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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Melek Erdal

Christmas foodie gifts: Melek Erdal’s spicy Turkish shortbread (kurabiye) recipes

Melek Erdal's assorted savoury kurabiye
Melek Erdal’s assorted savoury kurabiye. Photograph: Robert Billington/The Guardian. Food styling: Kitty Coles. Prop styling: Anna Wilkins. Food styling assistant: Lucy Cottle.

In Turkey, you’ll often take a box of kurabiye when you visit someone’s house. These little biscuits can take many guises – sweet or savoury, in different shapes, and with various fillings and toppings. The counter at the Yasar Halim bakery on London’s Green Lanes has a wonderful array and is the inspiration for today’s recipes. A note on mahlep: this aromatic spice, made from the ground kernels of a type of cherry, is often used in Mediterranean baking and adds a subtle sweetness and a buttery, moreish aftertaste. If you can’t find it, use almond essence instead.

Assorted savoury kurabiye

Prep 30 min
Chill 30 min
Cook 30 min
Makes About 30

For the dough
250g butter, cubed and softened
100ml sunflower oil, or light olive oil
1 tbsp (15ml) cider vinegar, or white-wine vinegar
2 tbsp icing sugar
1 tsp salt
, plus extra for topping, to taste
1 tsp mahlep
, or almond essence
½ tsp baking powder
350g plain flour

1 egg, beaten
Nigella seeds

For the fillings and toppings
45g feta
Za’atar, or dried oregano
Pul biber
Fennel seeds

In a bowl, whisk the butter, oil, vinegar, icing sugar, salt and mahlep, if using. Add 100ml room-temperature water, the baking powder and flour, then mix with your hands until the mix comes together into a soft dough.

Knead for a few minutes, until the dough is smooth, then divide into four equal pieces and roll into rough logs. Wrap each one in clingfilm, then chill for 30 minutes. (If you want to bake a smaller batch of kurabiye, freeze half the dough now.)

Heat the oven to 195C (175C fan)/380F/gas 5½. Take one piece of dough from the fridge, unwrap it and cut into 15 roughly 20g pieces. Roll these into balls and arrange on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Brush with egg and sprinkle a pinch of nigella seeds on each one.

To make feta kurabiye, unwrap and roll a second log of chilled dough into a rough circle about 15cm in diameter. Crumble some feta into the centre, fold the dough over a few times to enclose, then knead until the cheese is evenly mixed through the dough. Cut into 15 roughly 20g pieces, roll into balls and pinch the ends to make them ovular. Brush with egg, sprinkle with salt and za’atar or oregano, and arrange on the same or a separate lined baking tray.

For the loop and twist shapes, cut the remaining dough into 15g portions, then roll into 12cm-long logs. Either loop into a teardrop shape, or twist two rolls together, pinching them at the ends. Brush with egg, sprinkle pul biber over the loops and fennel seeds over the twists, then transfer to the baking tray.

Bake all the kurabiye for 25-30 minutes, until golden, then remove and leave to cool.

Sweet sesame kurabiye with date paste

Melek Erdal’s sesame kurabiye biscuits with date paste.
Melek Erdal’s sesame kurabiye with date paste. Photograph: Robert Billington/The Guardian. Food styling: Kitty Coles. Prop styling: Anna Wilkins. Food styling assistant: Lucy Cottle

I like to stuff these generously because I prefer a smaller proportion of crumbly sesame pastry to spiced date filling. Traditionally, one kurabiye from every batch will contain a lucky surprise walnut, a favourite thing of my mother’s on special occasions.

Prep 20 min
Chill 30 min
Cook 25 min
Makes About 28

For the dough
250g butter, cubed and softened
75ml sunflower oil
2 eggs

100g icing sugar, plus extra to finish
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp salt
1 tsp
mahlep, or almond essence
½ tsp baking powder
4 tbsp toasted sesame seeds, plus extra to finish
450g plain flour
, plus extra for dusting

For the date paste
300g medjool dates (ie, about 15), stoned
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp caster sugar
½ tsp ground cardamom seeds
½ tsp ground cinnamon

In a bowl, and using your hands or an electric hand whisk, combine the butter, oil, one egg, the icing sugar, vanilla, salt and mahlep, if using. Add the baking powder, sesame seeds and flour, mix together with your hands, then knead for a few minutes, until thoroughly combined and smooth. Halve the dough, roll each piece into a thick log, wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes.

To make the date paste, roughly blend the pitted dates, lemon zest and juice, sugar and spices in a food processor until it clumps together and forms a paste. (If you don’t have a food processor, simply chop the dates, put them in a bowl with the the other paste ingredients and crush with a fork.)

Roll the paste into a tube, wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes. Heat the oven to 195C (175C fan)/380F/gas 5½, and make an egg wash by beating the remaining egg in a small bowl.

Unwrap one roll of dough, cut into 30g discs, roll each one into a ball and gently flatten into roughly 8cm-diameter circles. Cut 15g pieces from the roll of date paste, roll each into a ball and place in the middle of each dough disc. Wrap the dough around the paste, then roll into a ball, so the dough evenly covers the paste ball. Gently press down the ball between your palms to form an oval disc. Repeat with the other roll of dough and remaining filling; otherwise, freeze.

Dip the top half of each kurabiye in the egg wash and arrange on a lined baking tray. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Once cool, dust with icing sugar.

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