Arts and Culture

Easy maamoul: a Middle Eastern Jewish dessert

Easy Maamoul (Shlomo Schwartz)

(The Nosher via JTA) — Maamoul is a traditional small pastry from the Levant (the historical area between Syria in the north and Egypt in the south including Lebanon, Israel and Palestine). Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in the area alongside each other for over 1,500 years and shared many cultural and culinary traditions, including this date and walnut-stuffed cookie.

For many, this Middle Eastern treat is a sweet bite of nostalgia, as the cookies are associated with certain holidays and special occasions. Muslims eat them to break the fast during the month of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, Christians nibble on them before the Lent and while celebrating Easter, and Jews enjoy them during Purim, when they are filled with nuts, and Rosh Hashanah, when they are filled with dates.

You can find many types of maamoul around the region with different names, fillings and shapes. In Lebanon, you can find seven kinds of the pastry.

Traditional maamoul is round and formed into unique shapes using handcarved wooden molds or  special decorating tweezers that form different patterns. Jewish maamoul stands out in that it’s made with pure white flour rather than semolina.

Forming each cookie individually is a labor of love, so you can take a shortcut with my recipe for “Lazy Maamoul” if you’re short on time. It tastes just as good as the original. In the spirit of the variety of fillings for maamoul, I added crumbled halvah and chopped pecans to the traditional date filling.

Yield: 25 to 30 cookies

3 1/2 cups of flour
10 1/2 ounces soft butter/margarine
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla sugar
1/2 cup water (room temperature)
Zest of 1 lemon

1 1/2 cups date spared
4 ounces halvah, crumbled (you can crumble with a fork)
3/4 cup chopped roasted pecans

Preheat the oven to 340 F.

In a large bowl, use your hands to mix all of the dough ingredients until fully combined. You can use a mixer with a hook attachment if you prefer. Cut in to 2 portions.

On a lightly floured surface, roll one portion of the dough into a rectangle, 1/2-inch thick. Trim the edges to refine the rectangle.

Spread half of the date mixture evenly onto the dough and sprinkle half of the halvah and pecans on top.

Carefully roll the dough tightly, starting from the angle that is closer to you, and place the seam side down on the prepared baking sheet. Using your fingers, pinch the ends of the log to seal. Repeat the same steps with the second half of the dough, and bake them in the preheated oven for 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for about 10-15 minutes.

Once the dough slightly cools, carefully slice the logs into 1-inch slices using a large knife. (Prevent the dough from crumbling by using a knife that’s not serrated.)

Let the sliced maamoul cool completely, and sprinkle a generous amount of confectioner’s sugar before serving.

(Chef Shlomo Schwartz, founder of Your Soul Kitchen, was born and raised in Israel and moved to New York City in 2010.)

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