Dec 242012
Hazelnut Shortbread Sandwich Cookies with Custard and Ganache

Photo by Dorothy of Schockingly Delicious

Something miraculous occurs to me every time I taste a combination of hazelnuts and chocolate. I fall into a sensory overload, remembering the days of my childhood when I felt comforted and safe, as the warm smell of roasted nuts greeted me at the kitchen door, and adventurous summers of my early teenage years when the boys vied for my attention bribing me with boxes of Eurocream, a Serbian version of Nutella. Tthe aftermath was not as romantic, as I gained ten pounds in one month; but, oh, it was so well worth it!)

Both my mother and grandmother were talented bakers. When the holiday season started in Fall, they would put away their differences and join elbows in order to create the tastiest tiny morsels in town. Each celebration ended with vintage platters lined with dozens of perfectly shaped desserts, small enough to fit into your mouth in one ladylike bite, and allowing you to taste as many without feeling like you were overindulging.

For days, my sister, my brother, and I would be tempted by warm and comforting smells coming from the oven, as the rows of sweets multiplied on the tables throughout the house. We raced Father for the scraps, the cut-off edges, and occasional slightly burned and misshapen specimens. We begged Mother to pass us a few bites behind her back, risking Njanja’s wrath after her usual daily counting duty, but were able to fully enjoy the offerings only after the guests have gone home, leaving us more than enough sweet bounty for several days to come.

I never had a favorite, but throughout the years, a few desserts rose above the others and I reluctantly started to make them in my own kitchen, wanting my girls to experience at least a small part of my excitement. The two younger ones have never met Njanja, and visited Mother only in the summer. They learned to appreciate their grandmother’s culinary skills, but did not have a chance to try her petit fours first hand. My baking skills cannot compare to hers, but they don’t know that, as all they know are the stories.

I have mastered a few of Njanja’s and Mother’s recipes in the last twenty years and even though I know very well how tedious and tiring the whole process will be, I make the sweets nevertheless, feeling the connection to these formidable women who shaped me, knowing that I’ll see the smiles of enjoyment on my children’s faces.

One of their favorites has always been the Indianers, hazelnut shortbread sandwich cookies with custard and chocolate ganache. I have tried to figure out why they were named Indianers, and the only explanation that comes to mind is that the top, dipped in dark ganache, looks like an Indian’s head wrapped in a turban. Almost.

I made Indianers for our annual Food Bloggers of Los Angeles group cookie exchange meeting. As they yield a lot, I took a couple of dozen to a Bunco game, and it made me feel good when they disappeared instantly. My blogger friends seemed to enjoy them as well, and I felt really proud of myself, knowing that I am continuing the tradition, without betraying the ardor, skill, and creativity of my mother who tried to teach us to strive for the best, to challenge ourselves, and to be kind and giving to the people around us.

FBLA Cookie Exchange

Thanks, Dorothy, for making my cookie tin so photogenic!



Shortbread pastry:

  • ¾ cups (200gr) sugar
  • 2 sticks (300gr) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 8 oz (250gr) roasted hazelnuts, ground
  • 1 ¼ cups (300gr) all-purpose flour


  • 5 eggs
  • 2 egg whites
  • ¾ cup (12 Tbsp) sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 sticks (350gr) unsalted butter


  • 6 oz bitter-sweet chocolate
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp milk


Shortbread Pastry:

Cream sugar and butter with a hand-held mixer until combined. Add egg yolks, one by one, until mixed in. In a separate bowl stir together ground hazelnuts and flour. Stir dry ingredients into the butter mixture until well combined. Flatten into a disc and chill for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

On a lightly floured surface flatten the dough with a rolling pin to 1/8 inch thick. Cut small circles using 1-inch cookie cutter (or a metal top of a booze bottle, as my mother would use). Place the cookies on a cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes until slightly browned. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for five minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.


Whisk the eggs and egg whites together until foamy and light. Add the sugar and stir in a double boiler on low heat until thickened, 20-30 minutes (a wooden spoon would leave a trail when dragged on the bottom of the pot). Let the custard cool completely and only then whip the butter in.


In a double boiler melt chocolate and butter. Stir in the milk.


Place about ½ tsp of filling on top of one cookie. Form a pyramid of filling in the center of the cookie using the spoon, place another cookie on top and press lightly to evenly disperse the custard.

Line the assembled sandwich cookies on a cookie sheet.

When all the cookies have been put together, dip each one in ganache, making sure that only the top part is covered with chocolate. Place the cookies on a tray and let them cool. Keep in the fridge for 1 week, or freeze for several months in an air-proof container.

