Istanbul is a thoroughly modern city with a flagrant, almost proud disregard for history, even though it is uniquely blessed with ancient underground cisterns, stunning above-ground mosques and Topkapı Palace, which once employed 60 chefs, each with a specialty.
But the past still is very much alive at Haci Bekir, the confectionery and bakery that sells the world’s best Turkish delight, offering it in dozens of flavors, including rose, carrot and mint. I stopped by recently and had a morning coffee served with a crescent-shaped moon cookie with an impossibly thin outer pastry with a moist, cake-like chocolate interior.
Moon cookies started off as a smart way to use leftover bakery scraps as filling, the most common being walnuts, breadcrumbs and raisins, with the addition of cocoa powder and chocolate. The dough is rich and yeasted, though it rises little to none.
Rectangles of dough are filled, pressed to make a log, then easily twisted into the shape of a crescent and baked for a half hour in a moderate oven. The charm of this cookie is not just the shape, it is the ratio of filling to outer crust, which is high.
Also, there is the intriguing combination of lemon zest, walnuts, raisins and chocolate. It’s a grownup cookie from a city that goes back centuries, the seat of power for Emperor Constantine and then later, in the mid-15th century, the conquering Ottomans. Some places simply cannot outrun history.
- Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 3-by-5-inch oval, dusting with flour as needed to prevent sticking. Scoop 1 heaping tablespoon filling onto each oval.
- Working with one filling topped oval at a time, bring the long edges of the dough together to enclose the filling, firmly pinching the seams to seal.
- Applying only light pressure on the center section, use your hand to gently roll the half-moon against the counter a few times to distribute the filling within the dough.
- Place seam side down on the prepared baking sheet, forming the cigar into a crescent. Cover the formed cookies with another kitchen towel.