Pascale's Kitchen: Cookies from the olden days

The cookie jars sitting on my kitchen counter are always full, but I think to fill them with these old-style cookies only when the holidays roll around.

Date-filled cookies (photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
Date-filled cookies
(photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
I make so many different kinds of cookies all year long, but it’s not often I take the time to make old-fashioned traditional treats. I absolutely love getting all nostalgic about the aroma and flavors I so fondly remember from my childhood.
The cookie jars sitting on my kitchen counter are always full, but I think to fill them with these old-style cookies only when the holidays roll around, or if a family member or friend specifically requests one of them. I also prepare traditional cookies for yahrzeits or memorial days for loved ones. 
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So whenever I get the urge to bake cookies that will transport me back to my younger years for a couple of hours, I roll up my sleeves and check my pantry for the necessary ingredients to make some scrumptious cookies. I especially love using the aluminum bowls handed down to me by my late mother, Esther, and mother-in-law, Gita. 
Many times readers will write to me, asking for recipes and directions how to prepare desserts and dishes they remember from their early years. People recall eating cookies their grandmothers made by hand using an old-fashioned manual meat grinder upon which you would place a metal plate that had different shapes cut out of it. Another favorite is cookies with sweet filling. 
These cookies can be stored inside plastic bags kept in tall, colorful metal cookie containers, just like those my mother, aunts and grandmother had. When I was little, there was nothing better than seeing one of these mother figures smiling as she opened a box to offer us a mouthwatering treat. I can still remember the smell of the citrus flavor wafting up to my nostrils as though it were yesterday. 
All of the kids would stand on tippy-toes, trying to see what was in each box, but the aunts would protect the contents as though they were filled with gold. These cookies last up to two weeks but only if they are hidden away somewhere, or they usually get gobbled up pretty quickly. 
Below, you will find recipes for three of my favorite cookies from the olden days. The first is for date-filled cookies called babeh batamar, hailing from Iraqi cuisine. They are relatively large, with a moist date filling. The thinner they are, the higher quality they are considered to be. 
The second recipe is for rahat lokum cookies, which can be made really quickly. You can use any type of rahat lokum to make these colorful cookies.
The third recipe is for vanilla cream cookies that are easy to make and perfect to eat alongside a mug of hot tea or coffee.
DATE-FILLED COOKIES (BABEH BATAMAR)
Makes 20-25 cookies.
60 gr. yeast
1 cup water at room temperature
1 Tbsp. salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
½ Tbsp. hawaij (for baking)
300 gr. margarine, softened or melted
¼ cup oil
1 kg. flour

Filling
3 Tbsp. oil
½ kg. dates, mashed
Egg wash:
1 egg, beaten
Topping:
½ cup sesame seeds
To make the dough, mix the yeast together with the water. Add the salt, sugar, hawaij, margarine and oil. Knead the dough until the sugar dissolves. Cover and let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 hour. Add the flour and knead until mixed well. Let the dough rise for another 2 hours in a warm place. 
To make the filling, heat the oil in a pot and add the mashed-up dates. Stir until mixed well. Add a little oil or water if necessary.
Take a bit of the dough and form balls with a diameter of 6-7 cm. Poke a hole in the center of each ball and stuff a spoonful of the date filling inside. Close the dough around the filling. 
On a greased working surface, press down on the dough balls so that they are 15 cm. wide and 1.5 cm. thick. Arrange the cookies on a greased baking sheet with plenty of space between each one. 
Brush cookies with beaten egg and sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Cover and let the cookies rise for 30 minutes in a warm place. 
Take a fork and poke holes in the cookies. Bake cookies in an oven preheated to 180° for 10 minutes. Store in an airtight container. 
Level of difficulty: Medium.
Time: 3.5 to 4 hours. 
Status: Parve.
QUICK RAHAT LOKUM COOKIES
The most important thing to remember when making rahat lokum cookies is to add the flour and liquids gradually. Knead the dough until it’s smooth, and then knead again before putting it in the fridge to set. In addition, everything must be measured exactly, since the dough is very delicate. Use a cup that is 200 ml. Make sure not to over-knead the dough. 
Makes 30-32 cookies.
2 cups flour, sifted
150 gr. butter or margarine
1 Tbsp. canola oil
2 Tbsp. powdered sugar
2 packets vanilla sugar
¼-½ cup water, or a drop more if needed
5-6 pieces of red, pink or white rahat lokum
Topping
½ cup powdered sugar
Using an electric mixer, mix the butter or margarine with the oil, powdered sugar and vanilla sugar. Gradually add the flour and water. Mix until the dough falls away from the sides of the bowl.
Knead the dough with your hands. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough sit in the fridge for 1 hour. 
Cut the rahat lokum into 32 or 33 pieces. Sprinkle them with powdered sugar and place them on a tray. 
Flour your work surface. Split the dough into two sections. 
Roll out the first section until it’s ½ cm thick. Cut into small triangles and place a piece of rahat lokum with the widest side facing down on each triangle. Roll up the dough from one side of the triangle, ending with the corner. Continue making all the cookies in the same way. 
Arrange the cookies on a lined baking tray with plenty of space between each one. Bake for 20 minutes in an oven that has been preheated to 180°. Sprinkle them with powdered sugar and let cool.
Level of difficulty: Medium.
Time: 2 hours. 
Status: Parve or dairy.
Quick Rahat Lokum cookiesQuick Rahat Lokum cookies
VANILLA CREAM COOKIES
Makes 35 cookies.
Dough
200 gr. butter, softened
3 egg yolks (keep egg whites for filling)
350 gr. self-rising flour or 2.5 cups white flour (sifted) mixed with 1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 container (200 ml.) sour cream
Filling:
3 egg whites
1 cup white sugar
1 package instant vanilla pudding
1 tsp. vanilla extract or 1 packet vanilla sugar
Some ground hazelnuts or ground pistachios
Toppings:
Powdered sugar
Dried rose petals
Add all of the dough ingredients to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix until dough is soft and a little sticky. Use your hand to form a ball with the dough and flour it a little. Put the dough in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place it in the fridge for 30-60 minutes to set. 
Add the egg whites to a clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whipping attachment. Mix on high for a few minutes until stiff peaks form. Add the sugar while mixing on low speed. Mix well. 
Add the pudding and the vanilla and mix slowly for a few seconds. If you want, fold in ground hazelnuts or ground pistachios to the mixture. 
Take the dough out of the fridge and separate into two sections. 
Roll out the dough until it’s very thin. Split the vanilla mixture into two parts. Spread one part of the filling on the dough thinly to the edges. Starting from the side closest to you, begin rolling up the dough into a tight log. Prepare the second log in the same fashion. Place the logs on a tray and cover. Place the tray in the freezer for 20-30 minutes – this will make it easier to slice the logs into pieces. 
Take the logs out of the freezer and slice them into pieces that are 1.5 cm wide. Arrange them on a baking tray lined with baking paper, with the sliced side facing up. 
Bake for 20-25 minutes in an oven that has been preheated to 180° or until the dough begins to turn golden brown (but not too dark). Let them cool and then cover with powdered sugar or rose petals. 
Level of difficulty: Medium.
Time: 2 hours. 
Status: Dairy.
Vanilla cream cookiesVanilla cream cookies
Translated by Hannah Hochner.