Our December Bread Bakers challenge of Bread Art, hosted by Passion Kneaded, gave me the perfect excuse to try out a recipe I've been wanting to tackle for a few years now! It's more of a pastry type bread, but there's yeast and it's definitely art.
Shekerbura is an Azerbaijani dessert. It consists of a pastry dough filled with ground almonds, hazelnuts, or walnuts, and sugar. The pastry dough is made of wheat flour, butter, milk, egg yolks, cream/sour cream and yeast, although it can also be a short pastry with no yeast. (The yeast adds a little tenderness to the pastry.) The filling often includes cardamom, which is a total winner for me as it is one of my favorite spices.
Shekerbura typically have an intricate pattern imprinted on the dough before baking. This is usually produced using traditional tweezers/crimpers called maggash. When I looked recently they were difficult to obtain outside of Azerbaijan, which is sad because I found them on eBay quite a few years ago for just a few bucks. I did pick one up at the time, knowing I wanted to make the pastry at some point. Now they do say that if you do not have a maggash, just to leave the pastry dough plain after folding the edges, but the patterns are just so beautiful!
So there are some other options that could work. One substitute would be the straight, "serrated": fondant crimper from this set. I originally got some ice tongs to try back in 2017 but they were way too big and not really the right shape for crimping and so I sought out the real thing, available at the time. (The miracle is that I was able to find the tiny tweezers in the utensil drawer after 4 years!) Another possible option I saw were these maamoul crimpers or this pie crust crimper. Both are wider compared to the maggash tweezers I have, so it is uncertain how the patterns would work, but they are available and inexpensive. The maamoul crimpers are culturally and task related, the closest option.It is good to know at least, that plain shekerbura is acceptable.
Interestingly, I found that many cultures have a similar cookie and decoration with tweezers. The maamoul of the middle east are filled with nuts or dates and crimped with a serrated tweezer, as are the kuih makmur and kuih bangkit of Malaysia and Singapore. And I know there are others.
The filling is dangerous. Try not to get into it too much. I love cardamom... While shekerbura have traditional patterns, they may be decorated as ornately as desired. I read somewhere that there is almost an unspoken competition in bringing out a tray of beautifully and ornately decorated shekerbura for guests. I have seen extra bits of pastry shapes and bows, and silver nonpareils/dragees added as embellishments. Check out Pinterest boards for some seriously gorgeous shekerbura!
Makes ~24 shekerbura pastries
For the Dough:
500g all purpose flour + ½ tbsp (for step 3)
200 g / 7 oz unsalted butter, cut into large chunks
2½ egg yolks
125 g / 4.5 oz sour cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ tsp dry yeast
½ tbsp sugar
¼ cup / 63 ml lukewarm milk, divided
For the Filling:
350 g / ¾ lb skinned hazelnuts, or almonds or walnuts (I used half hazelnuts, half walnuts)
350 g / ¾ lb granulated sugar (I used 250g white sugar, 100g light brown muscovado sugar for flavor)
1 tsp ground cardamom (freshly ground will have more flavor than pre-powdered)
1-2 tsp Frangelico (optional)
Equipment: mixing bowls or mixer, baking sheets, and a maggash (decorating tweezers)
To prepare the dough:
Put the flour and the butter in a large bowl or mixer. Using your hands, rub them together until you obtain fine crumbs, or run the mixer on low to achieve the same consistency. Make sure that the butter is fully incorporated and that there are no large crumbs left.
In a small bowl,whisk together the eggs yolks, sour cream, and salt.
In a small dish, mix together the yeast, ½ tbsp flour, ½ tbsp sugar. Fill it with 2 tbsp of lukewarm milk, mix, and let stand for about 2 minutes.
Add the egg and the yeast mixtures to the flour-butter mixture.
Using your hands, or the paddle attachment, mix the ingredients until fully incorporated and a rough and inconsistent dough is obtained. Transfer the dough to a work surface. Put the remaining 2 tbsp of lukewarm milk in a separate dish. Constantly wetting your hands with milk, knead the dough for a few minutes to make it smooth. You may also work the milk in with the mixer, just until combined, then give a few turns on the counter.
Shape the dough into a ball. Place it back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside to rest for about 30 minutes.
While the dough rests, prepare the filling. If you are using already skinned nuts, grind them finely in a food processor. In a mixing bowl, combine the ground nuts with the sugar(s). Add the ground cardamom and Frangelico, if using. Mix until fully incorporated.
To skin hazelnuts at home you can either roast and rub the skins off, or blanch, ice bath and rub, and then toast. This post covers both methods.
Divide the dough into balls, each weighing 40-50 g. (I originally used 50 gram balls and cut them with a 4-inch round cutter, saving the scraps for new balls.) Work with one ball at a time and cover the rest.
Roll each ball into a 4 inch (10 cm) circle.
Place the circle in the palm of your hand, slightly folded, and put 2 rounded tablespoons of the filling in the center. Pat down to compact just a little.
Starting at one end, begin sealing the left and right edges towards the center to obtain a half-moon shape. Sealed shekerbura must have enough filling to be somewhat plump and never flat.
Using your thumb and index finger, start pinching and twisting the dough along the seal to decorate the edges.
Arrange the pastry on a baking sheet, lined with parchment (baking) paper. Continue working with the rest of the dough balls, arranging them on the baking sheet as you are finished decorating their edges.
|First attempts were so bad, I had to use a pasty press to|
fix the crimp. Got the hang of it eventually!
Now decorate the tops. Holding a pastry in one hand, and a maggash (tweezers) in the other, pinch the dough with the maggash at an angle and slightly lift it upward. Continue until you obtain a row of pattern. Create similar rows, each at an angle to the next one, until the entire surface is decorated.
|This is the traditional herringbone pattern for shekerbura.|
If maggash is not available, leave the top of shekerbura plain, without any patterns.
|This is how shekerbura pastries look before they go in the oven.|
Bake on the middle rack of the oven preheated to 175ºC (350ºF) for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges just begin to change their color and the bottom is light brown. Take care not to overbake the pastries – the tops should be light in color when baked. If you did not decorate your pastries with the tweezers, dust them with powdered sugar after they have cooled off.
- A Christmas Partridge for my True Love from A Day in the Life on the Farm
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- Wool Roll Bread With Cranberries from Sneha's Recipe
We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient.