Mom’s Traditional Armenian Cookies: Shahka Lokhmahs (Lisa Nichols photo)

Shahka Lokhmahs Traditional Armenian Cookies from the Armenian Museum Website

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WILLIMANTIC, CT — This treasured family recipe for Shahka Lokhmahs (sugar cookies) from Ruth Hartunian-Alumbaugh is featured at the Armenian Museum of America website. It is a recipe her beloved grandmother and mother made for many years. Now, Ruth makes it frequently as it brings back fond memories of working in the kitchen with her mother.

“Baking with my ‘menz mama’ as well as ‘menz hireek’ were special opportunities to not only learn but the exercise patience. Many of the things we made were very time-consuming and could often take a whole day. Think delicious, flaky baklava from scratch including the dough, syrup, chopping nuts by hand, and assembling the dough, each sheet slathered with clarified butter. It would take a full day to make two ‘tapsees’ (9X13 baking pans) of this treasured concoction,” remembers Ruth.

“My creative and talented grandfather was a baker in Beirut who brought some of his pans to Wisconsin where my parents eventually settled. His baking style would include preparing for a full day’s worth of baking. Making pita bread and other breads from scratch were his specialties.”

“It seems that many cultures share a similar type of recipe with similar ingredients for these buttery cookies (Shahka Lokhmahs). This one is a melt-in-your-mouth delight,” she adds. “The recipe makes about ten dozen — plenty to share (or keep for yourself). If you don’t want to make them all at once, you can keep the dough in the refrigerator. Bring it to room temperature before you roll it out and bake it. This is a time-honored recipe in our family, and a no-fail baking endeavor,” she says.

 

Ingredients:

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1 pound unsalted butter (at room temperature)

1 large egg yolk, add to butter and beat until creamy

1 teaspoon vanilla, added to the above ingredients

1 cup sifted powdered sugar, added to the above ingredients

5 cups sifted all-purpose flour

Optional: Add 1 cup of finely ground toasted pecans or walnuts, if desired

Powdered sugar

Preparation:

With an electric mixer, combine the butter and the egg yolk until they are very creamy. Add the vanilla, and mix until well combined. Add the sifted powdered sugar, and mix again. At this point, add the finely ground toasted pecans or walnuts and mix until fully incorporated into the dough.

Gradually add the flour to this mixture. The dough will be stiff. If the dough becomes too stiff for your mixer, use your hands. Try not to handle the dough too much. (Note: The dough works best if you use it when it is freshly made rather than refrigerating or freezing it for later use. It can be done that way, too, if necessary.)

Put flour on the palms of your hands as you roll out small portions of the dough into a log about 12-15 inches long and about 3/4 inch in diameter. Cut cookies with a butter knife every 3 inches on an angle. Use leftover dough for the next log that you will roll out. Handle dough as little as possible. Repeat process until all cookies are cut and placed on an UNGREASED cookie sheet. Arrange cookies close together as they will remain the same size when baked.

Bake at 325º for at least 15 minutes. Check bottom of cookie for doneness. Cookies will be done when they look slightly browned. Add more time if necessary. Sprinkle cookies with powdered sugar when completely cooled. These cookies travel and freeze well once baked. They are best served with Armenian coffee or tea.

Ruth Hartunian-Alumbaugh (right) at Gandzasar with a talented local baker

“My dad is from Beirut, Lebanon. Mom’s family is from Ankara, Turkey. My grandparents survived the Armenian Genocide in 1915 when they both met in an orphanage run by German missionaries. Food has always been a way of bringing back memories; I remember being part of a two-person army, jockeying the skewered lamb from the kitchen to my dad outside, where the handmade charcoal grill and his expertise made these pieces of lamb a very succulent dish. He even fashioned the skewers; being a watchmaker and jeweler came in handy with his kitchen gadget-making skills. We’d do this for a full day and then freeze what we didn’t need, so we had grilled goodness in the months ahead,” says Ruth.

