[Sca-cooks] Al-Warraq and Khushkananaj

David Friedman ddfr at daviddfriedman.com
Sun Jun 21 09:31:18 PDT 2009

I've finally gotten around to starting to go through al-Warraq. One 
of my standard things for a long time has been Khushkananaj from 
al-Baghdadi's recipe, so I was interested to see several different 
versions in al-Warraq, one of which provides tentative answers to 
some of my puzzles about the familiar recipe and another of which 
provides a puzzle of its own.

The recipe I use tells you to combine specified amounts of flour and 
sesame oil, then leave it to rise. If that's all you combine, it will 
be a long wait. I eventually concluded, after consulting Charles 
Perry on the arabic translated as "rise," that the author took it for 
granted that the reader would realize you needed water and yeast, so 
I do it with water and sourdough. The al-Warraq recipe that's closest 
to the one I do indeed uses water and yeast.

Al-baghdadi uses ground almonds and scented sugar for the filling. 
Not knowing what "scented sugar" was, I used sugar with some rose 
water. Al-warraq doesn't refer to scented sugar--but does use rose 
water. Plus camphor and musk, which I'm not sure where I can get in 
edible forms.

On the other hand ...  . He seems to be making them as crescent 
shaped filled cookies, while I make them as a sort of long roll to be 
sliced up. And he says to grind the almonds finally, whereas I grind 
them pretty coarsely.

His first Khushkananaj recipe ("exotic") is quite different. You 
combine specified amounts of semolina, sugar, and (not very  much) 
sesame oil, knead them like bread, then crush them together in a 
mortar. You then fill up a very small bowl with the result, pressing 
it in, invert it, repeat ... and bake the resulting cookies.

The problem is that, with the specified quantities (3 ratls sugar, 1 
1/2 ratls semolina, 1/4 ratl oil) what you end up with is a lot 
closer to flour than to dough, so it doesn't really knead, and it's 
hard to get it to stay together through the forming process and 
thereafter. It occurred to me that perhaps here, again, water had 
been omitted as obviously implied by knead. So I made a quarter 
batch, divided it in two, and added 2 T of water to one of them.

The result was indeed more like a dough and much easier to mold. But 
when I put it into the oven, it melted. The half without water 
didn't--it was a bit tricky because it was so crumbly, but once baked 
the cookies pretty much held together. So it looks as though my usual 
policy of reading a recipe as literally as I can was, in this case, 

It did occur to me that the translator gave 1/4 ratl of sesame oil as 
a 1/2 cup, which assumes a density about that of water. Checking, the 
density of oil is about .9 g/cc, so that would imply about a 10% 
increase in volume/weight relative to water. I doubt that's enough to 
make the combination much easier to work with. Perhaps next time I'll 
weigh everything.

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