Dec 182012

Spinach Turnovers from

This month I am a part of a team that promotes a cookbook written by one of our own, Faith Gorsky of An Edible Mosaic. Middle-Eastern food is like a trip home to me, and I felt a connection to Faith as she wrote about her culinary experiences after she married a Syrian man and embarked on a trip to learn how to cook his favorite dishes from Sahar, her mother-in-law (as a linguist, I could not pass this one – sahar translates into sugar:)

The culinary world is sometimes like a game of Telephone that we used to play at grade school, before the birthday parties moved forward to embrace slow-dancing. A dish travels along the meridians and changes slightly with each turn, only to become something different every hundred or so kilometers. Every region adds its own flair, adopts it, and claims it with passion; and each incarnation is a story in itself, of the people, the land, the culture, and the history that brought it all together.

When I opened Faith’s book An Edible Mosaic, I felt as if I were visiting distant relatives. I felt comfortable, at home, but still minding my manners and observing keenly from a side table. Most dishes were like beacons that pulled me back to my childhood and foods I enjoyed in Mother’s and Njanja’s kitchen. But there were variables thrown in the mix that intrigued me and made me shift focus for a bit.

We have many dishes featuring dough and spinach in the Balkans. But instead of farmers’ cheese, eggs, and phyllo dough, this recipe asks for yeasted dough, sumac, sauteed onions, lemon juice, and cumin/coriander spice mix. I am lucky to have two Persian stores a few blocks away and cumin and coriander are a staple in my house. I tasted sumac for the first time when I visited my oldest daughter in Berkeley and ate at an Afghani restaurant. I could not wait to try a recipe that asked for it. And I was not disappointed.

An Edible Mosaic

Here is what Faith has to say about Spinach Turnovers:

During my time in Damascus, one of my favorite meals was my mother-in-law’s Spinach Turnovers. She and I would go to the market to pick up fresh spinach along with any other ingredients that were needed, and then she’d make the filling when we got home. After that, one of her sons was sent to the communal oven where the baker stuffed the family’s filling into his dough, and then baked the turnovers. Done this way, the family pays for the baker’s dough and goes home with freshly made treats.

The communal ovens were such a novel idea to me; they are remnants leftover from a time when very few homes had ovens of their own. Despite the fact that this is no longer the case in Damascus, the tradition has endured.

I really love the pleasantly tart flavor of these turnovers, which comes from both sumac and lemon juice. Paired with plain yogurt, they are a completely satisfying vegetarian meal.

Faith Gorsky, Author of An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair 

This virtual potluck is like a mix-and-match menu, a prix fixe if you want, letting you sample appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Just say Open, Sesame, and the world of culinary wonders will be yours. Thank you, Casey from Kitchen Play for getting this group together and opening our horizons!

SPINACH TURNOVERS (Fatayer Bil Sabanekh):

Preparation Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Cooking Time: 40 minutes

Yields about: 25-35 turnovers


  • 1 batch Savory Flat Pie Dough (recipe to follow)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil, plus more as necessary for the spinach
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon sumac
  • 1 lb (500 g) spinach
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Olive oil to oil the baking sheets, countertop, and tops of the turnovers
  • Fresh lemon wedges (optional, for serving)


  1. Prepare Basic Savory Flat Pie Dough
  2. 2. Heat both the oils in a large skillet over medium heat; add the onion and saute until softened but not browned, about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in the sumac.
  3. 3. Chop the spinach and remove any large stems; add it to a large pot with 2 cups (500ml) of water. Cover the pot and cook over high heat until just wilted, about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain in a cheesecloth-lined colander and let it sit until the spinach is cool enough to handle, and then wring the cheesecloth to remove the excess water.
  4. Combine the onion/sumac mixture, drained spinach, lemon juice, salt, coriander, cumin, and black pepper in a large bowl. The spinach should look slightly glossy; if it doesn’t, stir in more canola oil, 1 teaspoon at a time, until it does. Be careful not to add too much. Taste the spinach; it should taste like a well-seasoned salad; if it doesn’t, adjust seasonings (such as lemon juice, salt, pepper, and other spices accordingly).
  5. Preheat oven to 400F (200C) and lightly brush 2 large baking sheets with olive oil (alternatively, you can line them with parchment paper or silpat liners).
  6. Gently deflate the dough, then divide into 2 equal pieces and shape the pieces into balls; put the balls back into the bowl, cover the bowl with a slightly damp towel, and let sit 5 to 10 minutes. Lightly brush olive oil onto your countertop (or whatever surface you want to use to roll out the dough).
  7. Work with 1 piece of dough at a time and use your hands to gently stretch it out, then use the rolling pin to roll it out to a circle about 12 inches (30cm) in diameter. Stamp out circles 3 inches (7.5 cm) in diameter with a round cookie cutter. Scoop about ½ tablespoon of spinach filling onto the center of each piece of dough. Repeat this process with the remaining ball of dough. Gather the dough scraps into a ball, roll it out, and fill only re-roll the scraps once to prevent the dough from toughening).
  8. To form the turnovers, fold the dough along line 1-2 up and over onto the center, then do the same for the dough along line 2-3, and finally for line 1-3; pinch the dough together at the seams to seal it. (Alternatively, you can shape them into little pyramids: pull up lines 1-3 and 2-3 and pinch them together to form a seam, then pull up line 1-2 and pinch it together along the sides of the seam you just made to form the two remaining sides.)
  9. Line up the turnovers (seam side up) about 2 inches (5 cm) apart on the prepared baking sheets and brush a little oil on top of each. Bake until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes, rotating the baking sheets once halfway through cooking. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
Spinach Turnovers from
Basic Savory Flat Pie Dough 


