Ma’amoul Bil Tamer (Semolina Date Cookies)

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For as long as I can remember, all the women in my family have made these Ma’amoul cookies for the Christmas and Easter holidays. They would all gather together at my grandma or mom’s home to bake the cookies while drinking fenjan ahweh (Arabic Coffee), gossiping about family members, and passionately discussing current events. It literally took them all day to make roughly roughly 3-4 kg (7-8 pounds) of Ma’amoul which are then distributed among different families.

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Ma’amoul are extremely popular in Lebanon, and they’re typically filled with date paste, ground pistachios, walnuts, or almonds. Each flavor has its own shape and geometric design: Dates (Tamer) are typically round, pistachios (Festok) or walnuts (Joz) are domed, almonds (Loz) are crescent. The dough is incredibly soft and crumbly with a toothy semolina crunch that’s flavored with mahleb (more about this spice here), orange blossom water, and rose water.

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There are a lot of good recipes of Ma’amoul in cookbooks and online that call for other ingredients or techniques, but that’s my family’s version and it’s the most valuable one. This recipe produces more than a sweet snack or a delicious treat, it connects me to my roots, brings up memories, offers comfort and nourishes me way beyond its nutritional value. It’s been passed on and tweaked across generations of women in my family who spent countless of hours in the kitchen together working on their skills and creating experiences. Knowing that – not only instills a gratifying sense of wonder and excitement – but also drives me to keep our tradition alive by baking.

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Recipe: – Yields roughly 40 cookies

Dough:
• 400g farina (smeed – coarse flour)
• 200g semolina flour (farkha – fine flour)
• 300g unsalted butter, melted and warm
• 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
• 1¼ tsp mahleb powder
• 60ml (1/4 cup) orange blossom water, warm
• 60ml (1/4 cup) rose water, warm
• 3 tsp orange blossom water, warm
• 3 tsp rose water, warm

Date Filling:
• 800g high quality, soft medjool dates pitted and white interior skin removed
• 100g unsalted butter
• 1 tsp orange blossom water
• 1 tsp rose water

Day 1: Prepare the dough
In a large bowl mix the farina flour, semolina flour, and mahleb powder. Gradually add the warm butter and vegetable oil and mix with your hands. Gently rub the mixture with the palm of your hands for about 5 minutes until it’s no longer lumpy. Cover in plastic wrap and let it sit in a warm place overnight.

Day 2: Make the date filling and bake the cookies
1. After removing the pits of the dates and cleaning them, place them in a medium saucepan with the butter over medium heat. Stir for 20 minutes until a date paste is formed.
2. Let it cool down for a few minutes then transfer to a food processor and add the rose and orange blossom water. Pulse a few times until homogeneous.
3. Using a tablespoon, form roughly 40 balls, place on a large plate or baking sheet and cover with a damp kitchen towel to prevent them from drying out.
4. Uncover the dough from Day 1, add the 1/4 cup of each rose and orange blossom water, and knead with your hands for about 2 minutes until it comes together – Don’t worry if it’s still crumbly at this point.
5. Divide the dough into three even portions and cover with a damp towel. Take out one portion and add 1 teaspoon of each rose and orange blossom water and knead on a clean surface until it becomes a smooth and silky dough.
6. To make the cookies: Prepare 2-3 large baking sheets and line with parchment paper. Scoop 1 tablespoon of the semolina dough, roll into a ball and flatten with the palms of your hands. Place a date ball in the middle, bring the edges of the dough together and roll again into a ball then flatten to form a short cylinder. Using a wooden spoon, poke a hole in the middle of the cookie. Smooth the edges and use a decorative pinch or fork to create a design. Place the cookie on the baking sheet. Repeat this step until all the cookies are molded then repeat step five with the rest 2/3 of the dough.
7. Pre-heat oven to 350°F (180°C). Place the baking sheets in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, rotating halfway, until lightly golden around the edges. Let cool completely before serving.

Notes:
• Serving suggestion: dust the ma’amoul with powdered sugar before serving.
• Ma’amoul cookies will keep unrefrigerated in an airtight container for one month or frozen up to 4 months.

Olive Oil Ricotta Semolina Cake with Roasted Quince

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I’ve been playing around with this recipe for quite some time now and made several versions of it with different winter fruits. The addition of the semolina and high quality olive oil in the batter makes a tender and light cake that’s complex in flavor. It’s studded with quince, that’s slightly roasted in orange blossom water to keep it firm to the bite, and crunchy blanched almonds – adding yet another contrast of textures and flavors. In the cold long winter days, this fruit dessert is guaranteed to brighten and uplift your mood.

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Recipe extensively adapted from Food52

Roasted Quince:
2 large quince (450g)
80g sugar
25g water
Zest of a small lemon
1½ tablespoon orange blossom water

1. Preheat your oven to 400°F (200°C).
2. Peel quince and cut each into 8 thick slices (roughly 450g total). Place the slices in a baking pan. Cover with sugar, water, zest and orange blossom water.
3. Cover the tray with aluminum foil and cook for 35-40 minutes or until the quince is starting to soften.

