Thursday, January 26, 2006

Sugar High Friday 15: Ma'amoul cookies

This month, for Sugar High Fridays, the host Becks and Posh determined the topic would be recipes using little to no sugar. I immediately thought of the delicious date cookies called Ma'amoul which I enjoyed while traveling in the Middle East. Ma'amoul cookies are one of the many desserts typically eaten during the holy month of Ramandan. During this month, Muslims fast from sun up to sun down, not eating or drinking anything at all. It is considered a time for reflection and to focus on family life. It is also the time for the greatest celebrations in the Muslim world. Women spend each day cooking and baking, unable to eat or drink and consequently taste any of the food they are preparing. Yet surprisingly the food is almost always delicious and well-seasoned. Families come together to break their fast, the more, the merrier. Everyone starts with a bowl of hot soup to open their appetites. Salad, stuffed vine leaves, fried balls of meat, platters of rice and chicken are passed from hand to hand. They eat until satiated, enjoying every bite of the food prepared with love and devotion by wives and mothers.
The desserts are no exception. Tea is served alongside mountains of hand made sweets. You are likely to find batlawa (similar to baklava), fried dough stuffed with sugar and nuts (atyef), cheese cake with rosewater sweet noodles (knaffe), and Ma'amoul, a date cookie. Middle Eastern desserts tend to be extremely rich, often deep-fried and dipped in sugary syrup. Ma'amoul is a an exception: a tender dough surrounding a naturally sweet date filling.
Most often Ma'amoul is made by pressing the dough into a form, stuffing with dates, and removing to bake in the oven. However, I am lacking the appropriate tools and improvised using the only tools available: my hands. I first used a recipe from "The New Book of Middle Eastern Food" by Claudia Roden. Her recipe yielded a parched white dough which was hard to handle. It had a similar method and texture to pie dough. I improvised my own recipe after reading many more on the internet. I was delighted with the result, it was easy to make and the contrast of crisp and tender crust with the luscious date center was a perfect combination. I was also thinking the dough would make a great sugar-free pie crust. Here is the recipe:

For the Dough:
1/2 cup semolina flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 cup browned butter (cooled)
1/2 cup boiling water
pinch of salt
1 tsp rose water

Combine all ingredients in a medium sized bowl and mix together until well combined. Turn out onto the counter and knead 3 or 4 times. Wrap with plastic and allow to sit for 2 hours.

For the filling:
350 g pitted dates (preferably date paste)
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup water

Chop dates if you are not using a paste. Combine in a small pot with 1/4 cup water. Heat over low flame, constantly stirring and adding more water if necessary, until a smooth paste is made. Allow to cool.

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Take a tablespoon sized piece of dough and work it into a ball with your hands. Press your thumb into the center to create a space for the date filling. Scoop a teaspoon of date filling into the center, and pinch all the sides up to cover the hole.
3. Place on a baking sheet, pinched side down, and press lightly with your fingers. Using a fork, make a decorative design on the top.
4. Lightly brush each cookie with an egg wash glaze.
5. Bake in the center of the oven for 20-25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the cooking process. The Ma'amoul are done when lightly brown in color.


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Sam said...

thank you so much for your Ramadan explanation and, of course, your very delicious-sounding cookie recipe.

mym(e) said...

I was looking for a dessert free of added sugar and stumbled upon your recipe. I just made them for supper, and they're all gone! I'll be making them again for sure, and will be trying some variations with orange-blossom water, orange zest... Thank you for sharing this simple and tasty recipe.