This autumn brought an unexpected abundance of walnuts. They carpeted the grass under the trees, and it took three picking ventures to collect most of them. Now, the six bags of walnuts are hung in my home, drying in the warmth of the fireplace.
I am not exactly looking forward to the nut-cracking, I have to admit, but I am excited about all the walnuts I’ll have in my kitchen. Walnuts are my favourite nuts, and they are super versatile: I love them in cookies, cakes and preserves, as a topping for my breakfast pancakes, with seedy granola and yoghurt, with meats, with salads, and as a base for pesto and other sandwich spreads and dips. Walnuts are awesome!
Expect to be showered with walnut recipes this winter, and the first of the series: these super cute Walnut and Cardamom Kleicha, sometimes referred to as a national cookie of Iraq. It is a small yet substantial biscuit traditionally filled with date paste, walnuts or coconut. The pastry is made with yeast, which gives it its distinctive, delicately sweet scent, but without much sugar to balance out the sweetness of the filling: walnuts with cardamom. The cardamom beautifully marries the crumbly pastry with its slightly sickly, slightly bitter and substantial middle.
My kitchen smelled divine when I baked kleicha: the irresistible, faint scent of the proofing pastry exploded in the oven and filled the house with the velvety, comforting smell of spices. I thought cinnamon was the ultimate comfort spice, but now, I think, I have to adjust my opinion. Cardamom is beautiful!
Walnut and Cardamom Kleicha
for the pastry
3 cups flour
1 cup warm milk
1 cup melted butter
1/2 tsp salt
2tsp dried yeast
for the filling
2 cups of walnuts
1 cup of sugar
1tsp ground cardamom
1 beaten egg, for brushing
HOW TO MAKE?
1. Add the walnuts, sugar and freshly ground cardamom to a food processor and pulse until ground but still grainy. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
2. To make the pastry, sieve the flour and salt into a big bowl. Mix the yeast, sugar and half of the warm milk and set aside for about 5 minutes to activate the yeast. Pour the yeast mixture, remaining milk and melted butter into the bowl with flour.
3. Using a spatula, mix everything until it all comes together and transfer onto a pastry board (only use flour only if the pastry is very loose). Work the pastry with your hands until it becomes smooth and elastic (this will take up to 15 minutes). Form a ball, transfer to a bowl, cover with a cloth (or a shower cap) and set aside to proof for about 30 minutes (or until doubled in size).
4. Transfer the pastry back onto the pastry board, divide into three balls and roll out one of them until about 3mm thick (cover the remaining pastry while you’re working with this one). Cut out circles with a cookie cutter or a wine glass. Place a teaspoon of filling in the middle of each circle and enclose the pastry around it forming a ball with your fingers. Place the kleicha seam-down on a baking tray lined with parchment.
5. Lightly brush each biscuit with a beaten egg.
6. Bake in a preheated oven (180 degrees Celsius) for about 13-15 minutes or until golden brown.