15 December 2013

North African Shortbread Cookies

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This is how I feel about Christmas cookies the week after Thanksgiving:
  • Yay, it's time to make cookies! There are so many kinds, what will we make this year?! Maybe I'll finally make Martha Stewart worthy cookies with royal icing and perfectly placed glitter. And of course we have to make the traditional ones,  cut out in shapes, and then there's those ones I bookmarked last year....
This is how I feel about Christmas cookies on December 15th:
  • Argh! Why have I not made Christmas cookies yet! I'm just too busy at work and I still need to get presents for people. Okay, I'm going to make cookies tonight. [Cut to me making cookies, the kitchen covered in powdered sugar, and realizing it's 9 pm and there's no food for dinner.]
If this sounds like a familiar tale, than have I got the cookie recipe for you! You don't have to roll out anything, there's no pesky icing to swirl with tooth picks, you only need a bowl and a spatula. These are a classic Algerian recipe for ghirbiya. Ghiribiya basically means shortbread, and you find them all over North Africa and the Levant. They are addictively delicious, crumbly and melt-in-your-mouth. In Algeria they dust the tops with cinnamon, which is a delicious touch.

There is one thing you'll have to get over about these cookies: they are made with vegetable oil. But wait, isn't everything better with butter? I thought so too, but trust me, these cookies are not better with butter. I tested this recipe with vegetable oil, and my office devoured the delicious buttery cookies in minutes. Then I tried the recipe with butter .... you should not try the recipe with butter. The dough crumbled and wouldn't stick together, and the baked cookies formed weird lumpy bumps. They were tasty, but ugly. So use the oil, and the rest of the recipe is a snap!

Need more cookie ideas? Check out the finally updated recipe index, for more! There's lots of cookie recipes under the holiday tab.

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North African Shortbread Cookies (Ghiribiya)
This may be the easiest recipe on earth, as I learned it, it's just: one part sugar, one part oil, three parts flour. I've tweaked it a bit for deliciousness, but it is extremely straight forward. They also make the same cookies in Algeria with semolina flour and with chickpea flour (which is gluten free), but I haven't tried those variations.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt (crushed sea salt is good)
1/2 cup neutral oil (safflower, canola, etc)
cinnamon, for sprinkling

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Place all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix gently. Add in the oil until the mixture becomes a paste. If the mixture is still too dry, you can add 1-2 tablespoons more oil. Press the mixture together with a spatula to form a lump in the bowl.
3. Pinch off rounds of the dough and form into gentle pyramids. Place on baking sheet. Sprinkle the tops with the cinnamon. Bake for 14-16 minutes -- you will see small lines form along the edges of the cookies, but they should not brown. Let cool completely befoe eating, the cookies will harden as they cool.

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