Monday, December 16, 2013


Edible Greetings: Giant Sesame Cookies

برازق بالسمسم

How about making greeting cards, rose-scented and thoroughly delicious?

I always had fond memories of the giant sesame cookies I used to love when I was in my homeland Iraq. After many attempts I finally got the right texture of the cookie as I remember it. Then, the idea of using them as edible ‘greeting cards’ hit me, inspired by their huge size. The kids just loved them. I would make the ‘cards’ and they do the greetings. And the recipients of these edible cards, our friends, could not be any happier. Unfortunately, they are so tempting, that there is very little chance for them to stay intact longer than the time it takes to read them. Nevertheless, enjoy!

(Makes 20 large cookies)             

½ cup butter, and ½ cup canola oil
1½ cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon each of vanilla, ground cardamom, and ground fennel seeds

4½ cups all-purpose flour
2 rounded teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

½ cup coarsely ground pistachio or walnuts
¾ cup honey, heated
¾ cup sesame seeds

For glaze (enough for 10 cookies): 1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 teaspoon rose water
About 4 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven 400°F

1. With a mixer, beat together butter, oil, sugar, eggs, milk, vanilla, cardamom, and aniseed, about 2 minutes.

2. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt, and add them to the creamed mix all at once. With a wooden spoon, stir them in a circular movement until well incorporated. Then knead lightly and briefly until the mixture gets together and forms into a ball.

3. Divide dough into 20 golf-ball size pieces.

4. Put nuts, honey, and sesame seeds in three small separate bowls (heating honey will make brushing it on the cookies much easier).

5. While holding a dough-ball, dip it in nuts first allowing its bottom to pick up as much nuts as possible. Then put it on a cookie sheet (no need to grease it). Flatten it with the fingers to ¼ inch thickness, shaping it into a disc about 4½ inches wide (tip: I use the hamburger ring-mold as a guide to make an evenly-shaped round). If wished, crimp edges by pinching with thumb and index finger. Brush the disc with honey, and sprinkle it generously with sesame seeds. Repeat with the rest of pieces. Leave space between them to allow for expansion. You might need 2 to 3 cookie sheets.

6. Bake the first batch in the middle of the preheated oven about 10 minutes, then take it up to the top rack, and put the second batch on the middle rack. In about 5 minutes, check on the top rack. The cookies are done when they nicely brown. Repeat with the other batches.   

7. With a thin pancake turner, carefully transfer the cookies to a cooling rack. Let them cool completely.

8. To glaze the cookies, mix powdered sugar, rose water, and enough milk to form a glaze of spreading consistency. Pour it on the cookies, and set aside until set. Using melted chocolate, decorate the surface with greetings or messages or whatever you fancy. 


كيكة الفواكه المجففة

Kekat il-Fawakih il-Mujaffafa

Delicious cake, full of goodness. Do not give it away! 

When I first cam to the US I was puzzled by the jokes about fruitcakes, and how they are the most recycled Christmas items, as my past experience with fruitcakes in Iraq was quite to the contrary. At Christmas time our Christian neighbors used to send us a plateful of fruitcake slices, deliciously aromatic, studded with raisins and chopped walnut and dates. Year round, simpler types of fruitcakes baked in loaf pans were always available for purchase from bakeries, or often baked at home in bundt/ring pans.

Admittedly, some of the fruitcakes I have tasted do indeed need to be recycled: no flavor, too sweet and dense, with way too much dried fruits, most of which artificially colored. It does not have to be made like this. A fruitcake with balanced texture and taste is the most wonderful cake, packed with goodness, what with all the natural fruits and nuts it contains.

After many attempt over the years, I managed to come up with this recipe, which is not cloyingly sweet, with reasonable amount of fat, and deliriously aromatic.

6 cups (about 2 pounds) dried fruits like raisins, chopped apricots, figs, dates, and prunes, drizzled with ¼ cup orange juice, and set aside covered for an hour or two.

½ cup walnuts, broken into pieces and preferably toasted

1 teaspoon grated orange peel.

½ cup almond flour


4¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons baking powder

1½ teaspoons ground cardamom

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg


¾ cup vegetable oil (such as canola)

1½ cups sugar

6 large eggs (= 1 ¼ cups)

1 tablespoon vanilla

1⅓ cups milk

Preheat oven 360°F, and prepare the baking pan: For this cake, I usually use one long loaf pan 16-by-4-by-4½ inch. Two regular loaf pans will also do. Grease the pan with oil and dust it with almond flour. Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with 1 cup of broken pieces of walnuts and ½ cup shredded unsweetened coconut; set aside


1. In a big bowl, mix the dried fruits with the orange peel, walnuts and almond flour; set aside.  

2. Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg; set aside.

3. In a big bowl, beat oil and sugar, about 2 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition, about 3 minutes. Mix in vanilla.

4. Add the flour mixture in 4 batches alternately with milk. Do not over mix.

5. Stir the dried fruit-mix into the cake batter, mix with a large spoon or spatula. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and level the surface.

6. Bake in the preheated oven for about 70 minutes or until golden brown, and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

7. Take the pan out of the oven and put it on a rack and let the cake cool in the pan. Then invert it and set it aside for a couple of hours or more before slicing it.

If wrapped well, this cake can stay good in the refrigerator for more than a week. It also freezes very well. I usually slice the cake into serving size pieces, wrap them individually in plastic wrap and keep them in the freezer, and use as needed.


For more on the history of making fruitcakes in ancient Iraq, with Sumerian recipes, go to my website