Ma’caroni Hilwi (Anise Cookies)

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This cookie keeps for weeks. It is a nutritious and lovely snack on the run. Toasting the seeds is not absolutely necessary but is a flavour enhancer. This is a generous recipe, so half it if you wish.g

Traditionally the cookies are shaped by rolling the fingers of dough on a ‘GHOURBAAL’ – a large wooden sphere, finely and tautly webbed with strings of lamb gut. A GHOURBAAL is a basic utensil in a Middle Eastern home; it is used mainly for sifting grains.

250 mL (1 cup) anise seeds

375 mL (1 1/2 cups) sesame seeds – hulled or unhulled

20 mL (4 tsp) yeast granules

2 mL (1/2 tsp) sugar

250 mL (1 cup) lukewarm water

1/5 L (6 cups) all-purpose flour

450mL (1 3/4 cups) vegetable oil or a mixture of veg. and olive oil

500mL (2 cups) sugar

2 mL (1/2 tsp) table salt

5 mL (1 tsp) baking soda

Discard any foreign matter in between the anise seeds; stirring continuously, toast them in a skillet until they start popping; place in a bowl and put aside. Again stirring continuously, toast the sesame seeds until golden in colour.

Add the yeast and sugar to the water and leave for 15 minutes to proof. Place the flour in a large bowl. Add the oil and mix well; rub between the hands until mealy. Add anise and sesame seeds, sugar, salt, baking soda and mix. Add the yeast mixture and work into a dough. Knead until smooth – add a few tablespoons of water if needed. Place in a bowl, cover and leave for 1 hour.

Remove from the bowl and knead some more. Pinch off pieces the size of walnuts and roll lengthwise to form finger-like shapes. Hold a metal grater in one hand and with the four fingers of the other hand, press the dough against the fine side of the grater, rolling downwards at the same time, so as to flatten and roll the piece out and make it hollow on the inside.

Arrange on an ungreased baking pan, with the dented side down. Cover with a tea-towel and rest for 30 minutes. Bake on middle rack of a 160C (325F) oven for 20-30 minutes. Broil the tops to a deep golden colour. Cool and store in an airtight container. Freeze if you wish. Ideal with tea.

Makes about 100 cookies

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