Saturday, March 30, 2013

Maamoul: Easter semolina cookies معمول

A special delicacy served during Easter, Maamoul

Across the world major religious or cultural events are usually marked by special foods and sweets that add another dimension to the whole occasion. If you follow my blog you would know that Christmas time of the year, but equally important to me is the holy week before Easter.

As far back in time as my memory can go, I remember that during this week the family gathers, namely my mom and aunts to prepare a special and really delicious sweet usually enjoyed this time of the year: Maamoul (معمول) as they are called in Arabic, or semolina cookies.

Three fillings, same exquisite dough
The whole ritual of making these cookies was so exciting. At first was the all important ingredient shopping which mom would make. She would choose those ingredients that meet her standards.

The dough needs to rest overnight, so she would mix all the ingredients in the evening to let the semolina flour come together with the rest of the ingredients. When done with the dough, she would prepare the fillings. Traditionally, there are three types of fillings: dates, pistachios and walnuts. At this stage, my sister, brother or myself would help her grinding the nuts or mixing the dates with some butter till they soften.

The morning after, D day comes. My mom wakes up early, joined by my aunts. Soon, we all pitch in.

When everything is ready, we all sit around and start shaping and filling the cookies, and wait patiently until all the trays are filled with the elegantly shaped cookies waiting to be baked.  Sometimes we would bake the cookies at home but more often we would take them to the bakery so they can be baked more rapidly in the larger ovens.
Baked, they would be sprinkled with powdered sugar after they cool down and then filled in jars. When Easter comes, you are expected to greet your visitors with Maamoul and many housewives would share tips and tricks on how to make the best cookies.

I have been away from home for many years, and every year at this time, I miss being with my family and being part of the fun of making Maamoul and savor the sweet reward afterwards.

Nevertheless, you can, like I did, make these cookies, even if you are not planning to make large quantities for your large and extended family. There are quite a few steps to follow, but the result is well worth it.

Here is what you need:

  • 450 g coarse semolina
  • 120 g fine semolina
  • 1/2 tsp mahlab cherry (if not available use few drops of almond extract)
  • 1/2 teaspoon mastic (if available)
  • Dash of salt
  • 210 g melted butter (warm)
  • 120 g sugar
  • 1/2cup of liquid, you case use water, rose and orange blossom water (together) or milk, I used half rose and half orange blossom water 
The dough and the fillings

First you have to combine the semolina, sugar, mahlab, salt and mastic, mix well then add the butter. You have to mix well with your hands or with a mixer using flat beater, mix well for at least 5 minutes. Leave it to rest for  4 hours, mixing it from time to time.

How the dough should look eventually

After 4 hours you need to start adding the liquid. At this stage I would use the hook tool to mix, or you still can use you hands, start adding the liquids slowly, mixing thoroughly .  When you mix with your hands and especially when you use orange blossom water, you would have a very biblical feeling and your hands would smell amazing!

Leave the dough over night or at least 8 hours. After that time, some kneading is needed again:  first with hook tool for about 5 to 8 min, then use your hands to get a smoother dough (you can do it all with your hands but of course the machine makes it a bit easier).

Now that the dough is done, we are ready to fill and shape.

For the shaping we use special moulds which are readily available in the Middle East, but of course not so in Europe. If they are not available, you can decorate the cookie balls with a crimper and get excellent results.

Moulding, filling and shaping

For the walnuts filling you need:
  • 100 g  coarsely ground walnuts
  • 1 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • Rose and orange blossom water (almost a tbsp of each)
Mix everything together and let it sit for a bit

For the pistachios filling you need: 
  • 100 g coarsely ground pistachios
  • 1 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • Rose and orange blossom water (almost a tbsp of each)
Mix everything together and let it sit for a bit

For the date filling you need: 
  • 100 gr Date paste (you can buy the mature date remove the pits and grind them)
  • 1/2 tsp of cinnamon
  •  1/2 tsp of nutmeg
  • 1 tsp butter
Add the spices to the dates mix then add the butter and mix well.

Different shapes same great taste

You can make big or small cookies. I prefer the small ones but you can try both and stick to the ones you prefer.
At first you need to make a small ball of dough, flatten it in the palm of your hands till it is less than 1/4 cm in thickness. After which, you put the filling in the middle of the dough and bring the edges together to close it. Alternatively, you can make a hole in the dough ball, fill it with the filling you desire then bring the edges together and close the ball.

From left to right: Pistachio, dates, and walnuts cookies

Once you fill your tray, bake them in a preheated oven (180C) from 10 to 15 min, once they are golden brown on the bottom and just dry on the top.

Take them out and leave them to cool a bit, then sprinkle with dusting sugar or you can do this step just before serving the cookies!
Maamoul covered with dusting sugar, a pure joy!

2 comments:

  1. Rita, I want to try some of your cookies there please....:)

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    Replies
    1. HAHAHA, would love to send you some! :D

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