Ma'amoul are pastries filled with dates or nuts.
- 1 lb. (500 g) plain white flour (up to a quarter of the flour may be replaced with fine semolina)
- 2 tbsp. white sugar
- ½ lb. (250 g) unsalted butter (Normandy butter is best)
- 1-2 tbsp. rose water or orange flower water
- 2 tbsp. water or milk
- icing sugar
- pinch of salt (optional)
- baking powder (optional)
Mix ½ lb. (250 g) finely chopped pistachios with a somewhat smaller weight of sugar and 1 tbsp. rose water. (Some people use ground almonds, with or without green food colouring, instead of pistachios.)
Chop 1 lb. (500 g) stoneless dates, and bring to the boil with half a teacup of water, squashing the mixture against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon until approximately uniform in consistency. Blend with an electric chopper if desired. One variant is to add some butter to the mixture as it cooks. Allow to cool.
Ma'amoul may be made in special wooden moulds. These should be oiled and wiped, then dusted with flour before use (and after every three to four balls, to prevent sticking). There are three shapes of mould. The flattish circular shape is used for date ma’amoul; the round domed shape for walnut ma’amoul; the long oval for pistachio ma’amoul.
Some families do not use moulds, but have special crimping tweezers for making patterns on the top of the pastry. Alternatively, a fork may be used.
- Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Mix with 2 tablespoons white sugar, and a pinch of salt if desired. Some people add a very small quantity of baking powder.
- Work in the butter until the consistency is as uniform as possible; one way is to heat the butter in the microwave first until it is nearly melted, and then mix it with the flour into a sort of crumble. Cover and leave for some hours or overnight (not in the fridge, or it will go rock hard).
- Break up the dough with your fingers and add the rose water or orange flower water and 2 tbsp. water or milk until it is malleable, and knead the whole into a smooth ball.
- Take a walnut-sized ball of the dough, stick your thumb into it and hollow out into a cup shape, so that the walls are as thin as possible without breaking.
- Insert filling to about three-quarters full, and pinch the aperture closed. Pat gently into a ball, not letting the walls break.
- Repeat until all the dough and the filling is used. If at any stage the remaining dough shows signs of drying out, knead in a little more water or milk.
- Decorate the balls on top with tweezers or the prongs of a fork. Alternatively, pat each one into a wooden mould and flatten the exposed bottom surface, then bang the mould face down on the work surface to extract the moulded pastry.
- Place the pastries on a baking sheet (not greased, as the dough is already very buttery) and bake in a preheated oven (180°C / 355°F; 160°C if a fan oven) for 20 minutes: they must not be allowed to become hard or brown. In fact they should look a little moist and underdone when removed from the oven: they will steam off and harden as they cool.
- Leave the pastries to cool, and dust with icing sugar when cold. Keep in a sealed plastic box or biscuit tin.
The Sephardi Jews of the Eastern Mediterranean refer to date ma'amoul as menenas. These are often made in the form of date rolls rather than balls.
Another variant, used on very special occasions, is known as karabij. Make nut ma’amoul, using water rather than milk and no flower water, in the form of balls rather than in a mould, leaving them smooth without making any indentations. Arrange in a pyramid and serve with a special cream called naatiffe. This is made by boiling water, lemon juice, sugar, orange flower water and ground soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) into a syrup, and folding in stiffly beaten egg whites. (Some books mention bois de Panama instead of soapwort, but apparently this is a fallacy.)