Tag Archives: cookies

Making ma’amoul, a Syrian recipe for semolina and date cookies

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Do you have a Christmas tradition (or traditions for other religious or secular holidays)? Would you like to have celebrations that involve little crumbly, buttery semolina cookies filled with date butter, or sugared walnuts or pistachios, and scented with orange blossom water?

Yep, me too.

We made ma’amoul (also spelled mamool, mamoul or maamoul) in a cooking class in the Almond Bar, Sydney. I had heard about these cookies being made for Easter celebrations in Lebanon, and remembered eating them in Syria. Chef Sharon Salloum (whose family is from Syria) said her mum made lots of these cookies for Christmas too – I guess these are celebratory kinda cookies. Once you’ve had one, you’d be looking for more reasons to celebrate too.

The recipe we used comes from the new Almond Bar cookbook. The pastry starts with a mix of semolina, ghee (clarified butter) and sugar, rested, then kneaded with orange blossom water, milk, mahlab and yeast. Then, balls of dough are wrapped around balls of date filling, shaped in a specially made wooden mould, and baked until light brown. Other common fillings are walnuts, or pistachios, chopped finely and mixed with sugar. Be still my beating heart.

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The resulting cookies are melt-on-the-tongue soft, yet crumbly. After the richness of the ghee, comes the fragrance of orange blossom water and the hint of something from the mahlab. Then, the more intense hit of fruity sweetness from the date filling. Then, it’s gone and you find yourself reaching for another one.

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Eurovision! brioche pockets, blinged-up cookies

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Can you believe it’s 30 years of Eurovision song contest?

Eurovision has a surprisingly large fan base in Australia, probably since we fell in love with ABBA way back when. These days, our multicultural broadcaster SBS despatches two commentators to the host city, dedicated to living, breathing, and relaying every sparkle, tassel, costume reveal, key change (intentional or otherwise) and pyrotechnics from the extravaganza. It’s almost like Tour de France season. We even got a mention from the presenter Petra Mede this year, *squeal*.

Some fans in Australia are pretty seriously committed. A previous Australian commentator got in trouble with some fans when he made fun of the show. (Really? They don’t find it mesmerising-funny that Cesar from Romania was channeling Dracula, and then broke out in a magnificent falsetto?)

On Sunday night, when Eurovision was broadcast on Australian TV, we were at an Eurovision party dressed up to the crazy nines. I was dressed as one of the Russian grandmothers or babushkas from last year. Anyone remember them? They brought out trays of cookies from an oven while singing on stage! My costume of course included a tray of freshly baked cookies – food as costume, wowza.

It’s not a proper Eurovision party without a smorgasbord of dishes from the contestant countries. Someone brought Portuguese chicken, which was technically not permitted because Portugal didn’t enter this year’s contest, but we ate the chicken anyway. I had two food entries: savoury brioche pockets, which was this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) assignment, and blinged up chocolate chip peanut butter cookies, which was part of my babushka costume.

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Ultimate highway season cookies

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It’s highway season again. When we, our family, neighbours, friends and colleagues all hop in the car and drive somewhere at least 300km away. This is the Thursday before Easter, the start of a four week public holiday long weekend.

Last night, we drive for 6 hours and arrived at the Mr Gander family beach hut at 11.20pm.

It seemed all of Sydney was on the move with bumper to bumper traffic (all following that truck). Leaving the cities behind, the highway wound past bushland and forests, we rolled through a sleepy town, sleepy suburbs, bushland, a sleepier suburb, a solitary street with hushed houses and a solitary street light. Then “home”.

I was never happier to see the beach hut, with its solitary street light. And Mr Gander’s mum in her silk pyjamas, coming to say hello and offer a cup of tea.

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During the drive, we ate the last of these chocolate chip cookies. They proved to be unexpectedly comforting and heartening after a hasty dinner by the highway.  I made these a couple of days ago for friends who had driven from Canberra and had a similarly stodgy dinner on the highway (the most exciting thing was the boiled vegetables used for garnish). One of them ate inhaled three cookies, and then talked about Banach space while nursing a glass of wine.

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The thinking person’s caramel-mocha-cookie-bites?

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What makes a cookie intellectual? Can cookies be anything other than pop culture, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I’m talking about the original Buffy here)? And if Dorie Greenspan describes a cookie as a thinking person’s cookie, does that mean it’s like the cookie equivalent of the thinking person’s sex symbol?

(A Google search for that phrase brings up Kevin Spacey, and I dunno about biting into a cookie that reminds me of Kevin Spacey. Time to move on.)

What, then, makes a recipe a thinking person’s recipe? Creativity? Unexpected use of flavours (or textures) that make you stop and think twice? Cos that was my reaction to the combination of coffee, apricot and chocolate in this recipe. Really? Coffee…and… apricot?

Or is the emphasis on the thinking person knowing how to save a cookie dough that was turning into molten lava?

Because that’s what happened to my cookie dough on Monday night. I had tried to convert the recipe from US measurements into metric/Aussie, and halved the recipe, and added wholegrain flour. Somewhere along the way, I must have stuffed up the ratios, because the first batch of cookie dough became a caramelised, quite delicious smelling, flat, browned, slightly burned (which accentuated the caramel mocha smell) sheet. A sheet of cookies, on my baking sheet.

It looked like a lace cookie gone rogue. On steroids.

But the smell – !

The kitchen smelled divine. There was that combination of coffee, dark caramel, and mysterious dark chocolate. The outer parts of the cookie dough sheet, in particular, had caramelised to a dark brown, lacey edge. Then there were bites of apricots – they were still moist, soft, with a burst of tangy something that cut through and lingered.

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Honey, lavender, rosemary: surprise cookies

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I like to improvise in savoury cooking. A common dinner menu in our house is “[insert ingredient] surprise”. But in baking, I am a stickler for rules and always stay faithful to the recipes’ main ingredients and dry/wet ratio.

Until Friday night.

I started to make cookies for friends who were visiting on the weekend, only to realise we had run out of eggs.

On the spur of the moment, I improvised wildly. Into the mixing bowl went honey, polenta and quinoa flour, as well as plain flour and butter. Crushed lavender flowers were folded into half of the cookie dough (this post on Food and Forage Hebrides recently reminded me that I have wanted to bake with lavender for a while). Finely chopped rosemary leaves went into the other half.

Voila “honey surprise” cookies – or, the shortbread cookie re-imagined.

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The lush buttery butter now forms the backdrop to a more complex set of flavours. Quinoa and polenta added a full bodied whole grain taste. Honey left its lingering sweetness in the back of the mouth. For the lavender cookies, the flower buds also gave a clean, herbal-floral scent and taste. Each bite was like a spring morning on a country homestead.

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