Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Lebanese Makruns.....My version

Growing up in an overseas Lebanese community, Makruns are a type of Lebanese cookie that was pretty standard fare for me. Everywhere you visited, the host would have these as an accompaniment to the obligatory cup of Turkish Coffee that had to be offered to guests. They were put on a large plate that also had Baklava, and Ma’mool, and other very delectable pastries! It’s a wonder that we did not all become Diabetic or end up piling on the pounds! Sometimes the cookies were served with a sweet lemon and orange blossom water flavored syrup, other times not. My mother, aunts, and their friends all knew how to make them but no one had a recipe with measurements. I guess the method was something passed down through families. It took me a while (and many discarded batches) to get my version to where I was satisfied, and I found out that double baking them like I do when I bake Biscotti, gave them a better texture, somewhat like a shortbread. This is not done in the traditional method but I prefer it this way. I also do not eat them with syrup as that’s just too sweet for me.  Some of the ingredients like Mahlab, are optional but if you can get them from a Lebanese or Greek store, do make a difference in taste. Mahlab is an aromatic spice used throughout the Middle East in baked goods. It is made from the seeds of a species of cherry, Prunus mahaleb (the St Lucie cherry, aka the Mahaleb cherry). The cherry stones are cracked to extract the seed kernel, which is about 5 mm diameter, soft and chewy on extraction. Because the flavor diminishes very rapidly, the seed kernel is ground to a powder just before use. Its flavor is quite specific but is similar to a combination of bitter almond and cherry. 

 500g flour (250 all purpose, 250 durum Atta flour). I like the Durum Atta flour in this as it gives the cookies some “snap” but you can use just ordinary flour as well )
½ cup oil (I mix 1/4 cup olive oil, and 1/4 cup vegetable oil but you could use only olive oil)

2 tbsp anise or 1 or anise 1 fennel, crushed (sometimes I also add Caraway seeds just to get a different flavor)
½ tsp salt
150 grams butter
135g sugar (if you like it sweeter you can add more sugar or make a “simple” sugar based syrup to dip the cookies in when serving)
100ml water
1 tsp freshly ground Mahlab (optional)
1 Tbsp Orange Blossom Water

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

  1. Bring the water to a boil then add the crushed anise and fennel seed in so that they flavor the water.  Add the Orange Blossom water to that and let it then cool to room temperature.
  2. Work the butter into the sugar, ground Mahlab and flour, and salt to look like coarse meal. Mix the oil and water in to form the pastry. I use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Once the dough forms, I bring it together with my hands.
  3. Take small golf ball sized balls, roll out on a lightly floured board to a small circle (not too thin, about 2-3 inches in diameter) then roll up the edge to make a cylindrical shape (like rolling a cigar). Some people score the surface to make a pattern. I do it when I am not feeling too lazy!
  4. Bake it on parchment paper at 350 degrees F until they are very light brown. Take them out, cool for about 20 minutes, then put them back in for another 20 minutes at about 275 degrees F…like you would do with Biscotti.
 They are very good with tea or coffee, and keep well in an airtight container.

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