Last week, when most of the people I knew were engaged in the great Australian bake-off of Anzac Biscuits for Anzac Day, I decided to swim against the tide and bake some Damascus cookies. Many years ago, I used to work in a café in Melbourne and we sold massive amounts of a house-made version of these cookies. The Arabic name for these biscuits is barazek and they are popular throughout Lebanon and Syria.
There are a lot of commercially-made barazek out there and they tend to be both larger and flatter than this homemade version. Try as I could, and despite the accompanying recipe book picture of a much flatter cookie, my version came out quite domed. This didn’t affect the taste; in fact, they were even more delicious than I remembered them.
I made these on the Thursday and they were such a hit with my family that I made another batch the next day to take to my nephew’s wife who was in hospital with her first baby. With the wholesome combination of sesame seeds, pistachios and a not overly sweet dough, they seemed like a very healthy offering for a new nursing mother. Be warned – these cookies are dangerously addictive, before you know it, you’ve eaten three or four – and you’ll need to keep on baking and baking to keep up with demand.
Adapted from Saha by Greg and Lucy Malouf
- 40g (1½ oz) soft brown sugar
- 45g (1¼ oz) icing (confectioner’s) sugar
- 150g (5 oz) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 egg
- 200g (7 oz) self-raising flour
- 50g (2 oz) pistachio nuts, cut into slivers
- 60g (2¼ oz) sesame seeds, lightly toasted
- Combine sugars and beat with butter until creamy. Add vanilla extract, then egg and then add flour. This is a very soft dough, so wrap in cling wrap and let sit in fridge for an hour before baking.
- Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F) and grease or line two baking sheets with paper.
- Roll small pieces of dough (about the size of a large marble) into balls. Flatten the dough and press firstly into the pistachio slivers, then press the other side into sesame seeds.
- Place on trays about 5cm (2 inches) apart and bake for 10–12 minutes until golden.
- Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
Makes about 25 biscuits.