Cake:
2 large eggs, room temperature
200g granulated sugar
245g ricotta cheese
80ml (1/3 cup) olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon zest
180g flour
80g fine semolina flour
1½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
– Confectioner’s sugar and a handful of blanched almonds for decoration
1. Lower the oven temperature to 350°F (180°C). Butter and flour a 9″ (23cm) springform cake pan and line with parchment paper.
2. In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, beat the eggs and sugar until thick and pale about 5 minutes. In another bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, oil and lemon zest. Pour the cheese mixture into the whipped eggs and mix until combined.
3. Sift all of the dry ingredients directly over the wet ingredients. Mix with a large spatula gently until just combined, using a folding motion.
4. Pour the batter into the cake pan and spreading it out evenly. Arrange the roasted quince slices in slightly overlapping concentric circles until the top of the cake batter is covered. Sprinkle with blanched almonds.
5. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown, the edges are pulling away from the pan, and a cake tester or toothpick comes out of the cake cleanly. Cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes, then turn out to finish cooling on a rack.
6. Dust with confectioner’s sugar, and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Brioche with Mahleb Date Paste and Walnuts

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There’s something about making brioche from scratch that brings comfort and pleasure: the rich smell of butter and yeast, the pillowy soft dough beneath your hands, the quiet hours of the kitchen, the dark golden loaf rising in the oven. The whole process calms me and makes me forget about stressful weekdays and the constant buzz of people in this chaotic yet charming city.

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The flavors I used here are inspired by K’aak bi M’aamoul, these little round semolina cookies filled with dates, nuts, and orange blossom water. They remind me of home – Beirut – and my family’s traditional recipes. What I love about this combination is  the thick pockets of mahleb date paste layered with crunchy walnuts and the soft aerated brioche dough.

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A freshly baked warm slice of buttery brioche brings a smile to my face but if you end up with leftovers the next day, go ahead and make french toast. The bread is naturally sweetened with dates so there’s no need to douse it with honey or maple syrup.

Brioche dough recipe adapted from Bouchon Bakery Cookbook
Makes two 9″x4″ (23 cm x 10 cm) loaves

Ingredients:

Date Paste
250g pitted medjool dated
30g butter
3 Tbs water
1 tsp orange blossom water
¼ tsp ground mahleb

Make the Date Paste:
1. Place the dates and butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat, and stir until the dates get really soft.
2. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and add the rest of the ingredients.
3. Blend until a smooth thick paste is formed. Cover and set aside.

Roasted Walnuts
1 cup, chopped roasted walnuts (reserve a handful to sprinkle on top of the loaves)

Brioche
372g all-purpose flour
8g instant yeast
45g granulated sugar
5g fine sea salt
186g eggs
63 g whole milk
167 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 1/8th inch dice
1 small beaten egg with a dash of water  (for the egg wash)

Make the Dough:
1. Spray a large bowl with nonstick spray.
2. For the brioche, place the flour and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix for 15 seconds to distribute the yeast evenly.
3. Add all of the remaining dough ingredients except for the butter and mix on low speed for 4 minutes.
4. Add the butter a few pieces at a time, incorporating after each addition before adding the next. Stop and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and push the dough off the hook. Mix for a total of 30 minutes on low speed.
5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Fold the left side over to the right, the right over to the left, then the top to the bottom and the bottom to the top so you have a “package” with the seam at the top. Place the dough seam-side down in the prepared bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it ferment for 1 hour.
6. Repeat the folding process, place it back in the bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight (up to 24 hours).

7. Grease a 9×4 inch (22 x 13 cm) loaf pan. Line the tin with parchment paper, making sure to let it slightly overhang the sides. Set aside.
8. Remove the brioche from the refrigerator and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Work with one piece of dough at a time while keeping the other half in the refrigerator.
9. Lightly dust your working surface with flour and using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to form a rectangular shape, about 10 x 15 inch (25 x 40 cm).
10. Spread half of the date filling onto the brioche using an offset spatula, reaching all the way to the edges but leaving half an inch (1.3 cm) of dough bare on one of the long sides. Sprinkle with half of the chopped walnuts.
11. Brush the bare part with water. Starting from the other long side, roll up the dough tightly and evenly. Refrigerate the dough for 15-20 minutes on a parchment lined baking sheet.
12. Using a large knife, make a cut in the dough log. Place the right half of dough over the left, then repeat until you have a “braid” of dough. Gently press the ends of the dough together them together, then place in the prepared loaf pan.
13. Place a piece of oiled plastic wrap lightly on the surface of the brioche and let it proof in a warm place for 2 hours. (Note: I turn the oven for a minute and place boiling water in a cup to add some steam – make sure the oven is not too hot!). Take the brioche dough out of the oven.
14. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Lightly brush the brioche with egg wash, sprinkle with more walnuts, and bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes.
15. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before slicing. (Repeat the process for the second brioche dough).

