Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ma'amoul - Date and Walnut Filled Cookies


Somewhere out there, someone's Tita (grandmother) is tut tutting and shaking their head in dismay at my sorry looking ma'amoul.

Traditionally these cookies are made with an intricate pattern that makes them look quite regal.

You'll be tempted to serve them on nothing but your best china I'm sure.

Clearly mine are barely tupperware worthy.

Fortunately, what they lack in looks, they make up for in taste.

Ma’amoul is  known in Trinidad as a traditional cookie of the Syrian and Lebanese community. This group of people was the last set of immigrants to arrive in Trinidad during the colonial era. They came primarily to escape religious persecution and economic hardship. Most hoped to go on to the United States. However they arrived at a time when Trinidad’s economy was thriving because of a strong sugar and cocoa industry, so many of them stayed on.

The majority of Syrian and Lebanese immigrants to Trinidad were Christian and according to the Trinidad and Tobago Syrian Lebanese Women’s Association  cookbook, Ah'len - these cookies are usually made around Christmas time. Arabic speaking Christians in other parts of the world and Eastern Orthodox Christians also make them at Easter. In the Jewish community, they are eaten on Purim, Rosh Hashanah and Hannukah. Trinidadian Muslims prepare them for iftar (The evening meal that breaks the fast during the month of Ramadan) and Eid.

Wow, these cookies sure do get around!

Next week we celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr in Trinidad and Tobago.  For Muslims, it is a time of spiritual renewal, for non Muslims... well I’ve got to be honest it’s all about the food as we show up at the homes of our Muslim brothers and sisters belly in hand. Perhaps this year you could surprise your friends by turning up with something other than your hungry belly:-) Bake these cookies and offer to bring dessert. Should you decide to make your own Ma'amoul you can find recipes in the following Trinidadian cookbooks:

The Naparima GirlsHigh School Cook Book


The Young Women's Muslim Association cookbook.

My research on these cookies turned up a variety of different ways for the dough to be made. Mamool is traditionally made with Semolina which I couldn’t find so I substituted with Cream of Wheat as they do in the Ah'len cookbook.  If you can find it, use the Semolina which will give the cookies a lovely colour and texture. Semolina is the flour that comes from Durum wheat which is a hard variety of wheat with a high gluten content. Gluten is the protein in the flour that gives  dough it’s elastic quality so that it can be stretched and pulled. I suspect cookies made with semolina would be less likely to crack as mine did.

As much as I was tempted to try the recipe in Ah’len, a yield of 70 cookies put me off - way too many cookies for my small household, or so I thought.

It turns out that I was wrong.

After tasting these cookies, I  decided that 70 cookies might not be enough!

Apart from simply making them look pretty, the pattern on the ma'amoul is also useful for remembering which cookies have dates and which are stuffed with nuts. However don't let the lack of a fancy cookie mold stop you from making these cookies. I just pressed a fork into the tops - so just go ahead and do that or even better use a cake decorating tube like this smart blogger here.

So tell me do you have a favourite dessert that you plan to make this Eid?

Yeild: Approx 24 cookies

2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup cream of wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup milk
1 cup of butter at room temperature
1 tsp rose water 

Nut Filling: 
1 cup walnuts, finely chopped 
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp orange blossom water or rose water 

Date Filling: 1/4 cup chopped, pitted, dates
1 tsp orange blossom water or rose water

powdered sugar  for dusting cookies.

Directions: Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, mix flour, cream of wheat and baking powder. To the dry ingredients add, add butter. You can do this in a food processor and pulse until the mix looks like small peas. If you do not  have a food processor then  cut the butter into small cubes and rub into the flour like you would do when making pastry. Next add the milk and orange blossom water combine until dough is formed. 

In a food processor, chop walnuts until crumbly. Pour walnuts into a bowl and add sugar, cinnamon and orange blossom water. Put the dates into the food processor and blend until it forms a ball, remove and add the orange blossom water, set aside. 

To form ma'amoul cookies, roll dough into balls. Make an indentation with your finger in the ball and place some of the filling inside. Close the opening until all of the filling is concealed. Press a fork across the top or make any pattern that you would like. Place the cookies on a nonstick baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, until the bottom of the cookie is light brown. Remove before the tops of the cookies become brown. They will look uncooked but if the tops get brown, they will be too dry. Let cool completely. Dust cookies completely with powdered sugar and store in an air tight container for up to 2 weeks.

   Eid Mubarak 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Chocolate Truffle Ice-Cream

I go weak in the knees for magazines with images of hot, sexy, totally delicious food. Forget the carefully crafted recipe lead-ins that proclaim the sweet, sour or even piquant flavours of a particular dish; it’s the food photographs which sell it to me every time.

A perfect example would be June’s issue of bon appétit which proclaims that this chocolate ice-cream is so rich, it doesn’t melt-it just gets truffley.


But by itself not enough to rouse me. Then my eyes fall on the picture seen here.

Be still my heart, I all but leap over myself in my haste to exhume the ice-cream maker from the netherworld of the deepest, darkest, corner of my kitchen cupboard.

Forget the fact that I have long ago thrown out fiddly, egg-based custards in favour of the quicker and (happily for me) idiot proof, cornstarch, ice-cream base. Bon appétit's minimalist image of chocolate ice-cream has somehow elevated the word 'truffley' from poetic hyperbole to a thing with visceral appeal. Okay so I wanted to lick the page and I readily admit that I drooled a little too.

Completely possessed by that image, I convince myself that standing in a kitchen located some 11 degrees north of the equator on a day that thermostat registers 36°C is quite rightly a sane and sensible thing to do.
 It is not.

I  should have my head examined.

Slowly and patiently chocolate is melted, custard is stirred  and sugar syrup reduces to amber. These three are swirled into a frothy, chocolate slurry which must now be chilled for two days before processing it in the ice-cream maker.  Bon appétit advises that you freeze your ice-cream for three days before eating.

Seriously! Good luck with that.

What happened was that I cooled the custard in an ice-bath in my kitchen sink before putting it into the fridge. By the time I was finished cleaning the kitchen and making lunch it was ready for the ice-cream maker.

Be warned this recipe is time consuming so plan accordingly. In the end though you will be rewarded with a wicked good ice-cream with a chocolate flavour so intense it's just shy of bitter. If you are not a fan of dark chocolate, then this might not be for you.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Avocado Tostadas

avocado black  bean tostados

It's been raining avocados.

Last week a man we barely know gifted us with a huge bag of these pears. Unfortunately he ran off before I could marry him.

Most unfortunate agreed my husband.

Almost everyday for the last month someone (bless 'em) has given us an avocado and I've been eating slices of buttery pears daily. A thick, crusty, hops bread with a smash of avocado in between is considered a good meal by me.

There is something about being on vacation that makes me want to avoid the kitchen. Meal preparation is decidedly very low key these days and luckily I have avocados to thank for that. You can prepare some very filling, no-cooking-required dinners with avocados.

Leaving me with more time for reading books, watching re-runs of House....and my all time new favourite  obsession Pinterest which I use to search out recipes of people who are spending more time in their kitchens - go figure.

Avocado Tostadas
(serves 4)

1 ripe avocado
8  tostada shells (from the supermarket)
Black bean, Corn salad with Lime Vinaigrette (recipe here)

Make salad the night before. Warm tostadas for about 7 mins in a 350 degree oven. Slice avocado and smash with a fork. A lumpy mash is just fine. Spread on to the tostadas. Top with black bean salad. Serve with a tall glass of frosty, cold, lime juice.