I knew I had to make kerebiç cookies since the first time I saw the molds. There was a strange familiarity in these wooden beauties carrying geometrical messages carved on their shaping cavity. Some of those carvings had a clear reference to the cross, an archetypal sign that for any Christian including myself has am important religious reference that I would least associate with the South-East of Turkey where the cookies are coming from. Also, kerebiç molds remotely resembled gingerbread molds used in Russia to make pryaniki, or what outside of my home country goes by the name of Russian tea cakes.
Clearly, kerebiç cookies had to happen, and I bought a few molds. Little I knew back then how this purchase would bring me to the discovery of endless cultural, religious and culinary bonds between so many countries.
I first got to know kerebiç as a mold cookie traditionally made in Hatay and Mersin provinces of Turkey. Sometimes in Hatay they call such cookies kömbe to which my mother-in-law from Mersin would of course object because her kömbe is your savory pie. But then what she calls kerebiç is known as ma’amoul, Middle Eastern mold cookie stuffed with dates, walnuts and pistachio.
And the complications only start here. There are two different schools of shaping ma’amoul, or kerebiç. Ma’amoul is usually done by rolling a little piece of dough, pushing it in the mold, placing the stuffing in, enclosing the stuffing in the dough, pressing the cookie into the mold and then getting the cookie out. Turkish kerebiç is shaped in the same way someone would make içli köfte (kibbeh). You pinch out quite a bit of dough, form it into a little torpedo and with your index finger drill a cavity to place the stuffing in, then enclose the cookie and press it into the mold. I guess there is no best way of shaping the cookie and both techniques are just conventions; however, Turkish approach makes sense if you are an experienced maker of içli köfte (kibbeh) or simply do not have the molds.
In fact, those beautiful mesmerizing molds are not always used. With Turkish kerebiç you can go pretty rustic and bake the little stuffed torpedo straight without much decoration. In some other countries it is common not to use mold but still decorate the cookies by stamping simple patters with the special metal tweezers or even a fork.
Whether you use the mold or not the idea is to mark the cookies depending on the stuffing – by shaping or by the decoration pattern. For instance, you can be sure that the round kerebiç cookies are stuffed with walnuts and the oval ones have a date paste inside.
The recipes are also not quite the same. While ma’amoul is often made with semolina flour and butter in the Middle East Antakyan kerebiç calls for the olive oil, possibly indicating the abundance of the material in the region. It was the olive oil that help me back for a bit. There are not so many olive oil cookies out there. How would it taste like? Could olive oil and sugar talk and possibly agree on something tasty?
Finally, while ma’amoul is often served sprinkled with powdered sugar kerebiç shows up generously coated with çöven köpüğü, also known as köpük helvası. It is a stiff whipped cream-like mix made of soapwort root, water and sugar; add the sesame seeds paste to the mix and you will end up with tahini helva as we know it. Mersin kerebiç covered with that foamy half-done helva becomes a proper dessert instead of a humble cookie.
And what about the cross? The kerebiç cookies are often associated with festivities. In Antakya (Hatay) and Mersin the cookies will be baked and shared during the Ramadan Bayram time while the Christians of Syria and Lebanon would enjoy them for Easter. So the cross symbolizes the Crucifixion; the patters on the round mold signify the vinegar-soaked sponge given the Christ. Who’d expect this from the humble cookies – from Islamic Ramadan Bayram to Christian Easter, it is quite a lap. And just like the last year it happened with the braided Greek Easter Bread of paskalya I am posting an Easter recipe post-Easter because it must be baked more frequently than just once a year. And then slowly Ramadan is approaching. But even before that I am going to treat my breakfast guests next Sunday (are you coming?) to these beauties.
Crunchy and mildly sweet these Antakya-style kerebiç cookies are a pleasure to bake, eat and share.
Typically the stuffing includes only nuts or only dates. I have combined walnuts, sun-dried apricots – a wonderful local alternative to the dates and sesame seeds sometimes used to coat the cookies. Pan-roasting the walnuts and sesame seeds for the stuffing is not critical but enhances the flavor.
Baked Kerebiç should have a pale top so you want to remove the cookies from the oven before they start picking up the color. Don’t be too impatient though: even when pale they should still bake through – this is how strong flavor of extra virgin olive oil mutes.
Source: Very loosely adapted from Jale Balcı’s Antakya ve Yemekleri
Prep Time: 15 Min
Cook Time: 20 Min
Total Time: 35 Min
For the cookie dough:
- 140 g extra virgin olive oil
- 70 g water
- 5 g baking powder
- 80 g sugar
- pinch fine sea salt
- 320 g all-purpose flour sieved
For the stuffing:
- 50 gram walnuts pan-roasted and coarsely chopped
- 7 g sesame seeds pan-roasted
- 50 gram sun-dried apricots finely ground
- 1 g ground cinnamon
- 15 g sugar
- 2 g vanilla sugar
- Preheat the oven to 195C.
- Prepare kerebiç cookie dough: In a large mixing bowl combine extra-virgin olive oil, water, baking powder, sugar and sea salt – whisk well until homogenous. Sieve in the flour and knead with your hands until the dough comes together, becomes smooth and shiny and the bowl sides become clean of any dough bits. Roll into a long and divide into 20 pieces (about 30 g each). Roll each piece and squeeze in your hand to form an oval patty. Set aside.
- Shape kerebiç cookies: Combine the stuffing ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Place a piece of dough on your left palm and “drill it” with the index finger of your right hand to make a well. Continue the drilling movements but apply more pressure to the sides to thin them out: you want to make a thin-sided bell. Don’t be shy, it’s next to impossible to tear this dough – the thinner the more room for the delicious stuffing. Once done fill it with the stuffing leaving about cm on top. Transfer the kerebiç to the right hand and with the fingers of the left close it. Roll into a neat ball, press into the mold and flatten the bottom of the cookie. Turn the mold upside down and hit its upper part against the counter holding another hand under to catch the coming out kerebiç. Place the ready cookie on a baking sheet lined with parchment pater and continue until you run out of the dough. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the cookies just start turning pink on the sides. Cool down on a rack and sprinkle sugar powder on top. Kerebiç cookies keep well for a few weeks when stored in an air-tight container.