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Ma’amoul Cookies from my Great Aunt’s Armenian Vegan Cookbook

2 Jun

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While my family has always appreciated good meals, as a child, I seldom spent time in the kitchen. I cultivated my interest in food independently, experimenting with recipes, photographing, and sharing these experiences on my blog. As I grew older, my love of food and my Armenian heritage became defining aspects of my identity. I longed to learn about traditional Armenian cuisine, but did not know where to begin. That was until my great aunt, Dikranouhi Kirazian, released her new cookbook entitled Armenian Vegan. 

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Armenian Vegan contains more than 200 traditional Armenian recipes, including appetizers, breads, main courses, and desserts, using no animal products. For seven years, my aunt secretly labored over this book with the help of her husband, George. She told no one about the project, leaving my extended family in shock upon receiving copies in the mail.

I relished flipping through the pages, discovering recipes that I had never heard of before along with vegan adaptations of classic dishes. Dikranouhi presents a practical and healthy approach to cooking, with simple instructions and ingredients accessible to novice cooks. She writes thoughtfully, sharing personal anecdotes and the cultural significance behind certain foods.

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While reading the dessert section, these walnut-stuffed cookies caught my eye. Flavored with Mahlab, ground cherry pits, and delicate rose water, Ma’amoul are ubiquitous throughout the Middle East. I substituted a few ingredients based on what I had on hand, replacing Mahlab with ground cardamom and rose water with orange blossom water.

Though somewhat time-consuming to shape, these cookies’ handmade touch contributes to their charm. While nestling the sweet walnut filling inside a pocket of supple dough, I imagined my aunt learning this technique when she was a girl. Feeling a personal connection to a recipe makes eating it so much more fulfilling. Most importantly, however, the flavors here are wonderful. Semolina flour, traditionally used to make pasta, provides a toothsome texture and tender crumb, its robustness offset by a sliver of walnut-cinnamon paste. To finish, an elegant coating of powdered sugar makes these dainty treats ideal for serving alongside a cup of tea.

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Recipe adapted from Armenian Vegan 

These cookies can be adapted using various nuts and spices. Possible combinations include pistachio and rose water or date and orange blossom water. 

For the cookie dough:

  • 2 1/4 cups farina or semolina flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cardamon, preferably freshly ground
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup melted margarine or butter (for non-vegan option), melted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup soy milk or cow’s milk (for non-vegan)
  • 2-4 tablespoons orange blossom or rose water

For the walnut filling:

  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Pinch of allspice
  • Powdered sugar for dusting

Yields about two dozen cookies.

1. In a large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the farina or semolina flour, sugar, salt, and ground cardamom and mix thoroughly with a whisk or fork. Mix in melted margarine or butter with a spoon. Bring milk to a boil, add to the flour mixture, and mix well. Knead the dough with your hands until it reaches a smooth pasty consistency, about 1 minute. Add the orange blossom or rose water, knead a few more times to combine. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest at room temperature for 2-3 hours.

2. Meanwhile, make walnut filling. Place walnuts, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice into a small food processor. Process on high speed until the mixture reaches a moist, pasty consistency, about 1 minute.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven. When the dough is ready, measure out tablespoons of dough. Roll each piece into a ball and make an indent in the center, creating a little cup. Place 3/4 teaspoon of walnut paste into the cup, flatten it, then place another flattened ball of dough on top. Seal the seams tightly but carefully with you fingers. Repeat with remaining dough. If you own a Ma’amoul mold, you may use it instead.

4. Place stuffed cookies an inch apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 10 minutes on the lower level of the oven, then transfer them to the top shelf for an additional 3-5 minutes, until lightly golden brown. Transfer the parchment onto a cooling rack, and allow the cookies to cool completely. Once cool, dust cookies with powdered sugar.

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Chocolate Crème Fraîche Cookies

27 Mar

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While I do not condone extreme diets, eating food made with fresh, uncomplicated ingredients is important to me. But until last week, my admiration and passion for traditional French pastry had prevented me from experimenting with healthy, unconventional baked goods.

