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Karabij and Natef (Walnut-filled Cookies and Cream)

Out of all the recipes on my blog, this one is by far the most exciting and intriguing one that I will get to share with you! Why? Because with so little information to go off of to learn how to make these otherworldly cookies properly, I truly had to play detective.  I spent hours researching all about this cookie and it's mysterious "cream," which took me for a journey that resulted in some surprising discoveries!

Karabij and Natef (Walnut-filled Cookies and Cream)

My quest began a year ago when my sister and I were reminiscing about the egg-shaped cookies my grandma and aunt would sometimes make for Easter. We fondly remembered a not-too-sweet cookie filled with walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and a hint of rose water.  

We often ate the cookies with marshmallow creme, but in the early days of my youth, I clearly remember them being served with an authentic "natef" cream topping. I also remembered overhearing my grandma say something about how hard it was to find the right ingredients to make the authentic natef...something about needing soap bark. Soap bark?!? [Scratches head.] And that my friends, is all I had to go off of.

Initially, I also couldn't even remember the name of the cookie, but after multiple google searches, I finally found some recipes that resembled it, including Ma'amoul.

It was at this point that I also read a fascinating article that appeared years ago in the LA Times called The Case of the Foaming Root. From here, I learned all about the mysterious Saponaria officinalis and similar plants that produce the foaming quality of natef. And not to worry, the foaming sap, which indeed has soap-like properties, is only mildly toxic.  I assure you that in the minute quantities found in this recipe, you should not experience any digestive irritation. 😂😂 

Fast forward months later when my mom found a stack of her mom's recipes.  Lo and behold, we found grandma's recipe for Karabij! As was the unfortunate case with many of grandma's recipes, there were no instructions, only a list of ingredients for the cookie itself, but not the topping. 

Karabij and Natef

Further research led me to a natef recipe by Anissa Helou, which helped me to understand the process for making this fascinating "cream".  I have adjusted the recipe according to the flavorings that my grandma's family used (rose water only and not orange blossom water) to recreate the recipe of my childhood.

Nibbling on one of these cookies is truly like taking a journey to the past! I hope you'll enjoy them as much as I do. They are quite a treat!

What Ingredients Do I Need to Make Karabij?

Clarified Butter: Save money by making your own clarified butter.

Farina: Pure farina, not Cream of Wheat, was used in this recipe.

Mahlab: An aromatic middle-eastern spice made from ground cherry seeds.

Walnuts: I like to buy my walnuts in bulk and store them in the freezer to preserve their freshness.

Sugar: Regular white table sugar will work great in this filling.

Cinnamon: Regular cinnamon or the stronger saigon cinnamon will add a wonderful sweet and spicy aroma to these cookies.

Rose water: Pure rose water was used in this recipe. Although alcohol-based rose water extracts may be easier to find, you would need to significantly decrease the amount of flavoring used or the rose flavor might be overpowering.

What Ingredients Do I Need to Make the Natef?

Soapwort Root: Indispensable ingredient when it comes to making the authentic natef. I searched high and low for this ingredient and the best option I came up with was to order it on Amazon. Although it comes at a hefty price tag (around $15 for 100 g), you can make about three batches of natef with one pouch of Natural Biokoma Soapwort Root. Since this brand of soapwort root was also described as an herbal tea, it gave me an added measure of comfort in knowing it was intended for human consumption. 😉

Sugar: Regular table sugar (sucrose) is used in the syrup, although there are some reports that using pure glucose will prevent the natef from separating into foam, which typically occurs if storing beyond the day you make it.

Rose water: Same type of rose water used in filling.

How Do I Make Karabij and Natef?

First make the cookie dough. Place farina in a blender and blend until a fine powder. Then place powdered farina in a bowl, stir in the warm water and clarified butter and let rest until all the liquid is absorbed and the dough is thick and moist.

Karabij and Natef Dough

For the filling, lightly pulse walnuts in a food processor until they become a uniform, coarse consistency. It's okay if some of the walnuts are a finer consistency. Pour all the walnuts in a bowl and toss with 3 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon mahlab and 2 teaspoons rose water.

Karabij and Natef Walnut-filling

Scoop about two tablespoons of dough into the palm of your hand or into a Karabij/Ma'amoul cookie mold. Press until cookie dough is rounded into a bowl shape about 1/4 inch thick. 

Filling Karabij with Walnut mixture

Place a tablespoon of walnut mixture into the center of the cookie mold and smooth the sides of the dough over the top.  If making smaller or larger cookies, adjust the amount of walnut filling accordingly.

 

Walnut filled Karabij Cookies
Walnut filling Karabij filling
If using a mold, release the dough unto a cookie tray by whacking the mold against the side of the cookie tray and then spacing a couple inches apart on the sheet. Bake cookies for approximately 27 minutes on the middle rack (for cookies that are approximately two inches in diameter). Cookies will be slightly browned on the top and bottom when done.  Place on a wire rack to cool.

Next, make the natef. Place soapwort root in a fine mesh strainer and rinse.  Then add the soapwort root to a small pot with 1 1/2 cups of water over medium high heat. Pay attention to the pot as the mixture may produce foam and boil over if not watched carefully.
Soapwort Root
After mixture has come to a boil, lower temperature and simmer until the liquid reduces by more than half. Turn off heat when you have about 1/3 cup of brown liquid remaining in the pot.  Then strain the liquid and reserve.
Soapwort Root Boiling for Karabij
To make the sugar syrup, bring the remaining 1/4 cup of water and 3/4 cup of sugar to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce temperature and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved and syrup slightly thickens (3-5 minutes). Then turn off heat and add rose water.  Syrup should still be runny.

Pour soapwort liquid into the bowl of an electric mixer and using the whisk attachment, begin whisking the mixture on high speed until it becomes white glossy foam.
Natef
 
Watch our short one-minute video demonstration of the magical process of turning soapwort root into an edible, marshmallow creamy goodness below.
At this point, slowly add in the sugar syrup while continuing to whisk.  You may choose to reduce the speed temporarily, but continue to wisk on high speed a few minutes more until the mixture takes on a somewhat gooey/foamy consistency, much like marshmallow creme.
Karabij Cookies Made Decorative
After cookies have cooled, top with a dollop of natef and serve immediately.  If desired, sprinkle with cinnamon. 
Karabij natef with rose water
Note: This post contains some affiliate links, which means that I could earn a small commission off items you purchase at no additional cost to you.
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  • Chrissie on

    You are a marvel! I am so impressed with all the work that went into this recipe! They were delicious, too!


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