  • 3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons warm water
  • 3 cups (375 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
  • 11/4 teaspoons of fine salt
  • ¾ cups (185ml) milk at room temperature


  1. Brush ½ tablespoons of oil on the inside of a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Mix together the yeast, sugar, and warm water in a small bowl until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Whisk together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Use a wooden spoon to stir the yeast mixture into the dry ingredients, and then stir in the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil. Gradually stir in enough milk to form shaggy dough (you may not need all the milk).
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead about 5 minutes; the dough is done being kneaded when you press your finger into it and the indentation remains.
  5. Transfer the dough to the oiled bowl and roll it gently to coat with oil. Cover the bowl with a slightly damp towel and let sit until doubled in  size, about 1 ½ hours.
I am so happy to be a part of this group of very talented bloggers who have passion for immersing themselves into new cultures and facing the challenges of new culinary pursuits.
Falafel from Heather of Kitchen Concoctions
Coconut Semolina Cake from Stephanie of 52 Kitchen Adventures
Date-Filled Cookies from Jennifer of Savory Simple

Recipe courtesy of An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair by Faith Gorsky (Tuttle Publishing; Nov. 2012); reprinted with permission. The opinions expressed are my own. I have received a free review copy of the book from the publisher.

(This post contains an Amazon affiliate link. While Kitchen PLAY will receive a small fee for each sale of An Edible Mosaic made through this link, the link has been utilized solely for tracking purposes. We want to better understand how a program like the Cookbook Tour can positively impact cookbook sales. All proceeds from this specific affiliate link will be donated to Share Our Strength.)

Dec 132012


An edible mosaic

My parents were avid collectors of books. A few times a month a large cardboard box would appear at the door, and I could not wait for Mother to cut into it and retract the treasures I knew lurked inside. I would bury my nose in the middle of the book and inhale the smell that to this day makes me high. And, yes, if you are dying to know, there are distinct local differences in new book smells; I definitely recognize and prefer the books printed in Serbia, but will accept a new American book if I am in an urgent state of withdrawal.

One glorious day the plain cardboard box yielded a set of four beautiful books titled 1001 Arabian Nights. All four jackets were different, depicting mosques, luscious gardens, bazaars, and tables filled with platters of most inviting, albeit exotic food. Hard covers were ultramarine blue with intricate gold embossing swirling around the sides and I loved to run my fingers over the grooves. I don’t know how many times I read the tales of old Baghdad, dreaming of the days of caliph Harun al-Rashid, hearing the alluring sound of zithers, and wishing in my young, romantic, pre-teen heart that I could leave my pedestrian and boring reality and teleport to the Orient, roaming the souks and inhaling the aroma of grilled spicy kabobs wafting from around the corner.

A few days ago there was a plain cardboard box waiting for me at the door step. As soon as I saw where it came from, I rushed inside, trying to claw my way through the tape to get to the loot inside. When I finally liberated the book from the bondage of styrofoam  popcorn, my heart fluttered a bit, remembering the excitement of years gone by. I opened it randomly and inhaled fresh-from-the presses smell, experiencing the high that sustained me for years.

An Edible Mosaic by Faith E. Gorsky brought me back to my childhood when I lived vicariously through the characters of 1001 Arabian Nights. Three decades later I still feel the allure of the Orient. This time I get to experience the streets of Damascus through the eyes of an American woman married to a Syrian man. I don’t have to book the plane tickets. I don’t have to pack a single suitcase. I don’t have to deal with any bureaucracy. All I have to do is open the book and explore.

I want to invite you to come along on this trip with me. I am a part of a group of bloggers who are promoting Faith’s book. We are hosting a virtual potluck and a book review on Monday.  There is so much to learn and I hope you’ll join the fun of exploring the culinary culture that spans so many centuries.

