my beloved mother, alice, baked date or fig or other jam filled cookies for the holidays which were very labor intensive—each cookie is hand-formed—a walnut-sized ball of dough hollowed out with a teaspoon of date filling tucked and sealed inside, and then individually decorated with little pinchers that mother had specially made. they're called asabi bi ajwe (date fingers) in Alice's Kitchen: Traditional Lebanese Cooking, recipe page 199 of the 4th edition, and are such a treat.
if mama didn't have dates, or even sometimes just as a preference she'd use fig jam, or a mixture of any homemade jams she had in her pantry including apricot and strawberry. while in lebanon, i tasted some divine date or fig cookies rolled in sesame seeds at a fine beirut bakery. and because i am a woman of today, there just isn't time for me to create individual cookies like mama. so i adapted her recipe for date fingers to the don't-have-enough-time folks, which includes most of us, and create a long log of dough filled with fig jam since several fig trees in my garden provide an abundance of figs and jam (photo of huge platter of my desert king figs graces the top of this blog). and these sesame fig (or date) cookies are much like those i savored in lebanon.
mahlab is one of the few unusual ingredients in the cookbook and in this recipe. cornell cherry kernals are ground to a powder in a hawin—a brass heirloom mortar and pestal from the old country—with a little sugar to flavor the dough. these cherry kernals are available in middle eastern grocery stores and from specialty herb and spice purveyors.
here's another photo because they're both so beautiful i couldn't decide which to use!
a jigger of brandy, the other interesting ingredient in this sublime dough, joins with flour, butter, eggs, and sugar. my "quick" method is to roll out a rectangle of dough about 1/8" thick on baking parchment, which helps me to handle it. place a long cylinder of jam filling along the edge, roll it to where the dough covers the filling and then cut and pinch the edge to seal it, forming a long log. i use the parchment to lift the dough up and over, with sesame seeds underneath preventing it from sticking and adding nutty flavor! my fig jam sometimes has walnuts and sesame seeds already in it, as did this batch.
you can see that i don't have a perfect rectangle, and that's fine—the buttery dough just pinches closed. the sesame seeds on the parchment under the dough are a recent addition not in the book recipe variation—but when i've offered plain or sesame-coated cookie taste samples at recent book events, most people choose the sesame seed variation. the next step is to roll and elongate (many years of making ceramic buttons trained me to roll out dough!) by rolling back and forth, covering evenly with sesame seeds. refrigerate briefly and slice before baking.
they're petit and oh, so good! even mama approved! these fig-sesame cookies rounded out the trio of lebanese christmas cookies that i sent out and gave to friends in the spirit of alice's kitchen, and cooking with love.