Category Archives: Cookies

Moroccan Desserts

Most Moroccan desserts seem to be flavored with orange blossom or rose water, and many also involve almonds or less frequently pistachios.  Here is a platter of desserts, my last installment of recipes from a Moroccan dinner party that I hosted a couple of weeks ago.

The orange squares on the plate are actually a pistachio nougat covered with dried apricot puree – or apricot ‘leather’, we would have called it when I was growing up – kind of like a natural fruit roll-up. This is a sweet that I purchased at Neomonde (Lebanese) bakery and grocery store. Most of my friends thought they were too chewy – but that’s ok, I didn’t make them! :)  The other two items were ones that I made for the meal.

Moroccan ‘snowball’ cookies were the only cookie I could find that didn’t involve nuts – which is important when you’re inviting someone with a nut allergy! The recipe is again from the website cookingwithalia.  Basically it’s just a sugar/shortbread type cookie, dipped in jam flavored with orange blossom water and rolled in coconut.  I used pear jam which I already had in my pantry, and rolled the cookies in sweetened coconut flakes.  I looked for the unsweetened flakes, but they don’t seem to carry those in the grocery stores around here anymore.  But the sweetened coconut worked just fine too!

The chocolate covered treats are Almond-Stuffed Dates.  Large, good quality Turkish or Medjool dates are sliced open, pitted, and stuffed with an almond paste. Then they’re dipped into melted semisweet chocolate and refrigerated to harden. They can be garnished with sanding sugar as I did, or other glittering edible garnish like gold flake. Here’s the simple almond paste recipe:

8 oz. almonds
4 oz. sugar
1/2 tsp. orange blossom water
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. butter

Blend together the almonds and sugar until very pulverized. Then add orange blossom water, cinnamon and butter to make a sticky paste.

Finally, I made a watermelon salad to serve with dessert along with some green grapes and Moroccan mint tea. This salad wasn’t as well-received by my guests, and I have to admit that I didn’t like it as well as the other dessert options either.  The salad is simple, watermelon chopped into pieces and mixed with rose water and fresh mint and lemon balm, plus just a little bit of honey.  But even though I reduced the amount of rose water that the recipe called for, it was still very perfumed, which is not really what I look for in a dessert.

Overall though, I think my guests were pretty happy by the end of the meal, we had a nice time and great conversation! Even little Heidi enjoyed the phyllo dough from the chicken bastilla and tried some of the other foods :)


Hosting a Persian dinner

My church has an annual spring auction event to raise money for our youth group’s summer trips. This year, my friend Amy and I sold tickets to a homemade Persian dinner, which happened last night.  Most of the items on the menu were things that I had made (and blogged about) previously, during the March Persian cooking experience. Those included Pistachio Soup, Cauliflower Kuku, Chicken Kabab, and Adas Polow (this is the rice and lentil mixture shown below with chicken kabab around the outer rim of the plate).

One new item that we made was something I saw in a magazine recently. I don’t think it was attributed to Persian/Iranian culture, but it seemed to fit the overall theme. So we made these cucumber, feta and toasted walnut bite appetizers. No recipe is really required, it’s that easy – and such a delicious crunchy and salty bite. We had to hold ourselves back from eating them all before our guests arrived!

The other new item on the menu was a Persian rice cookie made with rose water. Rose water is a common ingredient in Persian sweets, though a bit unusual and “perfume-y” for the American palate. We served the cookies with a couple small scoops of mango sorbet, sprinkled with pistachios. Our cookies turned out very flat compared to those represented with the recipe on the mypersiankitchen blog, but there are probably a couple of reasons for that. One, the battery in my scales was dead, so I didn’t have a chance to verify the weight of the dry ingredients, and two – I was using rice flour purchased from an Asian market, which may have been a different consistency than Persian rice flour. Regardless of the look, the cookies tasted very good, with a melt-in-your-mouth, very airy consistency.

Overall, I think the crowd felt like they had gotten their “money’s worth”, and we had a great time fellowshipping and laughing together too!

Scandinavian baking

Whatever you might say about the rest of their food, the Scandinavians can definitely bake! Just think, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say the word “danish”? Here are two baked goods that I’ve tried recently, Kanelkakor (cinnamon walnut cookies) and Birkes (Danish rye buns).

