Either my blog has secretly been hoarding some of my recipes for its hungry self, or I’m dreaming. I could have sworn that I waxed poetic about these cookies last July, when I made them as the finale for a balcony barbecue I had with some friends. But I’ve searched — in the archives, in the recipe index, under every conceivable name — and they’re nowhere to be found.
Let’s remedy the situation right here and now. You need this cookie recipe. It’s a soldier of a cookie, one whose sturdy crust cloaks a tight log of nuts, dates, zest, and just a bit of orange blossom water. It’s intensely flavorful, but, amazingly, dairy-free. Everyone needs a good dairy free cookie recipe for the back pocket.
The recipe is an adaptation of one from Claudia Roden’s book Arabesque. Arabesque is a beautifully photographed book, and looking through it brings me back to my years living in the Middle East; Roden knows her regions, and the recipes — grouped by location, including Morocco, Lebanon, Turkey, and more — have the nuance to reflect that knowledge. Are the cookies fussy? Why yes. But fuss a little, and you’ll be rewarded with cookies that smell like a cross between fall holidays and fresh flowers. They aren’t ugly, either.
adapted from Arabesque
For the dough:
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil
6 tablespoons orange juice
Powdered sugar, for dusting
For the filling:
1/2 cup medjool dates, pitted
3 1/3 cups ground almonds
3/4 cup superfine sugar (run sugar through a food processor for 30 seconds to make)
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
zest of one lemon or orange
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon orange blossom water
To make the dough, combine flour, oil, and eggs in a medium mixing bowl. Add enough orange juice to bind the dough: I used all 6 tablespoons, and possibly an extra one.
Knead dough until it comes together, into a soft but quite firm dough. Wrap in plastic, and set aside on the counter to rest about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the filling:
Put dates in a small saucepan and add enough water to cover. Cook 5 minutes over medium heat, until dates have softened. Drain and set aside to cool.
Combine dates and all other ingredients in a medium bowl, and use fingers to work into a paste.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Divide dough into four equal parts. On a clean (but not floured) workspace, roll one part of the dough into a thin (1/4-inch) square. Cut as many 4×4 squares out of the dough as possible. Take about a tablespoon of the filling and roll it in between your fingertips to form a 3.5-inch log. Place the log of filling onto center of the square at a diagonal. Repeat with enough filling for all the squares you’ve cut. Now, use a wide-blade knife to lift a point of one of the squares off the workspace, and gently wrap the square of dough around the log of filling, as pictured above. One the dough is wrapped around the filling, gently coax the long cookie into a crescent shape. Repeat with remaining squares of dough, and continue with 3 remaining quarters of dough.
Bake about 15 minutes; the bottoms will turn light brown but tops should remain pale. Set cookies on a rack to cool. Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.