy cookie, painted generously with honey, then dipped into salty pistachios on one side, and nutty sesame seeds on the other. The result is an overload of taste and texture–sweet, salty, crispy, crumbly, and nutty all in one bite. These cookies are meant to be thin and crispy, but if you prefer chewy cookies just make them thicker. Salted and dry roasted pistachios add a nice counterbalance to the sweet honey.
While these addictive cookies originated in Turkey, they can be found all over the Levant, (Jordan, Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon) where people enthusiastically dunk them into strong cups of tea. On my last trip to the Middle East, I made sure to stock up on these cookies in my carry on baggage. After I was down to my last cookie I knew I had to recreate these at home so that I could continue to share this taste of the Middle East with friends and family–especially during this time of year. I love making these cookies as gifts, and they add a fun and unconventional twist to any cookie exchange.
To see the method on how to make these cookies, click on the video below:
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon half and half or heavy cream, room temperature
2/3 cup roasted pistachio meats roughly chopped, either salted or unsalted
2/3 cup sesame seeds
¼ cup honey
½ tsp water
Preheat the oven to 375˚F. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, beat the butter and sugar on high speed until creamy with a hand mixer. Add the egg and vanilla and beat on medium speed until combined. Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, beating on low speed. Once the dough is almost incorporated, add the cream and continue mixing. You should have a soft dough after the cream has been added. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight. Place the sesame seeds in one flat bowl, and chopped pistachios in another bowl. Put the honey in a third bowl, and whisk in ½ tsp water to thin out the honey for easy brushing Once the dough has been chilled, roll out on a floured surface until the dough is thin, about ¼ inch thick. Take a small glass, (about 1 1/2 inches in diameter) and cut circle shapes all over the dough. You can also shape the cookie disks by hand if you wish. Brush one side of each cookie with honey using a pastry brush, and press in the pistachios. Brush honey on the other side and press into the sesame seeds. Place the cookies on the cookie sheet sesame side up about an inch apart and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until browned. Once baked, cool the cookies completely, they’ll get crunchier as they cool. Store the cookies in a container for up to a week.
Blanche Shaheen is a journalist, food writer, and host of the cooking show called Feast in the Middle East. She specializes in Arab cuisine of the Levant and beyond. You can check out her cooking video tutorials and cultural commentary on growing up Arab American at https://www.youtube.com/user/blanchetv Her recipes can also be found at: https://feastinthemiddleeast.wordpress.com/