Moon over Tunisia (Baharat) Butter Cookies

On the eighth day of Christmas… my true love gave to me… Moon over Tunisia (Baharat) Butter Cookies.

The flavor of these intensely buttery cookies is definitely exotic. It conjures up scenes of ancient ruins, mysterious nights, and distant moons. With a generous dose of fragrant spices—sweet paprika, black pepper, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg—these cookies are likely to be like none you have ever experienced.

Unless of course you tried my Garam Masala & Candied Ginger Cookies from last year’s Starry Night collection. Those are wonderfully exotic as well.

When eating these cookies, I always think of Scheherazade and the collection of stories known as One Thousand and One Nights. Arabian dancers in flowing silk garments spring to life in my imagination. And since this is my fantasy, I’m one of them.

Then, after all that dancing, I prepare a lovely pot of tea and present these rare and precious cookies to the bad-ass king, who as you know has already killed 1000 women. Only to his cookies, I add a little something extra.

And thus, after the king dies in his sleep later that night, Scheherazade and I grab all the silver we can carry, jump on our Arabian horses (the fastest in the world) and race across the Persian desert, all the way to Paris, where she sets up a renowned story-telling workshop and me an artisan cookie atelier next door. Her stories and my cookies become the talk of Paris, and we both live happily ever after.

P.S. We thought about naming these cookies Moon over Persia Butter Cookies, but Moon over Tunisia has such a better ring to it, don’t you agree? And besides, we raced through Tunisia by moonlight on Christmas Eve before stowing away on a cargo ship bound for France. We gave the horses, a bag of silver, and the rest of the cookies to a couple of mop-haired street urchins.

Moon Over Tunisia (Baharat) Butter Cookies

These evocatively  flavored butter cookies are both crunchy-crisp and melt-in-your-mouth. Save them for your more adventurous eaters, and you will get the oohs and aahs you deserve.

Baking Note   For best results, cookies should be COLD when they go into the oven. Otherwise, they may spread too much. Always give cookies plenty of space to spread regardless, at least an inch between cookies. Baking times are APPROXIMATE. Correct baking times are critical to the success of your cookies. Test your oven and pan setup with a few cookies to start with and watch the timing closely. Dark pans bake faster than light pans or air-sandwiched pans. Silicon mat-lined pans bake faster than parchment-lined pans. Cookies that are rolled to 1/8-inch thick bake faster than cookies rolled to ¼-inch thick. And your oven may be running hot or cold. There are so many variables. Do test a couple of cookies first. It may save an entire batch later.

3 cups King Arthur unbleached, all-purpose flour 

1½ cups unsalted butter, cool room temperature (3 sticks)
1 cup sugar
finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
2 tablespoons LunaCafe Baharat (recipe below)  
½ teaspoon fine sea salt

I teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon lemon oil (or ½ teaspoon lemon extract)

colored sanding sugars
mixed peppercorns (including pink) in a grinder, optional

  1. In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour. Reserve.
  2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, lemon zest, Baharat, and salt until creamy, smooth, and well combined.
  3. Add the vanilla and lemon oil, and incorporate.
  4. Add the flour and mix very briefly on very slow speed, just until a dough forms.
  5. Using a #70 scoop (1 tablespoon) with a release mechanism, scoop balls of dough, leveling each ball with the edges of the scoop. (Thus each ball will have one flat surface.)
  6. Either arrange the dough balls closely together on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for as long as a couple of days, or proceed immediately to baking. (The texture and flavor of the cookies improves with extended chilling—12 or more hours.)
  7. Coat a baking sheet lightly with vegetable spray. Arrange 12 cookie balls, flat sides down, 2 inches apart, on the baking sheet.
  8. Lay a sheet of waxed paper or plastic wrap over the cookies and using a textured meat pounder or other heavy, flat object, gently flatten each cookie ball to a ¼-inch thickness.
  9. If your cookies are flat, impress with any small object you like to create a design.
  10. Sprinkle sanding sugar heavily into the indents so that the texture lines or impressed design clearly shows. If desired, grate additional mixed peppercorns over the tops.
  11. Bake each sheet of cookies at 350° for about 15 minutes, rotating the pan at the halfway point to ensure even browning.
  12. Remove from the oven, loosen each cookie with a thin spatula and let cool for 3-4 minutes on the pan. Remove cookies from the cookie sheet and place on a wire rack and cool completely.
  13. Store airtight, in layers separated by wax paper rounds, in a cookie tin in a cool, dry place. These cookies improve with age. They keep for 3-4 weeks. Cookies may also be frozen.

