For those of you who have read my last post on natef, here is the promised recipe for the pistachio cookies — in Aleppo, the filling is walnuts and the cookies are served warm with a sprinkling of cinnamon on the natef — which I will be demonstrating this Sunday at the World Chef Showcase in Star City, Sydney. I have to say that the semolina we pinched from the kitchens at Sean’s (one of the hotel’s restaurant) was the best I have worked with. I must check the label on the canvas bag to see who milled it. In any case, here is how you make the cookies as demonstrated by my mother in Ballouneh in Lebanon. And please don’t mind her black fingernails. They are not dirty but stained from peeling too many fresh walnuts!
First, you make the pastry using mostly semolina with a little flour to make the pastry easier to handle, a little sugar, a tiny bit of yeast and a fair amount of butter; and instead of water, you hydrate the pastry with rose and orange blossom water. The pastry needs to rest for an hour and a half during which time, you grind the nuts and mix them with a little sugar and again fragrant waters. And when the pastry is ready, you divide it and start shaping the cookies with your hands unlike ma’mul or qrass bil-tamr which are moulded with different pattern tabe’s.
You flatten the pastry on the palm of your hand, making sure it is quite thin, then you put a little of the nut filling down the middle. At this stage, you can leave the filling crumbly as we did, or you can grind it finer and shape it into fingers as the pastry chefs did in the Star City pastry kitchen. Shaping the filling into little sausages makes it easier to encase it, but it will probably take a little longer. You need to use as much filling as you can handle as the cookies need to be more pistachios than pastry.
Then you pinch the pastry over the filling and gently start rolling the pastry back and forth to shape it into a sausage (if you want to make your life easy), or into the more classical shape: rounded on top and flat on the bottom. The cookies in the main picture in the natef post are in between the two shapes. I have to admit here that neither karabij nor natef are usually made at home. Rather, they are the preserve of specialist sweet-makers.
Once you have shaped your cookie, place it on a non-stick baking sheet or a sheet that is lined with parchment paper and bake in the oven until golden. Here is a precise recipe and if you can source good semolina that is neither too fine nor too coarse, you will find the cookies very simple to make.
Makes about 25
For the pastry
350 g semolina
40 g plain flour
40 g golden caster sugar
¼ teaspoon easy bake yeast
150 g unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons orange blossom water
3 tablespoons rose water
for the filling
175 g pistachios, ground medium fine
50 g golden caster sugar
½ tablespoon rose water
½ tablespoon orange blossom water
1. Mix the semolina, flour, sugar and yeast in a mixing bowl. Add the softened butter and, with the tips of your fingers, work it in until fully incorporated. Add the orange blossom and rose water and knead until the pastry is smooth and elastic. Cover with wet although not dripping cloth and let rest for one and a half hours in a cool place.
2. Mix the ground pistachios, andsugar in a mixing bowl. Add the rose and orange blossom water and mix well. Set aside.
3. Preheat the oven to 200ºC.
4. Pinch off a small piece of pastry and knead it into a ball the size of a walnut. Place it in the cup of your hand and flatten it with your index and middle fingers – it needs to be thin but not so thin as to tear when you fold it over the filling. Place 1 teaspoon filling in a line down the middle of the pastry leaving the ends clear and start pinching the edges of the pastry together from one end to the other to close it over the filling. Carefully shape the filled pastry into a domed finger, leaving the pinched side on the bottom. Place the moulded pastry onto a non-stick baking sheet. Fill and shape the remaining pastry in the same way.. You should end up with about 25 pastries, each measuring about 8 cm long and about 2 cm high.
5. Bake the cookies in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes or until golden. Remove onto a rack. Let cool. Serve with natef. These cookies will last for a couple of weeks.