As a wedding gift we were given an amazing cookbook, The Lebanese Kitchen by Salma Hage (Phaidon). My husband is of Lebanese descent and although my Mother-in-law sets the bar very, very high for delicious, authentic Lebanese food, I am eager to try my hand at it. I confess I'm intimidated by the venture, though, so the only thing I've made so far is hummus. (I know, I know - one of the easiest things to make. Ever.) However, I have spent quite a bit of time perusing the book - soaking up the ingredient lists, the gorgeous photography by Toby Glanville, and new-to-me methods of preparation.
This morning I woke up rather early, so I brewed some coffee and sat down with the book, slowly waking up and stretching the muscles of my brain while looking for inspiration among the pages. My comfort zone with cookbooks is in the bread/pastry chapters, so it's no surprise that after 30 minutes of reading about dates, pistachios, rosewater, orange zest, and honey I was itching to get up out of my chair to see what, if any, of those ingredients I had on hand.
As luck would have it, I had a handfull of dates and some pistachios and without having any idea where I was heading with it, I started chopping them up.
After a good, rough chop, I put the chopped fruit + nuts in my mini-food processor, then added a tablespoon of light brown sugar, some orange zest, and a teaspoon of bourbon and wound up with the most delicious and aromatic mixture! Sweet, nutty, a hint of citrus. Mmmm. So... what was next?
During my morning reading I had come across a recipe for something called ma'moul - a beautiful, decorative mounded Lebanese cookie filled with a mixture of dates or nuts. Not having a ma'moul mold nor the patience to roll out/cut dough, I decided to make a version of a thumbprint cookie, using the pistachio + date filling in place of jam.
I find dates have a particular sweetness to them, so I usually pair them with something less sweet - even on the savory - side. And any of you who have had my cookies know that I don't make overly sweet things. I can't stand it when lovely and inventive flavor combinations get drowned out by heaps of sugar - it ruins a Good Thing and gives me a tooth ache. That, in turn, makes me grumpy, and no one should ever be grumpy as a result of eating a cookie. No one.
So I made these thumbprint cookies with an olive oil cookie base. Well, truth be told, I made the first round with a version of my shortbread recipe, but about half-way in to baking them I decided I wanted to try an olive oil version as well. Both were good!
The shortbread cookie base begets a dense, melt-in-your-mouth sort of cookie, while the olive oil version produces a lighter, more cakey version with a bit of a crunch - reminiscent of Haamantaschen. If pressed, I think I prefer the olive oil version (recipe below), but that could just be the mood I'm in today. Historically, I do have quite an affinity for shortbread.
Over both a brushed a very simple orange juice + sugar glaze. It not only gives the cookie a slight sheen, but helps to mesh the cookie base with the fruit + nut paste by enhancing the citrus flavor.
Date + Pistachio Olive Oil Cookies
Recipe by Alison Walla
For the fruit + nut filling:
125g dried, pitted dates, chopped (about 14 dates)
50g shelled pistachio nuts (about 1/3 cup)
1-2 tsp freshly grated orange zest
1 tbsp light brown sugar
1 tsp bourbon (optional) ** You could use water, if you prefer
For the olive oil cookie dough:
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup sugar
For the orange glaze:
1-2 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tbsp sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Zest the orange and set aside. Then juice the orange and set aside.
Roughly chop the dates + pistachios and place in the bowl of a food processor (I used my mini-food prep). Add the light brown sugar and orange zest. Pulse until fully incorporated and a thick paste forms. Add the bourbon (or water) and process until the mixture smooths out a bit. Set aside.
Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.
In another bowl, add the sugar to the olive oil and beat until light, 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs and continue to beat until creamy and fluffy, a few more minutes. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the bowl until well combined and smooth. You should have a thick + shiny cookie dough consistency. Place the bowl with the dough into the fridge for about 10 minutes, or as long as it takes you to put away ingredients and clean up your work space.
Using two teaspoons or a small cookie scoop, drop mounds of the cookie dough onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, an inch or two apart. Dab a little bit of olive oil onto the back of one of the spoons, and gently make a little well in the center of the cookie. Fill the well with a bit of the date + pistachio mixture (roughly 1/4 tsp each). Sprinkle with coarse sugar and bake for 15-18 minutes, until the tops and sides of the cookies are lightly golden and the bottoms easily lift up off the parchment. Transfer to a cooking rack and let cool for a few minutes.
In a small bowl, combine the orange juice and tbsp of sugar, whisking to dissolve the sugar. Once the cookies have cooled slightly, brush the top and sides of each cookie with the juice/sugar mixture. Serve warm or let cool completely and store in an air-tight container for up to a week.