Makes about 5 dozen, 2¼-inch diameter cookies.

LunaCafe Baharat

Baharat is the Arabic word for spices, and this particular spice mixture typically has nine or more spices in it. Mixtures vary from region to region from the Middle East to North Africa (Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, and Tunisia). Although Bharat is used typically in savory dishes and as a condiment, I have recently discovered that it is also delicious as a flavoring in cakes and cookies.

Note   Freshly grind as many of the spices as you can. It makes a world of difference.

1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

  1. In a small mixing bowl, combine all ground spices and mix well.
  2. Spoon into a spice jar and close the lid for storage.

Makes 6 tablespoons; fills a typical spice jar.

There’s More

Follow along as we bake this year’s cookie collection, and check out our past two collections:

Copyright 2010 Susan S. Bradley. All Rights Reserved.

Print Friendly


  1. Mariano says

    Hi there! I simply would like to give you a huge thumbs up for your great
    info you have here on this post. I’ll be returning to your website for more
    Mariano recently posted…MarianoMy Profile

  2. Mariano says

    Hi there! I simply would like to give you a huge thumbs up for your great
    info you have here on this post. I’ll be returning to your website for more
    Mariano recently posted…MarianoMy Profile

  3. Bastet says

    Umm no I read all intros, prefaces, etc. I learned early that much can be garnered about what you are reading if you read introductions first. That, and my English teacher in grade school used to quiz us on them 😉

  4. Phaedra says

    Hello again 😀

    This was the other batch of cookies of your lovely recipes that I baked up tonight for our family’s Christmas Eve celebrations tomorrow – well I guess technically today for me ;). I was so enticed by the aromas (and then the flavour of the cookie dough ;)) that I couldn’t wait to get them into the oven… but I did wait, thankfully. So deliciously different and evocative of spice markets (or spice areas of markets) I’ve been to elsewhere in the world (including the-closest-I’ve-ever-been-to-Tunisia’s Egypt). I’m so excited to share these with the more adventurous of my relatives… and then a friend that loves anything Moroccan, and then a coworker that loves these spices… maybe I’ll find a mop-haired urchin on the way, too 😉

    Off to dream, all gleefully sugar and spice (and everything nice?) filled. Thanks again! 😀

  5. Susan says

    Alright Susan, you got to me. I love a baked good with a story! Especially if it inspires a cookie! Or was it the other way around? Whatever! These have my attention! I really like the meat tenderizer treatment. I love to find a new use for a specialty utensil as much as a good made-up story. I also want what inspired this episode of baking! Ho-ho-ho and pass the wine? It was wine, right?

    • Susan S. Bradley says

      Susan, LOL! You may be the only person who actually read the intro. The cookies themselves were inspired by a love for evocative spice blends, which I always make myself. Looking around the kitchen for Christmas cookie inspiration, I spotted the little jar with marking pen inscription “My Baharat.” The dough balls were cooling in the frig within minutes. For the later tie-in with Scheherazade, it was late one night after 10-12 hours at the day job. I was fading fast, but had to get the post out before closing down the computer. So I started cruising the web, found the Arabian Dancers on YouTube and the post then wrote itself. I reread it a couple of times, thinking “This is nuts” but then also thought, “Oh heck, no one will read it anyway.” :-)
      P.S No wine was involve, only Christmas tea. :-)
      P.S.S. I wonder how hard it would be to create designs for an implement like a meat pounder that could be used as a cookie stamp? I spent so much time working with cookie stamps this year and was mostly disappointed because the impressions are too shallow to create good definition in the baked cookie. The meat pounder works way better.

    • Susan S. Bradley says

      Dana, thanks so much! Wouldn’t these be perfect on the beach at Manzanita with a jug of hot cider? Bundled up in 15 layers of Patagonia clothing of course. :-)


  1. […] cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg. But instead of using the spice blend in a savory braise, I used it in Moon over Tunisia (Baharat) Cookies. The aroma and flavor were hauntingly evocative. After that success, I began playing around with a […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

CommentLuv badge