Ma'amoul Bars - Ma'amoul Maad
In the days leading up to Eid, to mark the end of Ramadan, Sami’s aunties, mother, grandmother and cousins would come together to make the very popular ma’amoul. Sitting on the floor in a circle, everyone would have their designated job: kneading or rolling the dough, stuffing or moulding, baking and packing. It seemed to go on for days, in Sami’s imaginings, and led him to think that the process must be a long and complicated one. It was with some surprise then, when he made the cookies for himself years later, that he saw that the recipe couldn’t be easier. Time set aside for festive catch-ups, Sami now sees, should be factored into the write-up of the recipe. These are traditionally cookies to mark Easter or Eid, but make them year round. They have a wonderfully crumbly shortbread-like texture: crunchy, rich and melt-in-the-mouth. Crumbs are part of the equation here, but that’s how some things should be.
Getting ahead / keeping notes: The dough needs to rest for at least 4 hours, so it’s a good idea to make this the day before you want to bake. Once made, the dough keeps well in the fridge for up to 2 days: you’ll need to bring it back to room temperature before using, though, so that it is malleable. If you are using the dough the day you make it then it does not need to go into the fridge. You can also make the fillings a day ahead. Once made, the bars keep in a sealed container, at room temperature, for up to a week. Fillings: We’ve given a choice of two fillings – one with dates and one with pistachios. If you want to make both versions, just double the quantity of the dough.
|For the dough:|
|250g||unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing|
|60g||icing sugar, plus extra for dusting|
|¼ tsp||fast-action dried yeast|
|¾ tsp||mahleb (or a tiny drop of almond extract, as an alternative)|
|2 tsp||ground aniseed|
|2 tbsp||rose water|
|2 tbsp||orange blossom water|
|500g||Medjool dates, pitted and finely chopped|
|¼ tsp||mahleb (or a tiny drop of almond extract, as an alternative)|
|½ tsp||ground cinnamon|
|½ tsp||ground cardamom|
|2 tbsp||sunflower oil|
|1 tbsp||orange blossom water|
|200g||natural marzipan, cut into 2cm chunks|
|1 tsp||ground cardamom|
|¾ tsp||ground cinnamon|
You will need: a free standing mixer with the paddle attachment in place.
First make the dough. Put the butter into a small saucepan and place on a very low heat, for about 2 minutes, just to melt.
Put the semolina, flour, icing sugar, yeast, mahleb, ground aniseed and ½ teaspoon of salt into a free-standing mixer bowl with the paddle attachment in place. Mix on a low speed for a minute, to combine. With the mixer still on a low speed, pour in the melted butter, continuing to mix until well combined and the texture is that of sticky, wet sand. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave for about 4 hours, at room temperature, for the semolina to really absorb the fat. Letting it rest for this long makes it much easier to work with.
Preheat the oven to 180°C fan. Grease well and line the base and sides of a 30 x 20cm baking tray and set aside.
If making the date filling: put all the ingredients for the filling into a medium saucepan and place on a low heat. Heat for 8 minutes, stirring a few times, to form a mushy, sticky paste. Remove from the heat and set aside. If you make this in advance you’ll want to warm it through a little when filling the pastry: it’s much easier to spread when warm.
If making the pistachio filling: spread the pistachios out on a parchment-lined tray and toast for about 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside until completely cool. Put the honey, orange blossom water and 3 tablespoons of water into a small bowl. Mix well to combine and set aside. Once the pistachios are cool, transfer them to a food processor, along with the marzipan, and blitz for 2 minutes. You want them to turn into fine crumbs but still have a little bit of texture. Add the honey mixture, spices and ½ teaspoon of salt, and pulse a couple of times to combine, to form a sticky paste.
To complete the dough, put the rose water and orange blossom water into a small bowl, along with 2 tablespoons of water and the melted ghee. Mix to combine, then, while kneading with one hand, gradually pour the mixture over the dough. Continue to knead for about 5 minutes (either by hand or in a food mixer with the paddle attachment in place), until the dough is soft and comes together well and is pale in colour. Add a few more drops of water, if you need to, if the dough is too dry.
When ready to assemble, divide the dough into 2 equal pieces and, working with wet fingers, press half the dough gently into the base and sides of the baking tray.
Place the date paste (or pistachio filling) in between two sheets of baking parchment (about 30 x 40cm), and gently roll with a rolling pin to form a rectangle, about 20 x 30cm: don’t worry about getting the dimensions exact here, they can be adjusted in the baking tray.
Remove and discard the top layer of parchment from one of the paste sheets and then, sliding your hand under the paste to help you, flip it upside down into the baking tray. With the paper still attached (and now facing upwards), start pressing it gently on to and up the sides of the tray. Carefully pull away the paper and then flatten the paste to fill any gaps.
Repeat the process with the second half of the dough, spreading the remaining dough evenly over the filling, taking it right up to the edges. Pinch some of the excess pastry to fill any gaps and, using your fingers, seal the edges very well. Using a small, sharp knife, cut the dough (keeping it in its tray) into 4 rows and 6 columns, to make 24 squares. Take the knife right down to the bottom of the tray. The lines will close up as the dough bakes, but will help when it comes to finally cutting them. Next, use the back of a fork to press down gently into the middle of each square, to make line patterns with the tines of the fork.
Bake for 30–35 minutes, rotating the tray halfway through cooking, until the dough is golden brown, and the edges are looking crispy. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before cutting.
Arrange the ma’amoul squares on a serving platter, dust generously with icing sugar and serve.