Holiday baking season is upon us, my friends! I love this time of year, and savor the moments I spend in the kitchen making the treats that fill our cookie and candy tins and plates. I eagerly look forward to finding fun new recipes to share in the special magazines that come out, and I also keep my eyes peeled as I read cookbooks through the year. Today I’m sharing Hazelnut Cookie Bars from journalist Robyn Eckhardt’s new book, Istanbul & Beyond ~ they are guaranteed to add global flair and flavor to your holiday dessert buffet!
Robyn recently presented her beautiful book at a media luncheon at Melissa’s Produce. Even though I couldn’t be there I was excited to watch Robyn discuss her book and demonstrate two recipes on Facebook live; it was so interesting!
Robyn’s first trip to Istanbul was almost 20 years ago during Ramadan, followed by a drive south through towns leading to the Mediterranean. The trip inspired a passion in her and a thirst to know more about Turkey. She started studying Turkish at Cal Berkeley and spent time reading and learning about the foods of the country. With her husband, David, she continued to travel to and through Turkey, traversing about 15,000 miles during a five year period.
Istanbul & Beyond is, in Robyn’s words, her “love letter to Turkey.” She used the word “Beyond” in the title with a triple meaning in mind: Beyond what you think Turkish food is; Beyond the idea of Turkish food as one Turkish cuisine to that of a land of regional cuisines (some lesser known even in Turkey), with the recipes shedding light on overlooked areas; and Beyond the geographical area of Istanbul.
Robyn’s main requirement for the recipes in the book, which are arranged by region, is that they can be “reproduced faithfully in my kitchen and yours.” There is an index of recipes by category for easy reference. Throughout the book are gorgeous photographs and stories of her time with the people of each region. Each recipe is accompanied by a short introduction giving background and tips.
Robyn demonstrated how to prepare the meat for Cabbage Rolls in Tomato and Sumac Sauce, a recipe that, like so many in the book, traverses many cuisines. She patted the ground meat into a mat and put the herbs and spices on top, then used a knife to chop everything into the meat. She gently folded the meat over as if she was laminating pastry dough, then chopped it again. (Robyn suggested that the process be repeated 4 times.) This technique makes the meat much lighter than what we are used to – Robyn even uses it when she makes meatloaf. She noted that meat is fatter in Turkey, and recommended we ask our butchers to grind in some extra fat, as it makes a difference.
Robyn also showed how to make Fingerprint Flatbread. This is the bread of the country, and every city has its own shape. Using the “usual” bread dough ingredients, it is very versatile and super easy to work with. A wash made with boiling water mixed with egg and cooled before using kept the dough from sticking to her hands as she flattened, scored and stretched it. I have got to give this recipe a try!
I thought the Hazelnut Bar Cookies, one of the dishes the team at Melissa’s Produce made for guests to sample, sounded delightful, and decided to bake a batch. This dessert is straightforward and very easy to put together. I began by toasting and hulling the nuts the night before.
Notice that the nuts are not chopped too finely – you want a variety of small to medium-sized pieces. The recipe calls for yogurt but specifies not to use Greek style, so I used my favorite French style whole milk yogurt – it’s silky smooth and creamy, and since the store was out of plain, I used vanilla, which I think enhanced the flavors even more.
The dough was very thick, and though I started with a spatula I found it easier to use my hands to pat it evenly into the pan.
The dough is scored with a knife before baking.
The cookies smell just divine while in the oven and they rise pretty high while they bake. I cooled them for about 10 minutes and then used my bench scraper to cut them into bars along the score lines that remained remarkably clear even after the cookies baked up.
You can see that these bars are a kind of mash-up between cookie and cake – a winning combination according to my family’s rave reviews! Substantial without being heavy, they are wonderfully nutty and buttery, and sweet but not overly so – making them a lovely addition to holiday cookie trays. Give them a try; they just may become a staple on your holiday baking list too. Enjoy, y’all!
The recipes here are a reflection of my Turkey…informed by roads traveled, friendships forged, impromptu cooking lessons, restaurant visits and home meals, and hours spent exploring markets and conversing about food with anyone willing to put up with my Turkish. ~Robyn Eckhardt
- 4 cups (16 oz.) all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. fine sea salt
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1¼ cups whole-milk yogurt (not Greek style), whisked to remove any lumps
- 1¼ mounded cups (6 to 7 ounces) skinned raw hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
- Place a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350F.
- Generously butter or oil a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, sea salt and baking soda together.
- In a large bowl, mix the butter and sugar with a spoon or spatula.
- Mix the egg and yolk together and stir into the butter mixture.
- Stir in the yogurt.
- Add the dry ingredients and stir just to combine.
- Add the hazelnuts and stir them into the dough.
- Transfer the dough to the baking pan and spread it evenly to the edges.
- Use a sharp knife to score the surface of the bar cookie into 18 (3-by-2-inch) rectangles.
- Bake until the cookie begins to darken at the edges and pulls away from the sides of the pan and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 22-25 minutes.
- Cool completely in the pan.
- Cut the cookies into pieces. Store in an airtight container.
Disclosure: Melissa’s Produce provided me with a copy of Istanbul & Beyond to cook from and review. I was not compensated in any other way, and all the opinions are my own.