Algerian lemon and olive oil cookies (Twabaa)

by Rosa Mayland
Algerian lemon and olive oil cookies (Twabaa)

Algerian lemon and olive oil cookies (Twabaa)

"As Harold took a bite of Bavarian sugar cookie, he finally felt as if everything was going to be OK. Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies."- Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

Cookies (or biscuits, as they are commonly called in Great Britain) are comforting and versatile little baked gems that enlighten our day and offer us a unique gustatory experience. Because the cookie comes in all shapes, colours, consistencies, flavours and degrees of refinement, this extraordinary pastry is the ultimate snack food for adults and children alike, one of the best gift items one can offer (when homemade or artisanally produced, of course) and a quintessential part of any teatime, coffee break or celebration .

Their universal popularity is undeniable and it is rare to find somebody who dislikes these flat, round, crispy and bite-sized cakes as they are incredibly appealing and virtually designed to please everyone. It makes perfect sense when you know that countless varieties are available around the world and that each country has its own word for this speciality (Kaak in Lebanon, Plätzchen or Keks in Germany, småkake in Norway, Galletas in Spain, Biscotti in Italy, Kurabiye in Turkey, Koekje in the Netherlands, etc…) as well as its own range of sweet or savoury confections.

But, are you aware of their origins and the way they arrived in our latitudes? Well, cookies, as we acknowledge them nowadays*, saw the light of day in 7th century Persia (one of the first lands, after Bengal, to cultivate cane sugar and to use it as a common staple), were first brought to Medieval (14th century) Europe by the Muslim invaders and later to the Eastern Mediterranean and then to Northern Europe via the spice trade and the Crusaders who brought with them the cooking techniques and ingredients of Arabia. A passionate topic as, once again, we realise how much our Western civilization owes to the East.

With precursors in this area, it is no wonder that the Middle East, Turkey and North Africa (mainly Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt) produce some of the most pretty, tempting, exquisite and elegant cookies I have ever had the opportunity to savour. I am totally addicted to them as every bite you take puts you in a sensual trance and literally sends you to the heavens above.

After years of buying those ambrosial delicacies from gourmet stores, I have finally gathered enough courage to tackle the art of Arabic cookie-making at home and, until today, the results have been very encouraging, thus my Oriental baking repertoire is slowly, yet considerably widening.

This naturally leads me to speak about my recent culinary discovery: “Twabaa”, a traditional Algerian cookie which reminds me a bit of “Pains d’Anis (Anise Biscuits)” from the canton of Fribourg in Switzerland (a childhood favorite of mine) and which has completely stolen my heart. With its exhilarating citrus aromas, luxurious olive oil fragrance, homely looks, delightfully crispy exterior and pleasantly dry texture it is impossible to resist this luscious treat. As a matter of fact, these “Algerian Lemon And Olive Oil Cookies” taste so good that you’ll keep coming for more!

Recipe freely adapted from “Recettes Gourmandes” and “Taste Of Beirut”.

* The sweet and rich ones, not the hard and dry wafer-like ones which existed before the second half of Middle Ages and which we now call crackers.

Ingredients

1
Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4
2
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder. Set aside
3
In the bowl of a standing mixer (using the whisk attachment), beat together the eggs and sugar for a few minutes or until thick, frothy and pale in color
4
While beating, gradually add the oil, lemon zest and vanilla extract
5
With the help of a spatula, incorporate the dry ingredients into the egg mixture until combined
6
Using a tablespoon, scoop up the dough making sure each scoop weighs exactly 20g. Then, lightly wet your hands and form even-sized balls of dough
7
Place the dough balls on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper and poke holes in the middle with the handle of a wooden spoon (humidify it regularly so that it doesn’t stick to the dough) to form a hole that is about 1 1/2 cm wide
8
Brush the top of each cookie with the egg wash and sprinkle with the extra sugar. Bake for 15 minutes or until the cookies are lightly golden
9
Allow to cool on a wire rack before serving
Allow to cool on a wire rack before serving