We lived at Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria, for nearly a year. The place was an absolute heaven for the expat community. The Indian community wasn’t all that big that time (I am talking about nine years back) but one came across plenty of Lebanese expats; most of them were traders or running their own businesses. I got to indulge in best of authentic Lebanese food. I also got to know of Ma’amoul while I was there. Ma’amoul is perhaps the most familiar and most loved Middle Eastern cookies. They are especially made at Easter by the Lebanese community and they are also enjoyed as the Ramadan / Eid treat.
But it wasn’t until about I started writing this blog, that I got my hands on its recipe. I had arrived a few minutes prior to my appointment with my hair dresser. I picked up a well-known Indian lifestyle magazine and started casually flipping through the pages when the recipe for these cookies caught my eye. What captured my interest was that they were made almost entirely from semolina and not all purpose flour. And the fact that they were stuffed with a filling made them even more interesting to me. How was the semolina holding itself together? And to top it, it even held a filling inside so well! That really intrigued me. I quickly jotted it down on a rough page that was lying in my sling bag. But I didn’t write the method of baking these cookies in a clear manner. I made a colossal mistake of relying more on my memory, confident that I would remember how to make these.
I had been planning to bake these cookies since then but somehow kept procrastinating. Last month I finally decided to bake these lovelies and then it occurred to me that it was just about time for Easter and I can probably share the recipe here. But, once I started out with the recipe, I realised that it was by no means a fool proof recipe, which was a bit disappointing since it came from a very reputed publishing house. No bragging here but I rarely goof up on recipes and with this recipe I simply knew that it was just not right. The semolina flour was not coming together as it should have (meaning the liquids in there were not sufficient). The amount of sugar given for the pastry was too less (even for the likes of us who prefer less sweet in our desserts and baked goods). The filling wasn’t too appealing in taste. So basically I had to play around a lot with the ingredients; basically revamp the whole recipe to turn into a viable one.
I also kept on the leash my urge to use my all-time favorite spice, saffron, and used finely chopped orange peels instead to compensate the flavors of orange blossom water (which I didn’t have). I picked up these mould while on my visit to Istanbul and used them to imprint the pattern. In case you do not have a mould, you can use fork to make markings on the cookies or use any cookie mould or simply flatten the cookies and bake.
400 gram / 3 Cups approx. Semolina (Suji)
½ C All Purpose Flour
½ tsp Baking Powder
1 C scant, Icing Sugar + extra for dusting
1 C scant, Ghee (melted & at room temperature)
½ C Milk
¼ C fresh Orange Juice
2 tbsp finely chopped Orange Peels
1½ C Dates, pitted
½ C Walnuts
½ C Pistachios
1½ – 2 tbsp Orange Juice
1 tsp Cardamom Powder
In a mixing bowl, mix the semolina and icing sugar (I sieved it) and add in the ghee. Work with your fingers to attain a crumb like texture. Add the orange zest and rub it into the semolina mix. Cover with a cling wrap and leave it overnight or undisturbed for at least 8 hours.
Next day, mix together the all-purpose flour and baking powder and add this to the semolina mix. Pour in the orange juice and the milk. Make dough but do not over work with it coz we are not looking for pliable dough. Rather we need the mixture to just come together in one homogenous mass. Leave it covered for another hour.
Meanwhile to make the filling, roughly chop the pistachios and walnuts in a food processor. You can do the same with the dates and add juice when you do that. Mix in the nuts to the dates mix along with the cardamom powder.
Equally divide the dough and the filling. The dough balls should be walnut sized. Flatten them slightly in your palm so that you can add the stuffing in them. Stuff the balls with the filling and pinch the edges together to form a ball again. Make decorative impression using moulds, else simply flatten the balls slightly and lay on baking tray lined with parchment. For a detailed procedure of how to roll these cookies check out this post.
Bake at 200 degrees for approximately 15 – 20 minutes or till the edges, just about begin to turn light brown. Leave the cookies on the baking sheet for a few minutes before you remove them over to a wire rack. They are ready to eat when they are warm or cool them and dust with icing sugar.
Note: Feel free to reduce the amount of orange peel or swap it with a teaspoon of orange essence.
Note: My family and I can’t stand rose water flavour or rose essence therefore you see no mention of it here. Feel free to add a teaspoon of it in case you enjoy it.
Note: While you are rolling the cookies to shape, ensure that the remaining dough remains covered with a cling wrap else it will dry out.
Note: Take care to not roll out the cookies too thick. That ways they will take less filling and the cookies won’t taste good.. In fact it should be not be too thin either else the filling will keep popping out.
Note: I had finely chopped the dates and added orange juice to it along with finely chopped nuts and give it just one blitz in the grinder.
Note: These are delicious accompaniments to tea and coffee.
Yield: 24 cookies
Also check out these Semolina goodies: