Suqar means “sugar” in Arabic. And, while sugar certainly gets a bad rap from all the negative health consequences from consuming too much of it, I find the cover of this cookbook very telling. The gorgeous nectarines tell a much different story, one of natural sugars. As Greg Malouf tells us in the introduction that while he was growing up it was fresh fruit that became dessert at the end of a meal, which is the case for many Middle Eastern families. So, it is with this indulgence of natural sugars that became the inspiration for many of the cookbook’s more traditional desserts, such as cookies, ice cream, cakes, and tarts.
January might seem like an odd month to write a review on a dessert cookbook considering this month is the prime time to focus on health goals and those pesky resolutions to eat less sugar, but it is with the recipes I’ve tried from Suqar that I’ve realized a small sweet or treat really helps to maintain balance and a bit of joy. Whether it’s the fruit leathers in my daughter’s lunch bag, a plate of warm Baghrir on a Saturday morning, or that nightly cup of hot chocolate my husband enjoys a little sweetness goes a long way. I really appreciate these small recipes and find this cookbook perfect for trying to quiet the cries of my sweet tooth.
Chocolate is my husband’s favourite treat and if you mention hot chocolate, he’ll reminisce about the small café he used to go to that served a hot chocolate that consisted of melted chocolate in milk topped with whipped cream. Incredibly indulgent but oh so memorable. It’s with the Malouf’s recipe for Spanish Hot Chocolate that I’ve been able to recreate a better home-version of my husband’s favourite drink. The thick, spiced dark chocolate ganache is spooned into a jar and from there you put a few generous tablespoons into warm milk to create a richly spiced hot chocolate. Serving it with whipped cream here is a must! Just between us, dear readers, I put the ganache into two separate jars so that one would act as a decoy in case my husband or daughter should find it before I could take its picture (I’ve tried writing menacing notes but that seldom works).
The book is organized into 10 sections: Fruit, Dairy, Frozen, Cookies, Cakes & Puddings, Pastries & Tarts, Fritters & Pancakes, Confectionary, Preserves, and Drinks. What I really appreciate is the range of techniques used — from the simply roasting of fruit to bring out it’s natural sweetness to more complicated cookies or cakes — there are recipes to suit every level of home cook. The recipes I chose to try were quite simple to prepare. For example the Fruit Leathers, are a treat my daughter often asks for when we’re grocery shopping and I was surprised that all it took was cooking the apples over the stove with a bit of water, sugar, lemon juice, and cinnamon, and once they became soft I pureed them in the blender and spread it thinly over a silicone baking sheet. After several hours spent drying out over a low temperature, we had made our own fruit leather much to the delight of my daughter. Having tried it, I still can’t believe how easy it is to make!
Pancakes are another family favourite and I was interested in trying their recipe for Berber 1000-Hole Pancakes (Baghrir) with Date-Lemon Butter. Imagine a crumpet and a pancake crossed together and you have a Baghrir! The batter is notably different from pancake recipes I’ve tried because it contains semolina and yeast. The resulting thin pancake is only cooked on one side and has holes on the top (reminds me of a crumpet). Truly delicious, made even more so by topping them with a compound butter of mashed dates and confit lemons (the recipe for which is also in the book). Confit Lemons is an easy way to preserve lemons. Thinly sliced, boiled in a sugar-water mixture, the lemons become translucent and sit in a syrup that tastes exactly like lemon drops! While these lemons are used in the compound butter since making them, I’ve used them to top my morning yogurt and granola.
Suqar focuses on desserts from the Middle East and the ingredients reflect this. I was introduced to the use of rose water and orange blossom water in the Malouf’s last book New Feast, and it is with this new book that I’ve learned about mastic grains (almost like a resin that when ground has a pine-y scent) and mahlab (a powder made from cherry seeds). I purchased both the mastic grains and the mahlab (used in the recipe for Ma’amoul) along with the Ma’amoul moulds from Middle Eastern grocers here in Halifax. Sometimes specialty ingredients can be a bit pricy but what you see in the picture below cost me around $15 CDN. Semolina and caster sugar are other ingredients that also featured prominently in the recipes I tried.
While most of the recipes I tried were quite simple, the recipe for Lemon Curd Ma’amoul really spoke to my need to learn about new recipes, ingredients, and techniques. This need is something they speak to in the introduction: “The other thing I have come to understand about dessert cooking — more, I think, than any other kind — is there are always, always things to learn.” The recipe begins the night before, mixing the semolina with the oil and butter to ensure that the grains plumpen. The next day as I crushed the mastic grains with the pestle, I could smell a faint pine-y scent and when mixed in with the mahlab, rose and orange blossom waters it made for quite a unique perfume. I found the instructions thorough enough, but I think I’ll need more practise. I found that I couldn’t quite manage to seal my dough ball without curd coming through the seam so I decided to mix in the curd with a little of the ma’amoul dough so as to give it a bit more structure (although with more practise I think I’ll be able to work with just the curd on it’s own). The resulting cookies are like shortbread though not as sweet and taste perfect with an afternoon coffee.
What I love about Suqar is that there are desserts for everyone! From the smallest sweet to the most indulgent there’s something to enjoy for any occasion — even if it’s just with an afternoon coffee. Over 100 recipes with inspiration coming from all over the Middle-Eastern region this is a cookbook that I’ll keep coming back to. The accessible techniques and fairly easy to find ingredients might change the way you view dessert. I’ll keep adding pictures to my Instagram feed #shipshapesuqar and to my dedicated Facebook post as I try more recipes.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Raincoast Books and Hardie Grant Books for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own