Ma'amoul: A Middle Eastern, Date-Filled Pastry
I love making recipes from many different culinary traditions and styles. Vietnamese fare was probably one of the first things I cooked, and since then, I've made recipes that are French, Russian, Armenian, Chinese, Thai, Indian, Portuguese, Syrian, Ghanan, Lebanese, Polish, Kazakhstani... I'll probably have done all of the national culinary traditions in the world by the time that I finally cook something "authentically" American! Of course, I'm sure that many of the recipes I make aren't authentic to whichever culinary tradition I'm coming from, but then I am still American; mixing and matching is what we do.
Some of the Cookbooks I'm Using
In this case, I've been cooking out of Tamarind and Saffron Favourite Recipes from the Middle East, by Claudia Roden. It has some great recipes in it; I had particularly liked Meatballs with Sour Cherry Sauce, and I also made Almond Fingers, a delicious dessert. I'll have to showcase them some day. There is a vibrancy and a zest, as well as a lightness, that is pleasant in the increasingly warm spring days, which I like with this cooking. But what I had made tonight were ma'amoul pastries, which despite me not having heard of them before, seem to be exceedingly popular based on what I found online. They were certainly popular enough with my family and my mother, but then that's cheating, since my mother adores dates in almost any form! Most of these recipes, however, seem to be more decorative, ornamental, and complex than the altered version that I would suggest below. I have seen alternate recipes that suggest more decorative approaches, such as using molds, and this can be used for this recipe as well.
- 500g / 1lb 2oz plain flour
- 250g / 9oz unsalted butter
- 2-3 tablespoons orange blossom water or rose water
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 cup sugar, This can be omitted if one prefers them less sweet
- Miscellaneous amounts powdered sugar, for sprinkling on afterwards
- 500g / 1lb dates, Pitted, although one can remove the pits manually if one so desires
- 150ml / 6fl oz water
- Walnut and orange filling: 375g / 13oz of finely chopped walnuts and 4 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and grated rind of 1/2 orange.
- Pistachio: 375g / 13oz of ground pistachio nuts combined with 4 tablespoons of sugar plus 1 tablespoon of rose water.
- Almonds and rose or orange blossoms: 375g (13oz) of ground almonds mixed with 4 tablespoons of sugar, and 2 tablespoons of either rose or orange blossom water.
- First, prepare the filling. Chop the pitted dates into small pieces. I personally chopped each date in half, which worked, but smaller is certainly preferable. After this is done, place the dates with the water into a saucepan, and cook over low heat until the dates turn to a soft paste, having absorbed the water. Turn off the heat and let this cool.
- Place the flour in a large bowl, then add in the milk, sugar, and either orange blossom water or rose water. Then work in the butter, which I personally melted. Work this, adding additional ingredients if necessary, until the dough is capable of forming firm balls and sticking together.
- Mold the dough into balls about the size of a walnut. Use your thumb to hollow out a ball and form a well, and then proceed to widen the well. Place the date mixture into this, generally around 75% of the way up, then close the top, and pinch it together.
- Place these filled balls onto a cookie sheet, and place into the oven to cook at 325°f/160°c/gas 3, for 20-25 minutes. Do not overcook, as this will greatly change the flavor. Remove the balls, and let them cool, then powder them with sugar.