As much as I love trying various unusual flavor combinations, from making forays into unfamiliar cooking traditions to sampling durian, a scent of warm butter invariably seduces me more than any other exotic spice or fruit. It is really a perfume in itself–sweet, floral, grassy, with a hint of milky almond and green apple. Harold McGee in his treatise On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, quotes the Irish poet Seamus Heaney on butter, “coagulated sunlight… heaped up like gilded gravel in the bowl.” …
There are many ways to experience the sublime flavor of butter with few distractions. One is to melt a lump of it over pasta, along with a liberal sprinkling of parmesan and black pepper. Or in order to take advantage of the season, you can toss some butter into blanched green peas and add a spoonful of minced mint for a herbal-crisp jolt. For someone with an incurable sweet tooth, I offer a recipe for kurabie, a tender and crumbly butter cookie that finds ancestors from Greece to Egypt. The word kurabie is very likely derived from Greek karabion, meaning “boat,” hinting at the traditional shape of the cookie being a small crescent. I will leave the subject to linguists and food historians, but a quick browsing through my Arabic dictionary revealed a word ġuraybat, which means “baked goods made of flour,” while its root, ġurayb, means “strange, foreign.”
Given its long history and cultural heritage, there are many variaties of kurabie, which range from simple butter, flour and sugar cookies such as those found in Persian cuisine to almond and spice studded confections that are traditional in Greece. The Azeri version of kurabie that I am offering below is the former–a simple blend of butter, flour and sugar, with a bit of egg binding the mixture. As tempting as it is to add various spices and flavors, nothing can be more better than selecting the best quality butter you can find and letting it shine. The texture of kurabie is crumbly, tender and light. It is like a French sable, with creamier mouthfeel.
The recipe is deceptively simple, only four ingredients (plus your choice of decorative accent,) which means that the quality of these ingredients has to be superb. While the regular butter would work, I recommend butter with 82% butterfat, which would make for a crumblier, lighter cookie. Thankfully, even my local supermarket carries several brand of European style butters, from Plugra (82%) to Straus Creamery (85-86%.) Pastry flour, which is lower in protein than the all-purpose flour, is another important ingredient for achieving the delicate texture of kurabie.
Tender Butter Cookies (Kurabie)
350g (3 sticks + 1 T) butter softened till it can be mixed with fork
150g (1 1/2 cups) powdered sugar
550g (4 cups) pastry flour, sifted
1 egg white (from a large egg)
Thick jam or nuts for decorating
Preheat oven to 375F/190C. Oil baking sheets and sprinkle with flour or else line them with parchment paper.
Beat butter and powdered sugar till light and airy and add a lightly whipped egg white. Mix till combined and start adding flour. Since flours range widely, I would recommend going by the texture of the dough, rather than adding all 4 cups at once. You might find that you will need slightly more or less flour to achieve a light, soft Playdoh texture of kurabie dough. It should be easily shaped, yet it should not feel greasy or limp.
Form cookies either using a pastry bag or by rolling dough into small marbles and leaving a thumbprint in the middle. Dot centers with a bit of jam. Alternatively, use can decorate them with skinned hazelnuts or almonds.
Watch the cookies closely and do not let them color as they burn very easily. It takes about 10 minutes or so for them to be ready. A pale, almost white color is traditional for Azeri and Persian kurabie, however you can vary the level of golden hue to your taste. Once cooled, kurabie will keep for weeks in an air-tight container. Since they are quite addictive, I have not been able to determine the length of storage more precisely!
Photography © Bois de Jasmin. Recipe inspired by the one on a beautiful site by Gulli Jahanghir Azeri Food.