First, this cookie is very much like a snickerdoodle, except with the addition of walnuts. A simple sugar cookie is rolled in cinnamon, sugar and walnuts and baked. Called Kanelkakor in Swedish, I got the recipe from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book, by Beatrice Ojakangas.

Rye bread, rolls and flatbread made with rye flour are also popular in this part of the world. I normally think of rye breads as very crusty or heavy breads, but this recipe for rye rolls also involves a lot of butter to keep the rolls light and flaky. Guess that makes sense, as the recipe is attributed to the Danish, who just love to roll butter into anything!

Danish Rye Rolls (Birkes)
1 package yeast (active dry yeast)
1/4 cup warm water
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 cup warm milk
1 tsp. salt
1 egg
1/2 stick unsalted butter (4 Tbsp.), melted
1 cup rye flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 sticks butter, cold

Whisk together the yeast, warm water and sugar, and let stand for 5 minutes. Add warm milk, salt, egg, melted butter and 1 cup rye flour and stir well. Cut the cold butter into the all-purpose flour until the butter is in small pea-sized pieces. Stir this flour mixture into the yeast mixture until flour is just moistened. Cover with saran wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, take out the dough and divide it in two equal portions. Roll one portion out into a 15-inch round circle and spread it with 1 Tbsp. softened butter. Fold two edges over 1/3 of the way, so that it makes a rectangular strip in the middle (like folding a piece of paper to fit in an envelope). Roll this lengthwise to extend the strip to about 24 inches long.  Then fold that strip in thirds to make it shorter. Roll that rectangle into a 15-inch square, and spread with another 1 Tbsp. softened butter.  Roll up the square like a jelly roll and cut into 8 equal portions.  Place onto a greased cookie sheet, seam side down, and press down to flatten slightly.

Repeat with the second portion of dough.  Cover all rolls with a clean dish towel, and let them rest for about 1.5-2 hours in a warm place until about doubled in size.  Brush with a beaten egg, and sprinkle with caraway, poppy seeds and/or sea salt.  Bake at 400 degrees for about 12-15 minutes, or until nicely browned and puffed.

Adapted from Scandinavian Feasts, by Beatrice Ojakangas

Cooking together – Tortillas

My church supports a household of the Service Adventure program here in Raleigh, where a group of older teens (17-20) come to live together for a year, to work and volunteer within the community.  They have weekly “learning components” where they have to learn or teach something new.  So tonight, the group came over to my house and Debora taught us how to make various Tortillas de verduras – vegetable frittatas (pronounced “tor-tee-zhah”, Argentinians pronounce the double LL differently).  Debora is one of the household participants who is a native Argentinian, so I’ve been talking with her a lot this month about food from her country.

The recipe is very simple, just heat any mixture of vegetables and meat (this recipe is a great way to use leftovers!) in a large skillet over medium heat until heated through, then pour beaten eggs over the top and let it cook well.  In Argentina, they have special double-sided skillets that can be flipped to cook both sides, but that’s a little tricky in a regular skillet, so we ended up slowly cooking them on one side until the eggs were cooked through and firm. A non-stick skillet worked best. You can add in some Italian herbs or other spices to the beaten eggs if you like, and top the tortilla with cheese at the end.

We made three types of tortillas, one with potato and onion, one with corn and onion, and one primavera (spinach, tomato, green pepper, onion, and basil).  All were very good, but I especially liked the primavera mixture.  We found that it was important to make sure that all of the ingredients are hot in the skillet before adding the beaten eggs, otherwise the eggs cooked unevenly and the bottom burned before the eggs were cooked through. We made some garlic bread to go along with the tortillas as well.

For dessert, Debora and Khalicia made Alfajores last night.  These are a traditional favorite in both Argentina and Uruguay, made of dulce de leche sandwiched between two cookies and rolled in coconut. The cookies are unlike any recipe I’ve seen elsewhere, they are actually made with corn starch rather than flour as the dry ingredient. I had some leftover mango mousse with berry sauce that was frozen from last week, so we had that with the cookies for dessert.