In my opinion, no gluten, dairy, and wheat-free pound cake can match one made with good ol’ butter, sugar, and all-purpose flour. That being said, after stumbling upon so many gorgeous photos of cookies and breads using wholesome ingredients, I decided to try a naturally gluten-free morning muffin recipe. The results were less than stellar.

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What started as a hopeful undertaking turned into an epic baking fail. Shredded carrots and apple, golden raisins, and coconut and almond flours morphed into a gritty-tasting stump that crumbled in my hands. For a second, I debated sending the muffins to school with my little sister, but feared that my reputation as bake sale queen would forever be tarnished. Both demoralized and slightly amused, I embarked upon another baking project the next day, deciding to stick to what I know.

It had been a while since I had made a pure chocolate cookie, and these could not have hit the spot more. The recipe comes from acclaimed chocolate makers Rick and Michael Mast, the geniuses behind Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory in Brooklyn. While some chocolate cookies can be overly-rich and dense, the addition of crème fraîche gives these an ethereally-light and soft texture.

So as much as I like the idea of incorporating healthier baked goods into my daily meal rotation, I’ve learned that some foods are best in their simple, indulgent forms.

Recipe courtesy of Bon Appétit, February 2014

These cookies spread quite a bit while baking, so make sure to leave ample space between each one. 

  • 20 oz bittersweet chocolate (at least 70% cacao), chopped, divided
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (packed) brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons crème fraîche or sour cream

Yields about 4 dozen.

1. Place racks in lower and upper thirds of oven. Heat 8 ounces chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring until chocolate is melted; let cool slightly. Reserve saucepan for melting more chocolate for glaze.

2. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and whisk together; set aside. Using an electric mixer equipped with a paddle attachment, beat brown sugar and butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs and crème fraîche and beat until just combined. Reduce speed to low and gradually mix in melted chocolate; reserve chocolate bowl. Mix in dry ingredients just to combine; fold in 8 ounces coarsely chopped chocolate. Do not overmix. Cover and chill dough until firm, at least 30 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 350° F. Drop heaping tablespoonfuls of dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2″ apart. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until edges are set but centers are still slightly soft, 15–18 minutes. Let cookies cool on baking sheets for 3 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and let cool.

4. Melt remaining 4 ounces chocolate in reserved bowl set over reserved saucepan of simmering water. Let chocolate cool slightly, then dip or drizzle cookies with chocolate as desired. Let sit until chocolate is set.

Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies with Coconut and Dates

24 Jan

If you search “perfect oatmeal cookie” on Google, you will find millions of unique renditions on the classic recipe. Perfect means something different to everyone. Your personality, tastes, and interests influence your idea of a perfect date, concert, or meal, for example.

Generally, I find that cookie connoisseurs are divided into two groups: thin and crispy versus soft, thick, and chewy. These oatmeal sandwich cookies fall right in the middle–subtly crunchy and golden on the outside with a soft, almost fluffy center. The brown sugar lends a deep butterscotch flavor, spiced up with the addition of coconut flakes and chopped dates. When sandwiched together with a tangy mascarpone filling, these oatmeal cookies become a grown-up version of a favorite childhood snack.

 Recipe barely adapted from The New York Times

This recipe yields fairly large cookies. If you prefer more manageable, bite-sized sandwiches, I suggest scooping rounded teaspoons of dough.

  • 3/4 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 tblsp honey
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tblsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup dates, pitted and chopped
  • 5 tblsp granulated sugar

For the filling:

  • 6 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 6 tblsp mascarpone cheese
  • 3 tbslp confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Yields about 36 cookies; 18 sandwiches.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread coconut flakes on a non-stick skillet. Over medium heat, toast, stirring occasionally, until lightly colored and fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Cool. Increase oven temperature to 375 degrees.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium-high speed until light. Gradually add the brown sugar and honey, then beat until very fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl when necessary. Beat in vanilla.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder and 1 tsp cinnamon. With the mixer set on low, beat flour mixture into butter mixture until just combined. Beat in oats, dates and toasted coconut.

4. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper. In a small bowl, stir together granulated sugar and remaining 2 tsp cinnamon. Roll heaping tablespoonfuls of dough into balls, then roll balls in cinnamon sugar; transfer to baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches of space between dough balls. For smaller cookies, reduce the size of the balls.

5. Bake until cookies are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

6. Make the filling: Using the electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in mascarpone, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla. Scrape down sides of bowl. Sandwich about 1 tablespoon of filling between two cookies; repeat with the remaining filling and cookies.

Conquering the French Macaron

28 Jun
Vanilla bean shell with orange blossom buttercream and dark chocolate ganache.
Vanilla bean shell with black currant buttercream.

Recipe courtesy of The Gourmandise School

Ingredients
For the cookies:
140 g egg whites (about 4) 
80 g vanilla sugar (1/3 cup)
40 g powdered sugar (2 cups)
3 g egg white powder (1/2 tsp)
180 grams almond flour (scant 2 cups)
1 tsp cream of tartar
A pinch of salt 

Yields around 50 shells

For the buttercream:
5 egg whites 
1 lb unsalted butter, cut into chunks 
1 cup granulated sugar 
3 tblsp vanilla extract 
A pinch of salt

1. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper. 
2. Place the almond flour, salt, and powdered sugar in a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients are fully combined into a single powder. 
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites, egg white powder, and cream of tartar on medium-high speed until they reach the soft peak stage. Reduce the speed of the mixer and slowly add the vanilla sugar and continue beating until the stiff peak stage. 
4. Fold the dry ingredient “powder” into the egg whites in three stages, folding until the mixture forms a  thin ribbon. Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a large, round tip. Pipe 1-inch circles, about a 1/2-inch thick, spacing the cookies 1 inch apart. Allow the cookies to rest uncovered at room temperature for 30 minutes. While the cookies are resting, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 
5. The cookies are reading to bake when they have lost their shine and are matte on the tops. Place the cookies in the oven and lower the temperature to 300 degrees. Bake for 15 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool on the sheets for 10 minutes before removing them. 
6. To make the buttercream, fill a medium sauce pot 1/3 of the way with water and bring to a simmer. Place the sugar, salt, and egg whites in the bowl of stand mixer.  Holding the bowl over the saucepot, whisk the contents until the mixture feels hot to the touch. Place the bowl on the stand mixer and beat with the whisk attachment until stiff peaks form. Once the outside of the bowl has reached room temperature, add the butter in small pieces. Add the vanilla. Switch to the paddle attachment and beat until the buttercream is smooth.
7. To assemble the macarons, smear 1/2 teaspoon buttercream onto the flat side of one cookie of each pair. Sandwich together with the corresponding shell, pushing the filling to the edges. Wipe off the excess buttercream from the edges. Ideally, the macarons should be consumed the day they are filled. If not, place the filled macarons in the freezer and defrost fully at room temperature before eating. 

Notes:
You can replace 50% of the almond flour with pistachios, hazelnuts, or pecans to make pistachio, hazelnut, or pecan macarons. Grind them in the food processor with the other dry ingredients and proceed with the same recipe instructions. 
The buttercream recipe can fill about 200 macarons. I divided the batch into thirds and made each a different flavor. For example, add 4 tablespoons black currant puree to a third of the plain buttercream for a black currant variation. I created orange blossom and rose variations by adding 3/4 of a teaspoon of orange blossom water and rosewater to a third of the buttercream. For a richer, more sinful flavor, you could add a splash of amaretto or coffee lacquer. I highly encourage you to get creative with your flavor choices as the possible adaptations are endless. 

