Sweet, thin, soft and crisp cookies made with regular home flour and aromatic spices, Aqras Helweh will win your heart.
This post was originally shared as part of the MENA Cooking Club. The club is no longer active.
MENA Cooking Club is cooking Syrian food and this time hosted by Joumana who blogs at Taste of Beirut. We were given the following options:
Drink: Sharab Tamr Hendi
Main: Oven Potato with Lemon, Garlic and Oil
Sweet: Aqras Helweh
I chose to try the sweet Syrian cookies because I wanted to experiment with stove-top baking. I searched the internet and found a Huffington post on how to bake a cookie on the stovetop. Tada! so, Aqras Helweh it is.
I loosely adapted the recipe from Dimah's blog. In the blog, Dimah mentions that Aqras Helweh, a Syrian cookie was one of the foods that people carried along for a month-long journey on camels or by ships. This is because Aqras was one of the best foods that remains good for a long time without being affected.
You will need:
- wheat flour or brown flour
- fennel powder
- cardamom powder
- instant yeast
- baking powder and baking soda
- ghee or butter
- lukewarm water
So, there were two things that the recipe required and I did not have; Mahlab and Baker's ammonia. I went ahead with the closest substitutes. Everything was new to me: making cookies, the most unheard-of recipe of a cookie, making it on the stovetop and the aroma...! It was soo good, fresh and new. I made this with all my heart and was super glad it came out great!
I made two batches, one with ghee as per the recipe and the next day I tried with butter. Both tasted good, but the butter version was snappier. Regarding the shapes, I made squares, circles, and bite-size! 🙂 call me crazy, but that is how much I enjoyed making these stovetop cookies. The best part is this cookie can be stored at room temperature for many days.
The original recipe required running the rested dough through a meat grinder. I do not know the significance of this step, however, in the absence of a meat grinder, I used our very own Idiyappam press replacing the holed plate with that of a Puttu maker. I should also mention that I skipped this step while making the batch with butter and it did not have any notable difference.
Aqras Helweh | Sweet Syrian Cookies
For the Dough:
- 2 cups whole wheat flour (or brown flour)
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds powder
- ½ teaspoon cardamom powder
- 6 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon instant yeast
- 1 pinch baking powder
- 1 pinch baking soda
- salt to taste
- 5 tablespoon ghee
- ½ cup lukewarm water plus 2 tbsp
To Coat the Aqras
- sesame seeds
Prepare the dough
- Take a large bowl and add dry ingredients and whisk to combine.2 cups whole wheat flour, 1 teaspoon fennel seeds powder, ½ teaspoon cardamom powder, 6 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon instant yeast, 1 pinch baking powder, 1 pinch baking soda, salt to taste
- Stir in the ghee and the lukewarm water and rub into the flour.5 tablespoon ghee, ½ cup lukewarm water
- Knead the dough until soft and not sticky. Cover and rest the dough for an hour.
- Run the dough through the idiyappam press with a medium-holed plate (from the puttu maker) in small batches (I guess only Keralites will understand this step) Or use a meat grinder if you have one. (optional step)
- Divide the dough into equal balls (about 9 to 12)
- Add some sesame seeds to a plate (you will keep adding to this as needed)sesame seeds
- Take one piece of the divided dough and work on it between your palms like you do chapatis (ensure there are no cracks and its smooth all over)
- Press the ball gently with your fingers and dip one side of the dough on a sesame plate (this is to coat one side only)
- Place the sesame-coated side down and start rolling it (not too thin, nor very thick - the recommended size is 4mm thickness)
- Flip the flattened dough to have the sesame coated side up.
- Use a fork to poke holes all over the sesame-coated side.
- Place a non-stick pan over a heat diffuser or flat pan. You will need to have a lid with a hole for the non-stick pan.
- Place the rolled dough sesame-coated side up (as many as the pan can fit comfortably) and cover with the lid.
- Wait for 5 minutes, and turn the aqras to cook the other side. Wait for another 5 to 6 minutes and remove the aqras from the pan to a flat plate. Let it cool completely.
- Place the aqras on a baking sheet with the sesame side up. Bake in preheated oven at 200 - 220℃ for 9 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.
- Transfer to an airtight container and this can be stored at room temperature. Serve with milk, or chai or just snack on them.