Saturday, December 13, 2014

"Haskanoush" : A traditional Armenian walnut - filled pastry

"Haskanoush" is more than a pastry; it's a traditional special-occasion treat passed down from one generation to another.

Maro Nalabandian's Haskanoush
I am told that the original recipe came from Van, Western Armenia and is still prepared there to this day.

I noticed on a FaceBook post last October that St. Mary Armenian Church in Washington, DC was making and selling a dessert called Haskanoush at their annual Food Festival.
Since I was not familiar this dessert, I contacted my cousin, Maro Nalabandian who lives in nearby Maryland, and who just happens to be a chef who makes killer pastries, among other remarkable dishes.
Maro had been to the festival the day before I emailed her. By the time she'd gotten there, the supply of haskanoush was already depleted; it's a very popular treat!

Maro explained that the name haskanoush comes from the words 'wheat' (hask) and 'sweet' (anoush). It is a pastry shaped to resemble a stalk of wheat.
She went on to say, “It is tedious work as you have to snip the tops (of the pastry) with mini scissors (to resemble) a hask (stalk of wheat).”

After my lesson on haskanoush, all I needed was a recipe. Maro painstakingly created the following recipe for home preparation. I must confess that I haven't made this yet, but couldn't wait to post it because it seems perfect for the Christmas season.
~Maro Nalabandian's Haskanoush~
Yields approx. 40 pieces, depending on size

Simple Syrup Ingredients:
2 cups Sugar
1 cup Water
1 Tbsp. fresh Lemon Juice
1/2 tsp. Orange Blossom water
1/2 tsp. Rose Water (opt)
~In a small sauce pot, on medium heat gently stir water and sugar together.
~Bring the syrup to a boil, add the Lemon juice and simmer for about 5 minutes.
~Stir in the Orange and Rose Water, turn off heat and set aside.
Dipping haskanoush

Important Notes:
~Either the syrup has to be cold and the Haskanoush has to be hot when dipping         - OR-
the Haskanoush has to be hot out of the oven when dipping into the cold syrup.
~You may dip part of the Haskanoush to use and save the rest by freezing but without dipping into the syrup.
~Maro suggests that if you don’t like desserts that are too sweet or syrupy, you can omit dipping the baked haskanoush in the simple syrup altogether, especially since there is an ample amount of sugar in the  filling.

Cinnamon and Nut Filling Ingredients:
3 cups finely chopped Walnuts
4 Tbsp. Sugar
1 Tbsp. ground Cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground Cloves
~Mix all together and set aside

The Dough Ingredients:
3 1/2 cups flour - plus 1/2 a cup Flour, as needed
2 tsp. Baking Powder
1/4 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. ground **Mahleb (sold in most Middle Eastern stores)
1 cup unsalted Butter, melted
1 cup Milk, room temperature
2 Eggs, room temperature, beaten
** Mahleb, also spelled 'mahlab',is the dried “heart” of the cherry pit. It can be purchased in most Middle Eastern stores. I

~Using a stand mixer, add 3 1/2 cups of the flour, baking powder, salt and Mahleb to the bowl.
~In a separate bowl, add the melted butter, milk, and beaten eggs; mix together.
~Turn the mixer on low speed, and add the liquid ingredients slowly to the dry ingredients.
~Mix until it all comes together. If need be, add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour.The dough will be soft to the touch.
~Make 2 inch size balls of dough. Place them on a tray and cover with plastic wrap till ready to use.

~Have ready three baking sheets with parchment paper, rolling pin and a small thin-tip sharp scissors.
~Place oven temperature at 350 degrees/F.
~Start by taking a dough/ball and press to open by hand or with rolling pin on the counter.
~Roll each piece into a 4 to 5 inch circle, then place one teaspoon of the filling in the middle,  spreading it from one end to the other (not quite to the edge) in a line.
~Fold halfway over the filling, and tightly roll to the end, close the edges together firmly.
~Place it on a tray with the seam side down, and do the same with the rest.
~Make sure they are one inch apart, placing diagonally in a tray.
~Start one by one snipping with the scissors making three rows of snips on each pastry.
~Put the tray in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes until lightly golden.
~Remove when done and continue dipping each piece into the room temperature syrup
as directed above.


  1. Please explain "fold halfway over the filling". Do you fold up to the filling then roll the rest? or Fold in half (like making a half circle) then roll the rest? :)

    1. Good question! I have sent your comment along to Maro. As soon as I have a response, I'll post it.

  2. Maro has two suggestions:
    1. First you fold the dough up over the filling pulling towards yourself gently but tightly while rolling so that it is not loose, then roll as if making a cigar pushing outward to the end and enclose the edges.
    Also: The ball size could be 1 1/2 - 2" according to size preference.
    2. Cover dough just over the filling snugly, (Not over the whole dough) then keep rolling the rest of the dough to the end.
    ~NOTE: Soorp Khatch Ladies (Guild) in Maryland, each year have Haskanoush workshops in order to prepare it for the Bazaar, and also serve it for their yearly Thanksgiving Luncheon.

  3. I think the folding and rolling instructions could be more clear if you just inserted a couple of photos. Otherwise sounds like a great recipe.

  4. Thank you so much for posting this. My mother taught me how to make these when I was in my teens. The recipe has been passed down through many generations. We never knew the name of them. We call them "fish". Again, thank you!!

  5. When I was a young boy in Bulgaria, a family of Armenian refugees from Rodosto (Tekirdag, in the Sea of Marmara) lived in our house in Sliven, Bulgara. They prepared cookies called "skuchi" or "miskuchi". Those were my favourate cookies from my childhood. They seem similar to these ones from the outside. Is it possible that this is one and the same thing?

    1. I wish I could say for sure, but it might be the same as those you recall.