TAHINOPITES: Tahini, Cinnamon, and Walnut Cookies, in Lemon Syrup

Traditionally made in Cyprus before Easter, during the spring Lent – when all foods deriving from animals are prohibited – tahinopites are 6-7-inch round, syrupy breads, coiled and stuffed with a tahini mixture. As the coiled tahinopites bake, the thin layer of dough cracks and the stuffing oozes out, caramelizing; these crunchy, darkened, sugary tahini bits are the best bites.

Why not have more of the best parts of the pie? I decided to shape the dough differently in order to increase the caramelized area. The results are bite-size, cookie-like tahinopites — a kind of Eastern Mediterranean Cinnamon Rolls. It is important to get the highest quality tahini paste for these cookies. They taste best made a day in advance.  As they cool, they absorb and fully incorporate the lemony syrup.

Adapted from Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts

Makes about 56 cookies

The BREAD dough:

4-4 ½ cups All-purpose flour                                        

3 cups Bread Flour, or fine semolina (See NOTE)                    

1 package Active Dry Yeast (Instant)                         

1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon                                        

1/4 teaspoon Ground Cloves                                        

1/2 teaspoon Ground Pepper                                      

About  3  1/2 cups Water, or as needed                                        

1 teaspoon Sea Salt, or 1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher Salt                                                                                        

The TAHINI-Walnut  Filling

(400 grams) 14 ounces good quality Tahini Paste                    

2  cups Ground Walnuts                                      

2  cups Sugar –preferably light brown                                                     

2-3  tablespoons Cinnamon –the more the better                                                                                                     

The SYRUP

3 cups Sugar                                                       

3 cups Water                                                      

2/3 from Lemon Peel, fro a Non-treated lemon

1/2 cup Fresh Lemon Juice                                                                                                                                                                 

Make the dough: Oil a large bowl and a piece of plastic wrap. In a bowl of a food processor fitted with dough hooks combine the flours, yeast, salt and spices. Toss to mix.

With the motor running add water to make a soft dough.

With floured hands, shape the dough into a ball and transfer to the oiled bowl. Cover with the oiled plastic, place in the refrigerator and let rise overnight. Bring dough to room temperature before shaping.  

Make the Filling: In a bowl stir well the tahini to incorporate the oil and paste, add sugar, walnuts and cinnamon, and stir well to mix.

Line 2-3 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Shape the cookies: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly with floured hands. Divide into 4; cover the 3 pieces and flatten the forth piece to make a rectangle about 12X9 inches (30X22 cm).  Spread generously with 1/4 of the filling to cover all the surface of the dough. With the help of a large dough scraper roll like a jelly roll, then stretch the roll carefully, lightly pressing with your hands, to make it about 14 inches (35 cm.) long.

With a large knife or the dough scraper cut 1-inch (2,5 cm.) slices; shape each slice to form an even round, transfer onto the lined baking sheet, and flatten somewhat, leaving  at least 2/3 inch (2 cm.) space between the cookies.

Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 F (190 C).

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until just light golden.

Make the syrup: Bring sugar and water to a boil, add lemon zest, turn down the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add lemon juice and simmer another 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.

Arrange Cookies snugly in one or more deep pans, saving the parchment paper. Douse with syrup while still warm. Cover with the parchment paper or plastic wrap, and set aside for 15 minutes. Uncover and flip the cookies to soak the bottom side with syrup; they will almost absorb it all. Let covered for 2 hours or overnight. Flip the tahinopita cookies again, and transfer to a serving platter, or arrange in a container, cover and refrigerate. Let them come to room temperature before serving.

NOTE: I like cookies that are somewhat chewy, as they hold the syrup better; if you prefer softer tahinopites you can omit the  bread flour or semolina and make the dough with just all-purpose flour. 

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