Hmm.. Gooood. My absolute favorite cookie!! I love these little things, and I had to stop myself from finishing the batch I was making for my son’s school. They had a great idea this holiday season. A cookie buffet for the teachers where they could each fill a box from cookies of their choice. There were 75 volunteers and each had to make five dozen cookies. I would go crazy if I were a teacher. I don’t do well in buffet settings. I’m the kind that likes to eat a little of everything in a meal.. so my favorite meals are usually mezza type meals. I can’t wait to visit back home and go out for some.
Back to the cookie business. These cookies are sometimes accompanied by a sweet mousse for dipping called Naatef or Natef. The mousse is made from the root of a European/Middle Eastern shrub called Saponaria Officinalis otherwise known as Soapwart. Yes it sounds like soap and is sometimes used in making soap. But it also has culinary uses as an emulsifier in making Tahini Halva. This mousse is another way of using the roots and it’s really a marshmallow-like consistency and very tasty.
Back to the cookies again. The dough is made with semolina and a touch of flour. Once baked, it will be sort of crumbly. The filling is made from coarsely ground nuts with some sugar. Here I used my favorite: pistachios. You could use walnuts, cashews or a mix of all. To make the shape, I used a wooden cookie mold. You could use any style you like and you can find these in a variety of shapes and sizes at any Mediterranean market.
The dough is very simple. In the bowl of a mixer with a dough attachment, pour the semolina, flour, sugar, yeast, baking powder, mahlab, butter, ghee. Mix to incorporate into a rough dough. Add orange blossom water and yogurt and zest and mix again until dough becomes smooth, holds together well and is workable. If still crumbly when trying to shape it, add a couple of tablespoons yogurt. Break small pieces from the dough, round them. Hold the dough ball in your palm and with your finger, dig a whole and widen the opening enough to place one tsp of nut filling inside. Bring the edges together and press them to seal. Press in the mold and tap gently to release. This is sort of a zen workout, it’s repetitive and calming. Bake at 375’F for about 12-15 minutes or until slightly golden.
For the mousse, wash about 8 oz of the root and break into small pieces. Soak overnight in 4 cups of water. The next day, strain the water into a pot and simmer until it is reduced to one cup. Place in the bowl of a mixer, add the powdered sugar, mastic, and orange blossom water and whip on high speed for 10 minutes. The liquid will become frothy and quickly fill the bowl with a shiny white mousse. The mousse is good for one day only.
Note #1: One cup of the liquid will yield a huge amount of mousse. If you don’t need all that, use half and refrigerate the other half for later use. It will last in the fridge in a airtight container for one week.
Note #2:I had extra dough, so I also made date and macadamia nut cookies in the same way but a different mold. You can find them here.
4 cups fine semolina
1 cup flour
1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
1/2 cup ghee
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp yeast
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp mahlab
1/2 cup orange blossom water
1 tbsp orange zest
1 cup yogurt
8 oz pistachios, coarsely crushed
3 tbsp sugar (add more if you prefer sweeter)
1/4 cup orange blossom water