Background, pt.2 (love of cooking)

I grew up around my dad’s family, where food was definitely in the center of things.  My great-aunt Mary Emma Showalter was a home economics professor, she collected and edited over 1000 recipes for the Mennonite Community Cookbook, which can still be found in many Mennonite kitchens.  My dad’s sister Nancy also taught home economics and was skilled in the kitchen – I fondly remember her delicious German Chocolate Cake, Raisin-Filled Cookies and Shrimp Creole.  At our many holiday dinners, the ratio of pies to the number of dinner guests was often nearly 1:1, plus ice cream!

My Grandaddy was a country boy raised in rural Virginia who didn’t cook in the kitchen, but grilled the best steaks I have ever eaten or probably ever will again.  Not just steaks, but also salmon, potatoes, corn grilled in the husk, and Vidalia onions with olive oil wrapped in foil and cooked down on the coals.  When he was more than 80 years old, Grandaddy saw an advertisement for a panini press in one of his farming magazines, and promptly ordered himself a new cooking toy.  Memie (our nickname for my grandma) was a farm wife who grew a big garden with her very green thumb, canning and freezing through the harvest season, and cooking full meals, all meals, every day for her family.  I’ve already touched on my parents’ cooking skills and interests in the previous post, and you should know that they also own a bakery in Virginia.

Needless to say, surrounded by all these expert cooks I started in the kitchen at a young age. One early memory involves baking snickerdoodle cookies with our babysitter.  If you have ever made snickerdoodles, you’ll know they’re a perfect kids’ project, you roll the dough into balls and then roll them around in cinnamon sugar before baking (see recipe below).  When we were older, my brother Perry and I would often make crepes together on Saturday mornings, filling them with sugar and jam and drizzling syrup over the top.

The constant supply of fresh fruits and vegetables from our home garden and local environment no doubt also contributed to my love for food.  We had a small orchard of fruit trees and a large vegetable garden. We gathered wild asparagus growing beside country roads and watercress from the creek.  We harvested black raspberries, blackberries, black walnuts and persimmons from the surrounding woods.  I have to laugh today when people talk about edamame (soybeans) as a new thing, because we had heirloom edible soybeans that we grew every year in the garden and ate like lima beans.  I’m also remembering a picture of my brother as a toddler, his face covered with red beet juice from the fresh beets he had been enjoying.  The canned beets they served at school were disgusting, but we absolutely adored fresh beets, coarsely grated and steamed until tender but still just a bit crunchy – cooked this way they are amazingly sweet and flavorful (plus they still have most of their nutrients!).

The family vegetable garden turned into a 30+ acre truck farm where I worked every summer during high school and college, selling vegetables along the side of the road.  Besides the main crop of sweet corn, we grew more than 25 varieties of tomatoes, 15 kinds of sweet and hot peppers, melons, squash, okra, beans, the list goes on and on. My dad liked to grow unusual vegetables such as striped chioga beets, lebanese squash and purple beans.  One of the crops that grew really well was eggplant, but we had some trouble selling it all.  We would hear many customers say something like this, “I enjoy eating eggplant when I’ve tried it in restaurants – but I don’t know how to cook it.”  So one summer when we had a particularly booming crop to sell, I found some simple recipes to share and we started providing vegetable cooking and grilling advice to our customers too.

Before I paint too rosy a picture, all of my cooking experiences have not been positive.  For example, I can remember an attempt to make blackberry jelly where I ended up in tears after a series of frustrating events.  But food was important enough to keep trying, even when it didn’t always turn out perfectly. That was an important lesson once I was out on my own – I have made many mistakes, though the results are usually still edible.  But I learn something from each mistake and then it works better the next time.  I probably take more cooking risks as a single person, because I know that I’m the only one who has to eat it in the end.  And occasionally, a mistake turns into serendipitous discovery and the risk pays off, leading to a new favorite!

1 ½ c. sugar
½ c. margarine, softened
½ c. vegetable shortening
2 eggs
2 ¾ c. flour
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt

Mix together sugar, margarine and shortening until smooth. Mix in eggs. Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and eggs and mix into the wet ingredients. Refrigerate for at least an hour to firm up the dough.

Shape into 1 ¼-inch balls. Mix together ¼ c. sugar and 2 tsp. ground cinnamon. Roll balls in the mixture and place 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes in a 400 degree F oven, or until slightly golden and set. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.