I am a pretty serious macaron connoisseur. I have visited the world’s finest macaron purveyors, from La Durée and Pierre Hermé in Paris, to Miette in San Francisco, and The French Corner Cafe in Palm Springs. Through my travels, I have identified three qualities that my fantasy French cookie should possess. 
          1. A light, barely crunchy shell. The macaron’s exterior should be slightly crisp, but airy enough on the inside that you can sink your teeth into it.
          2. Fluffy filling. The filling serves as the glue that binds the macaron together, uniting two seemingly plain shells to create a single, magical partnership. The buttercream’s texture should be cloud-like and not overly sweet, complementing the cookie without overshadowing its earthy flavor. 
          3. Natural presentation. I am repelled whenever I walk into a bakery and view a pastry case stocked with macarons ranging from every color of the rainbow. I cannot help but imagine the artificial dyes required to produce cookies in hues such as neon green and sky blue. Macarons should be presented in their natural form, their nutty, organic origins embraced rather than disguised in seeping colors. 

While the cookies I had sampled over time had been delicious and unique in their own way, none merited the title of “The Perfect Macaron.” That was until last week, when I created macarons for the first time in a pastry class at The Gourmandise School of Sweets and Savories, located in Santa Monica, CA. These cookies are truly incredible. Upon first bite, the macaron not only satisfied my main requirements, but exceeded expectations entirely. Both flavor and texture are spot-on, the shape dainty and bite-sized. The recipe is also widely adaptable, allowing you to experiment with multiple flavor combinations while using the same base ingredients and method. 

I have to admit, I do not think such a stellar outcome could have been achieved had I not taken the class. The teachers demonstrated the process step-by-step, supervising the students as we completed the same tasks individually. On the first batch of cookies, I was hesitant and unsure of my movements, constantly pestering the instructors with minute questions. However, by the second round, I began to develop a rhythm and moved more swiftly through each step. The only way to understand the proper consistency for every component is through trial and error. If you are hesitant to attempt homemade macarons for fear of failure, I highly encourage you to try this recipe. While the first group of cookies may not be flawless, you learn the most from observing mishaps along the way. If you are an experienced baker, this project is an absolute must.

For all the L.A. foodies, I strongly recommend visiting The Gourmandise School. The environment is airy and uplifting and the instructors are educated and helpful. The classes are just the right size: intimate enough that you receive personalized attention while large enough that you have enjoyable company. The School offers a wide variety of classes to choose from; everything from gluten-free desserts to ethnic fare. 

Brown Sugar Chocolate Chunk Cookies

3 Sep

Recipe adapted from Not Without Salt

Ingredients
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
9 1/2 ounces good-quality milk chocolate, cut into chunks using a serrated knife
Sea salt


Makes around 50 cookies.

1. Using an electric mixer equipped with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5-7 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl when necessary. Continue mixing while adding the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating each egg before adding the next. Add the vanilla extract.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture. Mix until just combined, ensuring not to over mix. Using a spatula, fold in the chocolate chunks.
3. Using a small ice cream scoop, place the cookies one inch apart on a baking sheet. Gently press down the dough balls with the palm of your hand and sprinkle each scoop with a bit of sea salt. Bake at 360 degrees for 12 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow them to bake an additional two minutes on the baking sheet. Place the cookies on a cooling rack to cool.
*You can store the dough in plastic wrap in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.


With thousands of available variations of this beloved cookie, why try mine? Why stray from your reliable chocolate chip cookie recipe- one you have already established as the best -into unknown territory? Allow me to explain. The brown sugar provides an organic sweetness and fluffiness to the dough that contrasts perfectly with the decadent milk chocolate chunks and savory sea salt. So good was the first time I tried this cookie that I savored each bite, not leaving a single crumb on my plate. Served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, this heavenly cookie makes the perfect, crowd-pleasing dessert. The raw dough is sinfully addictive and almost too dangerous to store in the refrigerator on its own. This recipe will soon become a kitchen staple, on-hand whenever you are in need of a quick dessert or a special treat to satisfy your sweet tooth.