Late last year I started a new job, and in the first couple of weeks one of my co-workers had a birthday. It was her 21st, and some of the others bought her a cake. She also brought in some Syrian Barazek cookies. These biscuits are native to my co-workers homeland and I was really excited to try them. I also thought it was so sweet of her to bring something in to share on her own birthday!
Syrian Barazek cookies are thin crunchy biscuits that have pistachios on the base and their tops are covered with sesame seeds. After trying them at work, I immediately knew I must try and make them myself. Unfortunately, I tried and failed miserably! The recipe I tried seemed simple enough, but maybe that was the problem. These cookies are not simple, and I feel only someone who has made them for a long time could teach me how to perfect them.
I asked my co-worker and another who is also from Syria, and they said that most people would by Barazek cookies rather than make them. Even the ones I tasted at work had been imported from Syria. I was beginning to think I wouldn’t be able to replicate these delicious biscuits!
A month or so passed, and I still couldn’t get the idea of making some of my own Barazek style cookies out of my head. I then stumbled upon a recipe in Greg and Lucy Malouf’s book ‘Suqar’ for a Lebanese version of Barazek with sour cherries added. Reading the recipe it was quite different from the other Barazek cookies I had tried to make, and looked more reminiscent of a shortbread or sugar cookie than the others.
This gave me an idea. I didn’t need to perfect a traditional Barazek recipe, I could use those flavours and ingredients to create my own Syrian inspired cookie.
The below recipe is what I came up with. I adapted my favourite chocolate chip cookie recipe to include the two main ingredients of a Barazek cookie - sesame seeds and pistachios. I am very happy with the result, despite my biscuits being quite a departure from a traditional Barazek cookie.
I took some into work, and one of my colleagues said it reminded her of the Syrian Barazek cookies, even though they were different. I took this as a great compliment, and am so happy others have not only inspired my baking but also enjoyed it!
Syrian Inspired Sesame & Pistachio Cookies
250g unsalted butter, softened or margarine (I use Proactiv Buttery)
200g brown sugar
100g white sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 egg yolks
325g plain flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
150g slivered pistachios
60g white sesame seeds, plus 2 tbsp extra
Beat the butter or margarine and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment until combined. Add the vanilla extract, then the egg yolks mixing until combined.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and the baking soda, then add to the butter mixture and mix on a low speed until almost combined. Then add the pistachios and the 60g sesame seeds and mix until combined.
At this stage you can either remove the bowl from the stand, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or roll the dough into two logs, cover with plastic wrap or baking paper and freeze.
Either way this biscuit dough needs to be chilled. If placing in the fridge, pre-heat oven to 160 degrees Celsius and line 3-4 trays with baking paper. Once the dough has been in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, scoop out heaped tablespoons of the mixture and place on the prepared baking trays (leaving room for the biscuits to spread as they cook). Sprinkle the tops of each biscuit with the remaining sesame seeds.
Bake for 15-16 minutes (rotating the trays halfway) for a softer biscuit, or about 18 minutes for a crunchier biscuit. The biscuit will be golden once done.
Allow to cool on their trays.
If freezing the dough, roll out some plastic wrap or baking paper and shape half the dough into a log and cover. Repeat with the second half of the mixture. Allow the dough to lie flat in the freezer until completely frozen.
When you want to bake the dough, pre heat oven to 160 degrees Celsius and line 3-4 baking trays with baking paper. Remove the dough from the freezer and allow to sit at room temperature for 5 minutes before cutting.
Using a sharp knife, cut each log into 1/5-1cm rounds and place on the prepared trays (allowing room for the biscuits to spread whilst cooking). Sprinkle the tops of each with the remaining sesame seeds.
Bake for 18 minutes (rotating the trays halfway) for a softer biscuit, and 20 minutes for a crunchier biscuit. The biscuits will be golden once done.
Allow to cool on their trays.
References: ‘The Violet Bakery Cookbook’ by Claire Ptak (Ten Speed Press, 2015), pp.140-1; ‘Suqar’ by Greg and Lucy Malouf (Hardie Grant Books, 2018), p.84.