Here is what Faith has to say about her cookbook:

My cookbook, An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair, has over 100 Middle Eastern recipes. The recipes are authentic, but streamlined just a bit for the way we cook today, with unique ingredients demystified and approachable cooking techniques that anyone can follow. The book includes a few classic Middle Eastern favorites (like Hummus, Falafel, and Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves), but there are also a few dishes that might become new favorites, like Red Bell Pepper Walnut Dip (Muhammara), Lentil and Bulgur Pilaf with Caramelized Onion (Mujaddara Burghul), and Meat and Vegetable Casserole with Pomegranate (Kowaj). I also share my method for making the most tender and flavorful Chicken Shawarma at home without the need for any special equipment.

This cookbook is incredibly special to me because it holds a treasure of my in-laws’ family recipes. After marrying, I had the opportunity to spend six months in Damascus where I learned the ins and outs of Middle Eastern food from my lovely Syrian mother-in-law, Sahar. Watching her cook is like watching a ballerina perform a masterpiece.

The last thing I want to mention about my cookbook is that culture and the cuisine truly enrich each other, which is why I include cultural tidbits and stories from my Middle Eastern travels throughout the book. These snippets of culture help to paint a richer image of the recipes.

I hope you enjoy these Middle Eastern recipes as much as I do, and maybe they’ll become the basis for new traditions in your family!

Faith’s cookbook launch.

Virtual potluck.

Kitchen Play on Cookbook Tour

Dec 062012

Serbian Creamy Chicken Soup from

No matter how many times I tell myself that I am a competent home cook, it takes only a well-intentioned, but misplaced comment from one of my girls to make me roll my eyes in disbelief and grind my teeth in an effort not to speak up and ruin the moment. One of those occasions involved an incarnation of a simple creamy chicken soup and my oldest daughter.

We were visiting my cousin who is married to a priest with a parish in one of the suburbs of Belgrade. For years, Mira and I have been pen-pals; we spent many summers together, playing badminton, sewing clothes for a couple of precious Barbies, and climbing hills above their house in Novi Pazar. We try to get together at least once a year if I am in Serbia, in hopes that our children will bond and friend each other on Facebook, and maybe get involved in a virtual game of badminton, if nothing else.

chicken soup vegetables from

vegetables for the stock (I save parsley stems)

The two of us managed to corral the six kids and deposit them around the dining-room table; I helped her carry the food from the kitchen, keeping a watchful eye on the group of unpredictable energetic girls and a token boy, the youngest of all. The first dish was a Serbian staple, a creamy chicken soup thickened with farina, eggs, milk, and a bit of flour, something we looked forward when we were growing up.

Sure, there was a picky eater in the bunch who pulled the tiny cubes of carrots to the rim of the bowl, but most of them stopped talking for a minute and surrendered to the comforting flavors of the dish and we were rewarded by a few moments of silence. I raised my girls to be respectful and kind, but I almost fell out of my chair when my oldest, Nina, who was ten at the time exuberantly chimed, “Aunt Mira, this is the best soup I have ever tasted! How did you make it?”

Pileca corbica from

Mira beamed, hiding her chuckle behind her hand, while I stared at my daughter with disbelief. She looked at us both utterly perplexed with childish innocence. I made that soup for her many times. So had Mother. But to her it tasted so different and so much better slurped in utmost disharmony with five other children who kept kicking one another under the table and competing in stupid jokes. The peasant fare became exotic not necessarily because Mira’s culinary achievements surpass mine (although she is a really good cook), but because she shared it with cousins she rarely sees in that welcoming kitchen with windows opening to the view of the green meadow and the parish church in those wonderfully lazy days of summer that bring promise with each sweltering moment.

Serbian Creamy Chicken Soup from


  • 1 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 small or ½ big yellow onion, diced
  • a few carrots, diced
  • 2-3 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 small bell pepper, diced (optional, but I really like the color and the sweetness it adds)
  • 1 cup of roasted chicken, cut into small pieces
  • 1 quart of chicken stock
  • 2 Tbsp farina (cream of wheat)
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • ¾ cups milk
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup plain yogurt
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • chopped parsley for garnish


Heat the oil in a heavy soup pan on medium heat. Add onions, carrots, celery, and bell pepper (if used), and sautee until softened, 8-10 minutes. Add chicken and stock and simmer for another 30 minutes.

Stir in farina. In a small bowl combine flour and milk and whisk until smooth. Pour into the soup and stir vigorously to break up the small bumps of flour. Cook for a couple of minutes and turn the heat off.

Mix together egg and yogurt in a small bowl. Pour a ladle of soup to temper it and stir to combine. Pour the warm mixture slowly into the soup, whisking, to avoid curdling.

Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with parsley.