A Special Easter Recipe from the Middle East
‘Eid al-Fasiḥ, as Easter is called in Arabic, is celebrated at different times in Lebanon depending on the denomination. This year, the Orthodox Easter – observed by the Rum Orthodox – follows the Western Easter which is observed by Maronites and Protestants. The Holy Week leading up to the celebration is also different, as are the traditions concerning the Lenten fast.
However, there is one very important thing that all Christians in the Middle East agree on, and that is ma’amoul. Ma’amoul is a cookie that is stuffed with a mixture of dates or nuts. It is the traditional sweet and can be used to celebrate any holiday – it transcends religion & age to be the stand-by sweet around the Middle East. Although you can buy ma’amoul in every shop, they are the sort of thing that people only take the time to make at home for special occasions. There are special molds which leave the cookies with a decorative geometric pattern, a level of beauty that is matched only by their taste. What’s more, ma’amoul are a very simple baked good – the result is always delicious and the filling can be changed based on what you have around the house. With very little sugar, these are a delicious & healthy sweet!
1/2 pound pitted soft Medjool dates
2 tablespoons water
Pinch fine salt
½ teaspoon ginger powder
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon finely grated orange zest (about ½ of one small orange)
¼ c almonds, chopped
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus ¼ c (approximately) for shaping the cookies
1 cup semolina
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Pinch fine salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened and chopped up so that the dough will mix more readily
4 tablespoons vegetable flavored oil
¼ cup milk
Preheat the oven to 325° F.
To make the filling: Puree the filling ingredients in a food processor or blender until evenly combined, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove and set aside. Clean the processor bowl.
Put the flour, baking powder, the sugar, and salt in the bowl of food processor and pulse to mix. Add the butter, oil, and milk, pulsing until the dough just comes together. Take care not to overwork the dough; it will be slightly wet.
Remove dough from the processor, and roll into 20 equally-sized balls. In the palm of your hand, press and pat each ball of dough into a 2-3 inch round. You may need to flour your hands as you do this step to keep the cookie in one piece.
Place a teaspoon of filling in the center of each round and draw the edges up and around the filling. Pinch the dough together to make a sealed ball, and then carefully roll the cookie between your palms to make a smooth round ball. Press gently to flatten the cookie slightly, then place them seam-side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.
Gently prick the cookies with a fork or a wooden skewer in a decorative pattern taking care not to pierce the dough to the filling.
Bake the cookies until firm and slightly puffed, and the tops are pale but the bottoms are just beginning to turn slightly golden, about 25 to 30 minutes.
This recipe has been adapted from “Maamoul Stuffed Date Orange Cookies” from the Food Network.