Aqras Helweh | Syria

It's MENA CC time! Every month I look forward to this event with full vigour. I get to try totally new cuisine and also learn something about their culture. But somehow I had completely forgotten about this month until last week when I was waiting in the car for F to get me freshly made Kunafa. I was frantically trying to get his attention as I did not have my phone with me. Grabbing his phone, I checked the MENA site. But when I saw the country name I was totally saddened. Whatever is happening to the people of Syria and the country itself is unfair and reminds me how blessed we are and that nothing is permanent. This month MENA is travelling to Syria and is hosted by Joumana who blogs at Taste of Beirut.

We were given the following options:
Drink: Sharab Tamr Hendi
Main: Oven Potato with Lemon, Garlic and Oil
Sweet: Aqras Helweh

Sharab Tamr Hendi is a juice made with tamarind pulp, and I was pretty sure there are no takers in my home. The main course of Oven potato.. was interesting and seemed very simple and easy, and so thought I will make it if Aqras Halweh does not turn out good. I chose to try this because I have never made cookies as it requires an oven which I am yet to get. I know to bake cakes on the stovetop but thought I should try cookies too. I searched the internet and found a HuffingtonPostnpost on how to bake a cookie on the stovetop. Tada! so, Aqras Helweh it is.

I chose to adapt the recipe from Dimah's blog. Wonderful work on collecting and recording authentic Syrian recipes from her family since 2009! I hope all my friends take some time to read her blog. She has a really interesting collection of recipes and history about Syria with images. In her own words:

Aqras Helweh is a Syrian cookie. Aqras was one of the foods that people took with them when they travelled on camels or by ships before the invention  of planes, for example, when people travelled on camels to Mecca to perform Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), journey took months and Aqras was one of the best foods that remains long time without being affected or something happens to it. - Dimah

So, there were two things that the recipe required and I did not have; Mahlab and Baker's ammonia. I could not wait until the weekend, as I knew it would be a busy weekend with the plumbers fixing things in my home. So, went ahead using the closest substitutes. Everything was new to me: making cookies, the most unheard-of recipe of a cookie, making it on the stovetop and the aroma..! that was soo good, fresh and new. I made this with all my heart and was super glad it came out good.

I don't weigh my dough, or measure the thickness or circumference. I just go with my instincts. Made two batches, one with ghee as per the recipe and the next day I tried with butter. Both tasted good, but the butter version was snappier or harder but good to eat. Regarding the shapes, I made squares, circle and bite-size! :-) call me crazy, that's how much I enjoyed making these stovetop cookies. The best part is this cookie can be stored in room temperature for many days... I still have a couple of them left. :-P

The original recipe required to run the rested dough through a meat grinder. I do not know the significance of this step, however, in the absence of a meat grinder, I used our very own Idiyappam press replacing the holed plate with that of Puttu maker. I should also mention that I skipped this step while making the batch with butter and it did not have any significant difference.

Aqras Helweh | Syria


For the Dough: 
2 cups of brown flour or wheat flour
1 teaspoon fennel powder
1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder
6 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon instant yeast
a pinch of baking powder
a pinch of baking soda
Salt to taste
5 tablespoon ghee
1/2 cup lukewarm water (plus 2 tbsp)

To Coat the Aqras: 
White sesame seeds

  1. Take a large bowl and add dry ingredients and whisk to combine.
  2. Stir in the ghee and the lukewarm water and rub into the flour.
  3. Knead the dough until soft and not sticky.
  4. Cover and rest the dough for an hour.
  5. Run the dough through the idiyappam press with a medium holed plate (from puttu maker) in small batches (I guess only Keralites will understand this step) Or use a meat grinder if you have that. (optional step)
  6. Divide the dough into equal parts (about 9 to 12)
  7. Add some sesame seeds on a plate (you will keep adding to this as needed) 
  8. Take one piece of the divided dough and work on it between your palms like you do chapatis (ensure there is no cracks and its smooth all over) 
  9. Press the ball gently with your fingers and dip one side of the dough on sesame plate (this is to coat one side only) 
  10. Place the sesame coated side down and start rolling it (not too thin, nor very thick - the recommended size is 4mm thickness) 
  11. Turn the flattened dough to have the sesame coated side up.
  12. Use a fork to poke holes all over the sesame coated side. 
Stovetop bakers: 
  1. Place a non-stick pan over a heat diffuser or flat pan. You will need to have a lid with a hole for the non-stick pan. 
  2. Place the rolled dough sesame coated side up (as many as the pan can fit comfortably) and cover with the lid.
  3. Wait for 5 minutes, and turn the aqras to cook the other side.
  4. Wait for another 5 to 6 minutes and remove the aqras from the pan to a flat plate 
  5. Let it cool completely.
  6. Move into an airtight container and this can be stored in room temperature.
  7. Serve with milk, chai or just snack on it 
Oven Bakers
  1. Place the aqras on baking sheet with the sesame side up 
  2. Bake it at 200 - 220 degree Celsius for 9 to 12 minutes or until golden brown in colour. 
  3. Please refer to the Dimah's blog for any clarification

I hope I get to have a real authentic Aqras Helweh soon so I can relate if I got any closer to the original taste. :-) I truly enjoyed making this but my heart goes out to all the Syrian people who are struggling for basic needs. May Allah keep them safe, strong and end their hard times soon. Ameen.