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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.

Tangerine Sour Cream Pound Cake

12 Mar

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You learn a lot about people by looking at their bookshelves. My dad has a wall dedicated to jazz books, complete with a bronze sculpture of Miles Davis and miniature figurines of an orchestra. Another section of his library contains autobiographies of former U.S. presidents and books about economics and behavioral psychology. You could say that he’s a pretty eclectic guy. My mom collects coffee table books about fashion, art, and flowers, along with fiction novels by iconic French writers. She arranges them pristinely, each book a gorgeous jewel awaiting to be examined.

You can probably guess what my bookshelf looks like. My love for baking, photography, and writing has inspired an extensive cookbook collection. The cookbooks that I’ve acquired from my travels bring back vivid memories of brisk afternoons spent strolling through San Francisco, or the best scrambled eggs I ever ate while in Sydney. Whenever I read cookbooks from my favorite bloggers, I marvel at how the internet has allowed amateur cooks to become award-winning authors and photographers.

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I am always on the lookout for cookbooks from local bakeries and restaurants. Valerie Confections, a quaint bakery located in Echo Park, offers meticulous, French-inspired pastries and confections. Sweet by Valerie Gordon contains a wide array of gorgeous recipes, ranging from fancy celebration desserts to breakfast pastries and everyday cakes.

This pound cake is wonderful in its simplicity. Fresh tangerine zest offsets the sour cream’s richness and provides a bright, slightly tangy flavor. To finish, the cake’s golden brown crust is covered with a shiny tangerine glaze. Served alongside a cup of tea, this cake becomes a delightful breakfast or afternoon snack.

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Recipe slightly adapted from Sweet by Valerie Gordon

Because I prefer my baked goods less sweet, I eliminated one cup of sugar and chose not to soak the cake in syrup after baking. The cake was sufficiently moist and subtly sweet. 

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 tblsp grated tangerine zest (from about 8 tangerines)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the glaze:

  • 1/3 cup fresh tangerine juice (from about 6 tangerines)
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325° F. Grease a non-stick tube pan with butter or baking spray.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix the sour cream, tangerine zest, and vanilla together in a small bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each.

3. Reduce the mixer to low speed and add the dry ingredients, one cup at a time, mixing until just barely combined. Some streaks of flour are ok. Add the sour cream mixture and mix until smooth. Do not over-mix. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth the top.

4. Bake for 45 minutes, then rotate the cake and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes, or until the top of the cake is cracked and golden brown, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a cooling rack for 45 minutes, then invert it an allow to cool completely. To make the glaze, whisk the tangerine juice and confectioners’ sugar together in a bowl. Adjust amount of powdered sugar based on desired thickness of glaze. Pour over the cooled cake and allow to set completely.

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.

Meyer Lemon-Blackberry Loaf Cake

17 Jan

Whenever I bake something new, my mom and I conduct a tasting session around our kitchen table. We assess the texture, complexity of flavor, and uniqueness of an item, savoring each bite in between sips of coffee. While I have undoubtedly inherited her sweet tooth, my mom has also taught me to appreciate quality and attention-to-detail. Unlike a main meal, eating a baked good is a special experience that someone enjoys for a few minutes out of his or her day. Pastries are not meant to be wolfed down for sustenance, but should provide simple pleasure and sweet satisfaction. This philosophy has shaped my baking style and recipe selection.

I chose to make this cake because I thought it would pair well with an afternoon coffee or tea, providing just the right amount of sweetness and tender, moist crumb. Plump, tart blackberries spot the cake’s golden interior, like little jewels that burst inside your mouth. With its beautiful appearance and fresh, unfussy flavors, this loaf epitomizes what a great baked good should be in my book.

Recipe courtesy of Foodess

Because I used fresh, juicy blackberries, I increased the original baking time by 10 minutes. If you opt for a dried fruit or one with less moisture, adjust the baking time accordingly. 

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 /4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • 2 tbsp finely grated Meyer lemon zest (from two lemons)
  • 1/4 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup fresh blackberries, broken up into small pieces

For the glaze:

  • 1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
  • 1/2-3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted

Yields 12 generous slices.

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan, or line with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together sour cream, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla. Set aside.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with a paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl when necessary.

3. Reduce mixer speed and alternatively beat in ⅓ of flour mixture, followed by ½ of sour cream mixture, and repeat, ending with the last ⅓ of the flour mixture. Be sure to pause the mixer occasionally to scrape down sides of the bowl. Using your hands, gently break up the blackberries into small pieces. Use a spatula to gently fold them into the batter.

4. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for 60-80 minutes, until the top springs back when lightly pressed or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes in pan, then transfer to a cooling rack. Cool completely before icing.

5. To make the glaze, whisk together lemon juice and powdered sugar until there are no lumps. Adjust the amount of powdered sugar based on desired thickness. Drizzle over cooled cake.