I have a new-found appreciation for traditions lately; probably because I grew up in a family who pooh-poohed all manner of traditions (or at least my mother did). I asked around Malak and Hossein and other friends and acquaintances what is traditional for the commemoration of Ashura; first of all, huge vats of a wheat and meat (or chicken), called hreesseh, are cooked and distributed to neighbors and relatives; for pastries, these cookies called Abbas cookies as well as the plain sandwich cookies with a couple of pieces of Turkish delight, called raha. These were a childhood favorite for many.
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup fine semolina (optional)
- 1 1/2 cups sugar diluted in 3/4 cup milk (over the stove); leave 1/4 cup of milk to brush on the cookies after baking them
- 1 Tbsp rose water
- 1 Tbsp orange blossom water
- 1 Tbsp rose water
- 2 tsp dry instant yeast (proof the yeast in 1/4 cup of warm milk with a teaspoon of sugar till it bubbles up)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- Dash salt
- Spices: 1/2 tsp mahlab, 1 tsp dukkat el-kaak or a mixture of ground anise and fennel seeds; 1/2 tsp turmeric (optional)
- 4 mastic pebbles, ground in a mortar with a teaspoon of sugar till powdery; 1/2 tsp ginger (optional)
- 1/4 cup ghee or clarified butter or vegetable shortening
1. Cool the milk after dissolving the sugar in it. In a stand-in mixer, place the dry ingredients and mix to combine. Add the shortening and mix well; gradually add the milk mixture. If the dough is too wet, add more flour until the dough is firm but moist. Set aside in a lightly greased bowl for a few hours or overnight.
2. Spray the molds with oil and flour; use an ice-cream scooper and form balls of dough, about 1 3/4 ” in width. Place the dough on the cookie mold and press for it to adhere. Flip it over and press more then with a sharp movement, dislodge the cookie from the mold; bake in a preheated 350F oven for about 15 minutes or until golden-brown.
NOTE: Malak, whose sister used to make it at home, told me that they would brush the cookies with the sweet milk as soon as they came out of the oven.
These cookies can also have 1/4 cup of toasted sesame seeds or nigella seeds in the dough; adding semolina to the dough will make them sturdy and rustic.
The turmeric can be added to the milk while the sugar is dissolved in it.
Adding semolina to the dough will give the cookies a rustic, coarse, texture.