Sunday, June 6, 2010

Khushknanaj - sweet sesame rolls with scented marzipan filling

The new Middle Eastern Dance Guild is planning to hold a feast in August and I am going to be in charge of the meal (by then I'll have my food handling and food supervisor's certificates). So I am gradually testing some recipes.

This recipe is from In a Caliph's Kitchen by David Waines, which contains a selection of recipes from medieval Arabic collections from the early ninth to the late thirteenth centuries. They are nearly all from Baghdad, the imperial capital of Persia (Iraq).

For each dish, the book contains a translation of the original recipe from Arabic and a modern interpretation. Unfortunately, the modern recipe has often been changed to suit contemporary tastes and is not an accurate redaction of the original recipe. This 13th century recipe is a good example, the modern interpretation completely omitting the sesame oil which gives it its unusual and quite delicious taste, so I have re-interpreted the recipe to be closer to the original. It results in a complex mix of flavours and a lovely texture. Note that the sesame oil is not the dark Chinese sesame oil, but the pale, more subtly flavoured Middle Eastern oil. I made the mistake of using the Chinese oil the first time around. It wasn't inedible, but definitely not to everyone's taste.

The original recipe does not say how large to make the rolls, and I found that dividing the dough into 12 resulted in rolls that I thought were too large, about the size of a small dinner roll. Next time I will make them 1/2 this size so that they are more of a nibble. This recipe will make the smaller size.


600ml plain flour
2 tsp yeast
1 tsp sugar
150mL sesame oil (not Chinese sesame oil)
150 mL water approx
sesame seeds

Mix the dough ingredients to a stiff dough and knead well. It is quite a hard dough to knead, not like normal bread dough. Leave to rise, then knead again briefly and divide into 24 pieces. Roll each piece of dough into an elongated oval and place a cylinder of filling in the centre. Wet the edges of the dough and fold over to enclose the filling. Make sure there are no gaps for the filling to escape because it becomes quite runny during cooking, and if you are not careful you end up with hollow rolls in a sea of burnt marzipan. Place on a baking tray, allow to prove for no more than 30 minutes, then brush the tops with milk and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake in a hot oven (230˚C, 210˚ fan forced) until golden. Allow to cool completely before eating. This allows the filling to solidify again.


200g caster sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
zest of 1 orange
100g ground almonds

Take the sugar and pound it with the cinnamon and orange zest. When it has absorbed all the flavour, sift out the orange zest. Mix it with the almond meal and add enough rosewater to make a stiff paste. Divide into 24 pieces.