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Karabij Halabi: Syrian cinnamon ‘n nuts semolina cookies recipe

It’s 16°C overcast and misty here in Vancouver this morning. Makes me want to snuggle under a warm blanket with a good book and a steaming cup of tea. As I lie back and enjoy the solitude that only comes with Sunday mornings, the warm feeling that washes over me brings back feelings of nostalgia and the earthy aroma of cinnamon.

I woke up one morning 2 weeks ago and couldn’t get the nostalgic feel for these cookies out of my mind. I’ve been craving these Syrian semolina cookies stuffed with nuts ‘n cinnamon since then, and finally found the occasion to make them yesterday, right before Alex and I headed over to dinner to the home of one of our dearest friends.

Aleppo, Syria, also referred to as Halab, where these cookies originate, is a culinary mecca of the Middle East. Happens to be the town I was born in so I was lucky enough to grow up with tastes, freshness and the goodness of the bounty and creative concoctions of Syrian cooks. Aleppo, Syria hosts various culinary ingredients including the artisanal Aleppo Pepper, Za’atar, and countless varieties of sweets that pair perfectly with the Armenian coffee which makes espresso taste diluted, believe it or not.

Karabij is part of the cornucopia of sweets that are plattered lavishly at any given get-togethers in Syrian homes. They’re plentiful at almost all pastry shops, but some, like my mom, liked to make them at home.

These cookies are quite simple to make actually, you just have to have a gentle hand, as the dough is formed by mixing fine semolina with butter and a bit of milk, just to pull it together, yields a very tender and crumbly dough. So gentle is the operative word.

The other trick to remember here is to keep the oven temperature no higher than 3000F, otherwise, the tender dough of the cookie will fall apart from excessive heat.

So as I sit here enjoying the solitude of my Sunday morning, recollecting the comfort of spending time with dear friends, good food, and fine wine, I sip on my Persian tea, nibble these cinnamon-scented nut filled semolina goodies, and realize once again that good food not only nurtures our bodies, but equally our souls. Nibble. Sip. Savor. Smile. Savor. Life is good.

Karabij Halabi

Traditionally, these cookies are shaped like little footballs. Here, I made them as open-faced cookies – wanted to maximize on the texture and the presentation of the filling. Anyway you shape these cookies, they’ll be equally delicious.

Mahlab

Dough

4 cups fine semolina

1 cup unsalted butter, cut small cubes

1 tsp mahlab (if you can’t find mahlab, try to add another infusion here. Vanilla works well.)

100ml water or milk, add a little at a time, or more if necessary, enough to bring the dough together

Filling

325g mixed nuts, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, crushed

¾ cup sugar

1 tsp cinnamon powder

Preheat oven to 285-3000F, pending on the strength of your oven.

Make dough my mixing semolina with butter and mahlab. Add enough water or milk to bring the dough together. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and allow to rest in fridge for 30 minutes.

Make filing by placing all ingredients in mixer and quickly pulsing until nuts are coarsely chopped. Season to taste with more sugar and cinnamon, if you wish.

Shape cookies by makes small palm-sized balls – with the size of my hands, my dough portion yields 46 in total. Make a hole and enlarge the crevice enough to hold the filling.

Fill each “cup” with approximately 1 tsp of the cinnamon-nut filling and place on parchment-lined sheet pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes. Allow to cool.

Enjoy with sweet cinnamon-clove tea.

Yields 46 cookies

Mahlab

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