Iraq for me is a word that elicits simultaneously happiness and sadness. I was extremely lucky to visit Iraq in the early seventies with my family. My dad’s close friend lived in Baghdad. He had a beautiful rose garden. I loved eating masgoof by the Tigris. We toured the famous marshlands. This is the area where the Tigris and the Euphrates meet and where the first man is said to have been born. Unspoiled, it was known as the cradle of civilization; its people lived a lifestyle that had not changed since the early Sumerians a few thousand years before. Marsh Arabs lived on the marshes and slept in beautiful homes weaved out of reed in intricate designs. We slept in a reed house and toured the area in a gondola, watching around us water buffaloes and wild colorful birds everywhere. At night, we were offered a feast by the zaim of the village, including huge platters of jeweled rice and roasted wild ducks captured that day in our honor. What an amazing, otherworldly place that was.
We also visited Samarra with its incredible Great Mosque and I remember looking out in the distance and seeing the shimmering domes of other mosques and feeling that I lived back in the times of the Abbassid Caliphates.
These memories of Iraq I will always carry with me. I am reminded of Agatha Christie who lived in Iraq with her husband, the archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan. Listen to what she says in her memoirs (she is talking about a driver in Kerbala, Iraq ) ” …The driver,the soul of politeness and delicacy, as indeed all Arabs are, moved away. And later in the book , recounting their friends: …” Warm-hearted, simple, full of enjoyment of life, and so well able to laugh at everything. Arabs are great ones for laughing, and great ones for hospitality too….How much I have loved that part of the world. I love it still and always shall.“Agatha Christie, An Autobiography, Berkley Books, New York, 1977.
Now, back to the job at hand: For these cookies, I decided to incorporate my home-version of sablés, which consists of adding to the dough a good quantity of homemade almond meal. It is optional, but I like it because it adds crunch to the cookies as well as depth of flavor (from the toasted almonds) These cookies are great because they taste delicious (that wonderful cardamom and almond flavor) and are barely sweet. The whole-wheat flour gives then more body and cuts the sweetness, making them perfect for a tea break.
INGREDIENTS: This quantity will yield 100 cookies
3 sticks unsalted butter ( 12 ounces or 350g. )
1 egg, size large
3/4 cup white sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour ( I used 1 cup whole wheat organic flour)
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of ground cardamom
1 1/2 cups toasted and ground almonds (optional step)
A handful of whole almonds, as a garnish on the cookies
- Let the butter soften at room temperature for one hour or so.
- In a large bowl, measure the flours and the teaspoon of ground cardamom. Add the pinch of salt and whisk the mixture to blend it all well.
- Drop the butter in the bowl of a food processor and process for a few minutes until it gets whitish and smooth. Add the sugar and process a few seconds more.
- Add to the processor bowl all the ground almonds and the egg. Process for a few seconds until it is mixed very well.
- Add the flour mixture in three batches, pulsing the processor every few seconds till mixed in.
- When the dough starts to hold together, shut down the processor and gather the ball of dough. Place it on a plastic or wax paper or piece of foil. Let it rest in the refrigerator for about one hour.
- When ready, prepare the work surface by keeping three cookie sheets nearby; cover them each with parchment paper.
- Roll the dough, one third at a time, between two sheets of either parchment or wax paper. This step makes it a lot easier because the dough is rich and moist. Roll and cut with the cookie cutter of your choice. You can also cut the dough into thirds and shape each third into a sausage shape, cover it in plastic wrap and freeze for 15 minutes. Then cut into thin slices.
- Insert one-half almond into each cookie.
- Place the cookies into the parchment-lined baking sheets and bake in a preheated oven for 15 minutes or so until the cookies are golden around the edges.
- Cool for a few minutes and serve. These cookies will keep for 10 days at room temperature or can be easily frozen for a few weeks.
TO MAKE THE ALMOND MEAL:
- Take one pound of almonds. Drop in boiling water for 30 seconds and drain.
- Peel the almonds and spread them on a cookie sheet for 2 hours or more at room temperature so that they dry out.
- Heat the oven at medium heat (300F) and toast the almonds for 15 minutes or more until they are golden-brown in color and fragrant.
- Cool the almonds and when they are perfectly cool, drop them in batches into either a food processor or a coffee grinder, adding a teaspoon of white granulated sugar with each batch.
- Process for a few seconds until the almonds turn into a coarse powder.
- Keep in a jar in the freezer as needed. Use about 1 1/2 cup for this recipe, adding it with the dough.
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