Shekerbura is a sweet pastry filled with ground nuts and sugar. In Azerbaijan, making shekerbura usually involves a team-work. Relatives and neighbors get together at somebody’s house and all contribute to the making of this and other Novruz treats. Baked shekerbura is put on the table on akhoncha, a special holiday tray, filled with Novruz desserts, nuts, dried fruits and colored eggs. Shekerbura consists of 3 major elements: the dough, the filling and the pattern, and I’ll discuss each element in details.
The dough for shekebura can be prepared in several ways: with yeast that makes the dough rise, without yeast, with whole eggs or with egg yolks only, with milk or with water added and so on. In Azerbaijan, every family has its own special recipe. The recipe below is my favorite, courtesy of my cousin in Baku whose shekerbura is simply the best in the family. It yields the softest shekerbura that almost melts in your mouth. Plus, the recipe doesn’t require waiting for the dough to rise (a small amount of yeast is added for softness), or refrigerating it overnight.
Shekerbura filling is made by mixing ground nuts (hazelnuts, or almonds, or walnuts) with granulated sugar and powdered cardamom. Hazelnuts and almonds are preferred over walnuts for their light color and subtle taste. I personally prefer walnuts for their rich taste. Nuts must be skinned before they are mixed with sugar and cardamom. In the US, you can buy skinned nuts sold in packages. In Azerbaijan, women skin raw nuts themselves using the techniques described in the recipe below.
What makes shekerbura really special is the patter that is made on them with a special type of decoration tweezers, called maggash (see picture below). Mine came all the way from Baku. The most traditional decoration called jinaghi - a V-shaped pine tree or herringone pattern (I learned this fromGullu who runs a great web site on Azerbaijani food). However, simple patterns, such as trees, flowers, and even names and initials can be made with these tweezers too. If you don’t have a maggash, leave the top of your pastries plain - once they are baked, coat them with powdered sugar.
This is how a maggash looks.
For the Dough:
1 kg / 2.2 pounds first grade wheat flour (white only) + 1 tablespoon (for step 3)
400 g / 14 oz unsalted butter, cut into large chunks
5 egg yolks
250 g / 9 oz sour cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla powder (optional)
1/2 teaspoon dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup / 125 ml lukewarm milk
For the Filling:
700 g / 1.5 pounds skinned hazelnuts, or almonds or walnuts (See recipe for how to skin if readily skinned nuts are not available)
700 g / 1.5 pounds granulated sugar
2 teaspoon, or to taste, ground cardamom
You’ll also need: mixing bowls, baking sheets, and a maggash (tweezers)
1. Prepare the dough. Put the flour and the butter in a large mixing bowl. Using your hands, rub them together until you obtain fine crumbs. Make sure there are no large crumbs left.
2. In a small bowl, using a spoon, mix the eggs yolks, sour cream, salt and vanilla powder.
3. In another small bowl, put the yeast, 1 tablespoon flour, 1 tablespoon sugar. Fill it with 1/4 cup of lukewarm milk. Let stand for about 2 minutes.
4. Add the egg-sour cream mixture (#2), the yeast mixture (#3), to the flour-butter mixture (#1).
5. Using your hands, mix the ingredients until fully incorporated and a rough and inconsistent dough is obtained. Transfer the dough to your work surface. Put the remaining 1/4 cup of lukewarm milk in a separate bowl. Con6. Shape the dough into a ball. Put it back in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave aside to rest for about 30 minutes.stantly wetting your hands with milk, knead the dough for a few minutes to make it smooth.
7. In the meantime, prepare the filling. If you are using already skinned nuts, grind them finely in a food processor. In a mixing bowl, combing the ground nuts with sugar. Add the ground cardamom and vanilla powder. Mix until fully incorporated.
To skin hazelnuts and walnuts at home: Place raw hazelnuts in a large frying pan, and roast over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the skins crack and begin to flake off, about 10 minutes. Take care not to burn the nuts. Working with small batches of nuts at a time, place them them on a kitchen cloth and rub with it to remove the skins. Most of the skins will come off although some will still cling to the nut (especially on walnuts). Do not worry, a little skin will not be that visible in the filling.
To skin almonds at home: Put the almonds in a pot and pour boiling water over them to barely cover their tops. Let the almonds sit in the water for about 2 minutes (do not keep them there for too long, or they will lose their crispiness and will be too soft). Drain off the water, pat dry the nuts and slip the skins off by squeezing the almonds between your thumb and fingers.
8. Divide the dough into 36 balls, each weighing 50 g.
9. Work with one ball at a time, and cover the rest. Roll each ball into a 4 inch (10 cm) circle.
10. Place the circle in the palm of your hand, slightly folded, and put 2 tablespoons of the filling in the center.
11. Starting at one end, begin sealing the left and right edges towards the center to obtain a half-moon shape. Sealed shekerbura must be somewhat chubby from the filling and never flat.
12. Using your thumb and index finger, start pinching and twisting the dough along the seal to decorate the edges.
13. Arrange the pastry on a baking sheet, lined with parchment (baking) paper. Continue working with the rest of the dough balls, arranging them on the baking sheet as you are finished decorating their edges.
14. Now decorate the tops. Holding a pastry in one hand, and a maggash (tweezers) in the other, pinch the dough with the maggash at an angle and slightly lift it upward (see the picture below). Continue until you obtain a row of pattern. If maggash is not available, leave the top of shekerbura plain, without any patterns.
This is how shekerbura pastries look before they go in the oven
Create similar rows, each at an angle to the next one, until the entire surface is decorated.
15. Bake on the middle rack of the oven preheated to 175C (350F) for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges just begin to change their color and the bottom is light brown. Take care not to overbake the pastries - their tops should be light color when baked. If you did not decorate your pastries with the tweezers, coat them with powdered sugar once they cool off.