Sesame-Pistachio Cookies (Barazek) (Photo courtesy

Recipe Corner: Sesame-Pistachio Cookies (Barazek)


Barazek or barazeq (in Arabic barāzeq) is a classic Syrian-Palestinian cookie whose main ingredient is sesame (also called simsim and baksum in Arabic) and often also contains pieces of pistachio. Barazek is a typically Syrian culinary specialty, rooted in Damascus, the country’s capital. These cookies are popular in Homs or in Aleppo, a city located in the north-west of  Syria and famous for its production of tasty pistachios. Although the barazek is originally a Syrian pastry, the recipe has spread widely throughout the Middle East, including Lebanon and Jordan. It is now common to find the famous sesame biscuits throughout the Levantine area (Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Palestine and Syria) and beyond. It is one of the more traditional Palestinian desserts and it is easy to find stalls selling barazek on the streets of Jerusalem. Make it as big or as small as you want, crunchy or chewy depends on the thickness you form them, so these cookies can easily be tailored to your liking. For many Syrians, barazek is a sweet treat synonymous with exchange, conviviality and community spirit. They can be enjoyed throughout the year, accompanied by a cup of mint tea, black tea (preferably full-bodied) or a delicious Armenian coffee.

Portions of this story was originally published in the Los Angeles Times by Charles Perry on April 18, 2007:

LOS ANGELES — The other day, a co-worker brought in some mysterious cookies from an Armenian bakery, a little sheepish about having polished off about a third of them on the way. They were tan domes with a tight spiral pattern on top, making them look a bit like snail shells lying on their sides. The pastry had a distinctive taste, more wholesome than cookie dough, followed by a little blast of richness from that spiral, which turned out to be a filling of sesame tahini. It tasted like peanut butter without peanut butter’s funky edge.

In other words, these were cookies we could eat a lot of, and we proceeded to do so. But not before I saved one or two to explore their mystery. When you cut one in half, the interior turned out to be curving lines of pastry alternating with darker caverns of sesame filling, vaguely like the pattern of layers in a halved onion. Whatever it was, the pastry was definitely not cookie dough. I had to know what was going on here.

This plunged me into the vortex of the 70-odd Armenian bakeries in the L.A. area. Some were bread bakeries, but a lot were filled with case after case of French patisserie and syrup-soaked baklavas — dangerous places to wander around in. Only a couple of pastry shops made these tahini cookies. But how did this innocent cookie end up in these glittering palaces of seduction anyway?

It turned out that this “cookie” is considered to be a bread — not a pastry — because it’s made with yeast-risen dough. It happens to be a clever variation on Middle Eastern tahini bread (in Arabic, khubz tahini; in Armenian, tahinov hats), which is usually made as a pita-size flatbread. Some Armenian bakeries, such as Taron in east Hollywood, make this big, flat variety, but Maral’s Pastry in Van Nuys and Sarkis Pastry in Glendale make the dome-cookie version.

Sesame-Pistachio Cookies (Barazek) Photo courtesy

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Elusive Recipe

To us, it was no contest: The dome shape is better. It’s a more convenient size and easier to eat, and the balance of flavors is better. But we wanted to know: How do you make these irresistible treats? The only recipe I could find was in an obscure cookbook published 25 years ago in Saudi Arabia, and it didn’t give the exact result we wanted, even after tweaking it nine ways. So I asked some Armenian bakers, but they were reluctant to give out their recipes. One told me, “You ask about my business, you ask too many questions, my friend.”

Uh-oh. I should have foreseen this — it’s a Middle Eastern tradition, as I already knew: When I traveled around Syria in 1980, I naively asked bakers in every town from Damascus to Aleppo about the local pastries, and their answers were always incomprehensible. Finally, my driver took me aside and darkly told me, “Not even to their own sons, not till they’re on their death beds, will they tell their secrets.”

Well, I understood. It’s a bakery-eat-bakery world out there, and a pastry chef doesn’t want to give up his edge. Still, that bread-cookie remained outside our grasp. Finally, Hovsep Sarkozian of Maral’s took pity on us and spelled it out. The secret seemed to be (as we should have known): This is a cross between a bread and a cookie, so it needs sugar and oil in the dough. Once it rises, you shape it and bake it right away without the sort of rests and additional rises that bread dough usually gets. To tell the truth, even the versions that hadn’t been exactly what we wanted — the ones with loose spirals or dough that was too puffy or the ones that didn’t brown up enough — were quite good.

So finally the quest was over. Not that I’m going to stop going to Armenian bakeries, mind you. Man does not live by tahini bread alone.


7 tablespoons butter, melted, cooled

6 tablespoons plus 1 1/4 teaspoons sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

1 3/4 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 egg white

3/4 teaspoon white vinegar

1/2 cup pistachios, chopped

1/2 cup untoasted sesame seeds


In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or with a hand-held mixer, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla and cider vinegar. Stir in the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix until combined. Turn out the dough, form into a ball, wrap with plastic film; refrigerate 30 minutes.

In a bowl, mix the egg white, white vinegar and 1 tablespoon water and set        aside. Place the chopped pistachios and sesame seeds in a wide dish or pie pan and set aside.

Heat the oven to 350ºF. Divide dough in half; keep half reserved until ready to use. Measure 1 rounded teaspoon of dough, roll into a ball and flatten to form it into a 2-inch (by 1/8 -inch) circle. Lightly press one side of each cookie into the pistachios; turn the cookie over, brush the other side with egg wash and dip it in the sesame seeds to coat the other side. Place the cookies on a cookie sheet and bake pistachio-side down until the sesame seeds are lightly toasted and golden, 15 to 18 minutes.

From “Seductive Flavors of the Levant” by Nada Saleh. At Armenian bakeries you also find these crisp wafers exploding with sesame flavor.

For this story, go to:

Makes about 4 1/2 dozen cookies.


Sesame seed is one of the oldest  oilseed crops known, domesticated well over 3,000 years ago. Sesamum has many other species, most being wild and native to sub-Saharan Africa. Bob’s Red Mill adds: The most apparent difference between these two seeds is their color. Black sesame seeds have a deeper color and almost always have the  hull on. White sesame seeds have their hulls removed and reveal the inner white part of the seed. Removing the hull not only changes the color it also changes the nutritional value.


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