Tender Butter Cookies (Kurabie) Recipe

Kurabie-s

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)

Ingredients
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.

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25 Comments

  • violetnoir: Thanks, V! I just printed out the recipe. June 29, 2009 at 12:05pm Reply

  • Clara: Sounds lovely! I will try to make it for this weekend’s potluck. Thank you for sharing. June 29, 2009 at 2:20pm Reply

  • sweetlife: How timely! I just made the terrible mistake of discovering Plugra this past week. How I wish I had never put that pretty foil wrapped brick into my shopping cart. I’ll never go back to regular butter again…

    On the other hand, I’ll probably eat less butter overall since we can’t possibly use Plugra as a stable.

    And I love Harold McGee! June 29, 2009 at 11:37pm Reply

  • sweetlife: *sigh* Staple. Though we definitely can’t use it as a stable, either… June 29, 2009 at 11:39pm Reply

  • Tania: That sounds utterly delicious.

    I’ve had butter on the brain (and the tongue) a lot recently.

    One thing I’ve discovered, which will be the end of me, is that butter is an oddly good substitute for sesame or peanut oil in a Chinese noodle snack.

    My snack of the last couple of weeks has been

    1 packet of ramen or other dried Chinese soup noodles, boiled to al dente
    1/4 cup sliced leftover cold chicken breast
    2 thinly sliced scallions (white part + 1 inch of green)
    1 teaspoon minced ginger steeped in 2 tablespoons soy sauce
    chopped cilantro for garnish (if I have it)
    1 tablespoon of butter

    I dredge the warm noodles from the pot in butter, in my bowl. Then I add everything else, toss up with chopsticks, and eat as is.

    Better than a ham sandwich for a quickie meal. And the butter + soy sauce is surprisingly effective, slippery, mellow, slightly nutty, curiously satisfying. Traditionally you would add a drop of toasted sesame oil or heated peanut oil, but I actually like the butter more! June 30, 2009 at 12:11pm Reply

  • Lavanya: I have never been a fan of ‘straight up’ butter but have recently discovered the joys of smelling flour roasting in butter. These butter cookies look so yummy!!! I am going to HAVE to try this recipe I remember loving ‘butter biscuits’ found in many Indian bakeries, but these cookies remind me more of the ‘melt in your mouth’ Shrewsburry biscuits found in Pune- have you tried those? June 30, 2009 at 8:22pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: R, I hope that you will like it! July 1, 2009 at 11:12am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Clara, please let me know how it goes! July 1, 2009 at 11:13am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Alyssa, I am happy to eat less butter but of better quality. 🙂 So, Plugra it is, although trust me, if you try Straus, you will never go back to anything else. Last year I bought an issue of Saveur, which was dedicated to butter, and it completely seduced me. It actually described how to churn your own (using a mixer.) I am still considering it. 🙂 July 1, 2009 at 11:19am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: A, a stable made out of butter… butter staple. It is all very logical! 🙂 July 1, 2009 at 11:20am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Tania, it sounds wonderful! There is a Russian saying that goes, “you cannot ruin porridge with butter.” That might apply to many other things!

    My lunches lately have been very similar (since they have to be portable)–dates, sandwiches, fresh fruit. If you have any other ideas for a portable lunch that would be simple to make, please share! July 1, 2009 at 11:26am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Lavanya, oh, yes, Shrewsburry biscuits are addictive. When I was in Pune, we had them with tea every day. Indian dairy products are fantastic, in general, especially yogurt. The flavor of green apple is so much more pronounced than in yogurts you get here. July 1, 2009 at 11:28am Reply

  • Madelyn54: Dear Victoria,
    Thank you for this reecipe. As a baker – I believe in using “pure butter and real vanilla ” . As in anything what goes in determines the quality .
    Butter is indeed sublime – I am enjoying your recipes July 1, 2009 at 1:56pm Reply

  • armellide: I definitely have to try this. Not while I’m on a diet though. I’m so terribly drooling especially when I think of a possible mixture with fragrant Turkish delight or rose petals gem. July 5, 2009 at 12:37pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Madelyn, nothing beats real vanilla! I cannot agree more. July 6, 2009 at 2:35pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Armellide, rose petal jam would be a wonderful touch. I suppose that you could even scent the dough with rosewater or orange blossom water, which is something one often encounters in Persian cuisine. July 6, 2009 at 2:36pm Reply

  • Renata: I am from Baku! Seeing this recipe made me so homesick that I went ahead and made kurabye last night. I used all-purpose flour, but they still turned out to be delicious. I also used a bit of my mom’s quince jam to decorate the centers. Thank you for a lovely recipe! July 7, 2009 at 1:14pm Reply

  • Elizabeth: I make the Greek version of these cookies every Christmas! They’re called Kourambiethes in Greek – I can see the linguistic relation as well. The recipe is basically the same, but my grandmother always covered them in powdered sugar after baking. I’ll have to try adding jam next! July 9, 2009 at 2:03pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Renata, you are welcome! I am glad that the cookies turned out well. July 16, 2009 at 9:10am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Elizabeth, I will try to make this version too. Powdered sugar would be a nice addition (and very pretty!) In Syria, they form these cookies in a little bracelet shape and decorate the clasp with pistachios, which makes for a gorgeous presentation. July 16, 2009 at 9:11am Reply

  • Tania: Ah, portable lunch. So difficult. Do you have a bento box? You can find them in Chinatown or online. It is so much easier to pack a lunch when you have one of those. When I packed mine, I was always lazy, though. Usually just leftovers from dinner! Of course, you’re such a fine cook that I would take your dinner leftovers over most Manhattan quick-order lunches any day. July 16, 2009 at 4:53pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: T, I have one lovely Japanese bento box, but it is too pretty to be carried back and forth between home and office. I suppose that this ultimately defeats its purpose. 🙂 July 22, 2009 at 11:05am Reply

  • Lavanya: V- I just bought some Straus butter (and icecream and yogurt..lol). Can’t wait to make these lovely cookies August 12, 2009 at 1:16am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Lavanya, oh, let me know how you like them! Straus dairy products are so delicious, and I love that their flavors change season to season, depending on what grasses are available for the cows to eat. August 12, 2009 at 11:06am Reply

  • Lavanya: Yes- I’ll let you know. Their dairy products ARE so delicious- I tried their maple yogurt yesterday and it was soo good! And I had no idea they were a CA company. Thank you for the rec. August 12, 2009 at 12:51pm Reply

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