Hummus is off fighting wars in the Middle East, arming itself with increasingly more ammunition and decimating the world’s supply of chickpeas. And for what? Conquering what cannot be possessed? This innocent legume is forced to play a pathetic role in the bolstering of national pride instead of humbly filling bellies. For those not following the hummus wars you can read about it here.
But Maamouls, thankfully, are different. They have integrity and honor and do not have delusional ideas of self importance. It knows how to share.
Indeed, during different seasons and celebrations this traditional Middle Eastern pastry adorns resplendent tables around the world. Easter, Ramadan, Hannukah and Purim would be lacking without it, as religion and food have become inseparable. Yet none of them are sniggering that the others have stolen cultural treasures. At least I have not seen any world biggest ma’amoul competitions on the news.
In many areas high quality ma’amouls can be bought at local bakeries but there is something special about making them at home. The ma’amoul mold, known as, taabeh is one of the most beautiful kitchen tools. With intricate carved designs, it is practical art and the inversion of the graceful pastry. There might be invariable number of ways to prepare ma’amouls- with rosewater, orange blossom water, freshly ground mahlab, a pinch of fenugreek, stuffed with pistachios, walnuts or dates but it is always easily identified by its festive shell.
The first time I made ma’amouls I used Claudia Roden’s recipe which called for using only white flour in the dough, a method preferred by Jews. Although they were delicious, the abundance of butter caused them to partially melt and lose shape. I added semolina to the mixture, although not as much as many traditional recipes call for. This compromise helped produce tender cookies while preserving their decorative shell. It is also faster to make since it does not require over night resting time for the dough or extensive kneading.
Ma’amouls-Middle Eastern Filled Cookies
If using orange blossom water instead of orange essence decrease the milk to 1/4 cup and add 1/4 cup orange blossom water. Kleicha is another variety of ma’amouls made by Iraqis, whose origin is discussed by Nawal Nasrallah, expert on Middle Eastern food history.
Makes about 25 small ma’amouls
1 cup white flour
1 cup coarse semolina
100 grams butter, softened
1 teaspoon freshly ground mahlab (cherry stone of the St. Lucie Cherry)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon orange blossom essence
1/2 cup milk
Traditionally the filling consists of dates or ground nuts, such as pistachios, almonds and walnuts. The Medjool dates I used were as soft as butter and I didn’t feel the need to add more to it. Some recipes add mahlab to the filling. I added about 2 tablespoons of sugar for every cup of nut filling. There are some dates such as Halawi which are drier than Medjools and these should be soaked for 30 minutes in water to soften them before mashing, either in the food processor or by hand. For this recipe I used about 1 cup of mashed dates and 1 cup of ground nuts.
In a stand mixer combine the semolina, flour, mahlab, sugar and butter and mix well. Add the orange blossom essence and continue to mix slowly while adding the milk a little at a time. The mixture should come together without being sticky or crumbly. Add more milk if necessary. Do not mix longer since this will develop the gluten and cause the dough to be tough. Let rest for about 2 hours in the refrigerator.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and return to room temperature. Take a walnut size piece of dough. Form a small cup using your thumb to make a hole and pinching the sides thin. Stuff with desired filling so it comes 3/4 of the way up and close carefully, rolling smooth. Place in an oiled mold, pressing gently so it does not open. Remove the ma’amoul from the mold by tapping the end of the mold against the edge of a table or other hard object, catching the falling cookie.
Bake at 160°C for 20-30 minutes. Make sure the cookies do not brown but remain pale. Cool completely before handling and store in an airtight container. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.
Here is a list of ma’amoul recipes worth visiting
Ma’amoul Cookies (Tony has a great tip for getting the ma’amouls out of the molds- panty hose!)