Azerbaijan: Sheker Bura

Azerbaijan is a diverse country bordered by the Caspian Sea. The cuisine is very rich and colorful, but traditional cooking has changed considerably over the past century due to external political influences. During the Soviet period, Azerbaijani cuisine went through a considerable transformation when a number of Russian dishes were imported into the local cooking. Russians introduced many new preparations such as stolichniy (potato salad), pirozhki (stuffed dough), or blinchiki (pancakes stuffed with meat or cheese).

Sheker bura is one of the traditional cookies usually baked for Novruz, one of the most important holidays in Azerbaijan. It is not a religious holiday, but actually is the celebration of the coming of spring, and the renewal of nature.

Shekerbura consists of nuts and sugar wrapped in dough. The outer surface is then intricately decorated using a special tool. The recipe for Shekerbura traditionally passes from generation to generation, and each family adds its own special touch.

Although the Sheker Bura is considered a pastry rather than a cookie, I find it similar enough to cookies like Rugelach that I felt it was fine to be included. Besides, the only other recipe that I could find that was closer to a cookie than this was Halva, and since in the United States we don't necessarily have access to hand picked wheat nor do we know how to "malt" it, I thought I'd steer clear of that one!

Sheker Bura

7 oz blanched almonds, coarsely ground
5 oz sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamon
1/8 cup water

9 oz butter, diced
18 oz all purpose flour
1 egg
1/2 cup cold water

In a small bowl, combine the almonds, sugar and cardamom. Add water and mix thoroughly to moisten the filling. Cover and set aside.

Place the butter, flour and egg in a food processor. Add the cold water and run the food processor until all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Transfer the dough to a work surface. Knead until dough is smooth.

Shape the dough into a log approximately 2 inches wide. Cut the log into 1 inch slices. Roll each slide into a small ball. Place the balls on a plate. Cover with pastic wrap and refrigerate for approximately two hours.

Preheat the oven to 360 degrees.

Work with a few balls of dough at a time, leaving the remaining balls in the refrigerator until you are ready to work with them.

With a rolling pin, roll each ball out into a disk approximately 4 inches wide. Place 2 tbs of the filling in the center of the disk and close the disk into a half-moon shape, pinching the edges to seal. To decorate the edges, pinch the dough and then twist, one pinch to another with the thumb and the index finger all around the edge. Cover with plastic wrap until ready to bake to keep them from drying out.

(Traditionally, there is a special set of tweezers used to decorate the cookies in a fish scale design. If you do not have the proper equipment, simply dust powdered sugar over the finished cookies.)

Bake on baking sheet lined with parchment for approximately 30 minutes or until the surface is lightly browned.

Recipe courtesy of Anna Maria Volpi.

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