“I spent many hours learning how to make traditional Armenian dishes. It’s all we ever ate. Sadly, there were times when I dreamt of macaroni and cheese and hot dogs instead of what I had access to. Looking back, I fondly recall the great food we all enjoyed. I think the kitchen was hallowed ground. With poverty and hunger in my history, nothing ever went to waste.

The phrase ‘starving Armenians’ was for real for my grandparents.

When they finally arrived in this country, they even brought leftover thread from buttons that fell off a shirt; I found some, years later, in my grandmother’s sewing tin…”

“It would not be an Armenian meal or gathering without coffee and some kind of sweet like this cookie. When I visited Armenia in 2019, there was literally a coffee machine or storefront where you could get coffee without walking just a few steps. There are tricks of the trade, but know that it’s easy to make. Sometimes people would turn the cups upside down after finishing their hot, sweet drink and tell one another’s fortunes. Often coupled with dried and fresh fruit, baklava, and nuts of some kind – even cordials — it speaks of friendship, belonging and fellowship. Enjoy these traditional Armenian cookies that melt in your mouth. They represent a true taste of home for me,” she adds.

For this recipe, go to:  https://www.armenianmuseum.org/armenian-recipes

See Ruth’s latest stories at: https://armenianweekly.com/author/ruth-hartunian-alumbaugh/

Also see Ruth’s “My Armenian Table” from Connecticut Food & Farm Magazine, Spring 2020, Volume 20 by Connecticut Food and Farm at: https://issuu.com/connecticutfoodandfarm/docs/connecticut_food_and_farm_maga
zine_spring_2020/s/10371020

Ruth has visited Gandzasar Monastery. “Gandzasar is a 13th-century Armenian Apostolic cathedral headed by the Church of St. John the Baptist, and is the most significant shrine of Nagorno-Karabakh. The monastery of Gandzasar, as well as hundreds of other ancient monasteries, testify to the thousand-year presence of Armenians in Karabakh and prove that the sacred Artsakh land from time immemorial has belonged to the Armenian people.” (https://www.gandzasar.com/holy-see-of-gandzasar.htm). The construction of Gandzasar began in 1216 under the patronage of the Armenian prince Khachensky. First mentioned in the tenth century, from the 14th century to the nineteenth century Gandzasar was the residence of bishops, and to this day the monastery is still the religious and cultural center of the country.*

“My heart skipped a beat when I got to the Gandzasar Monastery. My beloved mother has been gone from this world for over a decade. But I thought I saw her when I viewed the little lady making jingalov hats. This herb-filled bread is to die for. Since I love to cook and bake, I am always drawn to the places where food is made. This woman invited me to come close and watch her work. She reminded me of my grandfather from Beirut who owned a bakery. He made bread in our kitchen all his days here in the United States. He never used fancy tools either. Just a cutting board and sharp knife and the best tool ever-his hands. I found another Hartunian in spirit. Her bread was cheap (hardly $1 American) and generous in size. And the added bonus was the man with colorful flags riding on his horse to entertain the crowd.” – Ruth Hartunian-Alumbaugh, 2020. Also see: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1020760-jingalov-hats

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About the author: Ruth Hartunian-Alumbaugh is an avid taster of all things edible and has written food blogs (Ravings and Cravings), taught cooking classes to locals and internationals, travelled to Armenia (in addition to many other far-flung places), is a music therapist, veteran homeschool mom, lover of Jesus Christ and deeply devoted to her family. She is the sole owner of Music and More International and lives in Connecticut, welcoming conversations at ruthhalumbaugh@gmail.com. She has a stash of cookies in her home at all times.

Connect at:

Ruth Hartunian-Alumbaugh, MT/BC

www.musicandmoreint.com
Music and More (on Facebook)

RuthHAlumbaugh (on Twitter)

MusicandMoreInt (on Twitter)

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*https://araratour.com/gandzasar-monastery

 

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