I saw a cookie recipe on Kalofagas.ca that really got my attention; why? it listed orange rind, orange juice and mastic in the dough. Mastic is used a lot in Lebanese puddings, breads, ice-cream, and even in lamb shawarma! I just had never seen mastic and fresh orange combined!
I made this cookie and not only was it the most fragrant butter cookie, ever, but it sparked my inspiration; I thought, why not make traditionalLebanese date cookies using this dough? orange and dates, a no-brainer, right?
Making huge platters of bar-like cookies is traditional in any Arabic pastry shop in Beirut; for the home cook, it is an easier and speedier option than hand-rolling cookies and stuffing them with the date paste, as my grandmother and countless other grandmothers used to do.
Is mastic important to use here? if you like the stuff, yeah! Some people don’t. Where do you get it? It is available online through purveyors of Greek or middle-eastern goods, at the middle-eastern grocers, even through Amazon.
For the date layer, I used a date paste package that I find at the Palestinian grocer in my neighborhood. It is just dates, pureed and compressed, for pastry usage. It saves time, but if unavailable, just get pitted dates.
INGREDIENTS: 2 pans 9 inX9 in square
- 250 g of unsalted butter (2 sticks or 8 ounces)
- 675 g of AP flour or 3 cups
- 2 Large eggs
- 250 g sugar or 1 1/4 cup
- 1/2 Tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup of fresh orange juice
- 1/2 Tablespoon of baking powder
- pinch of baking soda
- Zest of 4 oranges (I went nuts) or about 3/4 cup (not packed) NOTE: recipe calls for much less.
- dash of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon mastic (instructions on how to use follow)
- optional egg wash: 2 yolks, 1 Tablespoon milk
How to use mastic: per Kalofagas.ca; keep the mastic in the freezer; when needed, pull it out and take the amount you need; place between plastic wrap and use a rolling pin to pulverize into powder. Use the powdered mastic. (It won’t dissolve other wise)
FOR THE DATE PASTE:
- 13 ounces of date paste or pitted dates
- 2 ounces (4 Tablespoons) of butter for the date paste
- 2 Tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon of orange blossom water
- Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer or processor. Add the orange zest, the eggs, one egg at a time, crushed mastic, vanilla and orange juice.
- Add the flour mixed with the salt and baking powder through a sieve into the batter. Mix until all incorporated and the dough will hold and looks smooth and shiny. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest for 30 minutes in the fridge.
- Make the date paste: Place the date paste (or all the dates, pitted) in a processor; add the sugar and start processing a few seconds; add the butter and finally add the orange blossom water. The dough will be compact and smooth. The whole process should not take more than one minute.
- Grease the pan with a spray or some shortening and flour lightly. Take 1/2 the dough and measure half of that for the bottom layer; keep the other dough half in the freezer for another day; roll the dough between 2 sheets of wax paper to about an 1/4 inch thickness; to easily determine how to cut it, place the baking pan over the dough, pressing slightly. Take a knife or pizza cutter and score the circumference of the dough. Remove the excess dough and flip the dough onto the pan, pressing it into place, using the wax paper so as not to get your fingers full of grease.
- Take the date paste and form into a compact mass; roll it a bit between 2 sheets of wax or plastic paper to a square shape; flip it onto the dough layer and with the plastic wrap, press on it with your fingers to let it spread evenly all over the pan.
- Roll the remaining 1/2 pound of dough and repeat the initial operation, flipping it onto the date layer. If pieces fall off, just use your fingers over the plastic wrap to set into place.
- Score the dough in squares and prick the entire surface with a fork.
- Bake in a 350F oven till golden and crispy, about 20 minutes.
- Cool and serve in squares. To serve as a dessert, place a dollop of ashta or clotted cream on the side.
NOTE: If you have never used mastic before, you may want to go easy and use 1/4 teaspoon instead; the flavor is strong.
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