Cherry Lemon Poppyseed Loaf

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If you’ve got a spare half an hour, make this incredibly moist summer loaf cake which is slightly adapted from Yossi Arefi’s Sweeter off the Vine book. The delightful combination of poppy seeds, zesty lemon, crunchy streusel and juicy sweet cherries makes it a perfect cake for breakfast or an afternoon pick me up. Because of its richly dense and moist texture, the cake slices freeze really well when wrapped individually and are perfect for a last minute treat.

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Ingredients:

Streusel:
35g (¼ cup) all-purpose flour
2 tbsp old-fashioned oats
1 tbsp granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
30g (2 tbsp) unsalted butter, softened

Cake:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
½ tsp salt
150g (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
120 ml (½ cup) canola oil
3 large eggs, room temperature
225g (1 cup) full fat plain yogurt
60ml (¼ cup) freshly squeezed lemon juice
Zest of 2 small lemons
250 g (1+2/3) pitted fresh sweet cherries*

*Cherries can be substituted with berries or stone fruits.


Directions:
• Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter and flour a 9”x5” (23cm x 13cm) loaf pan.
Streusel: In a small bowl, stir the flour, oats, sugar, poppy seeds, and salt together. Add in the butter and use your fingertips to mix until small crumbs form. Set aside.
Cake: In a small bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, poppy seeds and salt together.
• Add the sugar to a large bowl and grate the zest of the the two lemons (about 1 tbsp) directly into the sugar. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until evenly distributed.
• Add the oil, eggs, yogurt, lemon juice and whisk to combine.
• Add the flour mixture all at once and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined. Fold in half of the cherries into the batter.
• Pour the batter into the prepared loaf panned scatter the remaining cherries on top. Sprinkle the streusel in an even layer over the cherries. Bake the cake until puffed and golden and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 50-55 minutes.
• Let cool completely before slicing.
• Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days, or wrap each slice individually and freeze for up to 2 months.

Roasted Mango Rum Buttermilk Ice Cream

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I don’t usually look up mango recipes online, but whenever I have a lot of one particular fruit in my fridge then I try to come up with a new recipe that brings out its natural flavors. I made a marvelous Mango Lime Curd spread two weeks ago, so I decided to go in another direction and make a boozy tropical ice cream that reminds me of frozen summer cocktails on the beach.

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The process of roasting the fruit at the beginning of the recipe reduces its water content and caramelizes its natural sugars, therefore packing in an intense mango flavor. I also added a generous amount of rum in the ice cream base because alcohol lowers the freezing point and keeps the ice cream very creamy and easy to scoop without any ice crystals. The result is a rich, luscious, and incredibly addicting mango rum ice cream that is nearly impossible to just have just one spoonful.

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What I love about this recipe is that you can substitute the mangoes with any other seasonal fruit like cherries, peaches, blueberries, strawberries or apricots.
Recipe adapted from Sweeter off the Vine: Fruit desserts for every season.

Ingredients:
1.5 pound (700g) peeled and sliced mangoes
1/3 cup (75g) granulated sugar
1½ Tbs rum

2 Tbs light honey
1/4 cup rum
1 tsp lemon juice

1 cup (240ml) buttermilk*
1/2 cup (120ml) heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

*Substitute by combining 1 cup milk with 1 Tbs of lemon juice or white vinegar. Let stand for 10 minutes until thickened.

Directions:
• Pre-heat oven to 400°C (200°F). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
• In a small bowl, toss the mango slices with the sugar and rum, and transfer to the lined baking sheet.
• Bake the mangoes for 40 minutes, until bubbling. Take out of the oven and let it cool to room temperature.
• Transfer the mixture to a food processor or blender with the honey, rum, and lemon juice. Blend until smooth, and pass the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve over a large bowl to remove any fibers.
• Stir in the buttermilk, heavy cream, and vanilla extract then chill the mixture for 4-12 hours in the fridge. When the mixture is cold, freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
• Transfer to a freezer safe container, cover, and freeze until firm – at least 5 hours. Keeps for 5-7 days.

Mango Lime Curd

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This smooth and luscious mango curd is perfect for topping tart slices, spreading on toast, or just serving it on the side with pastries. The sweetness level totally customizable, and it depends on how sweet the mangos are. Personally, I like a curd that’s tart and not too sweet. Store the curd in the fridge for up to two weeks, or freeze for up to a year.

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients:
425g mango slices
¼ to ½ cup light honey (depending on how sweet the mangoes are)
¼ cup lime juice
Zest of one lime
Pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
55g butter (¼cup) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Directions:
• Puree mango slices, honey, lime juice, zest and salt in a food processor, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally.
• Add yolks and puree 15 seconds longer. Strain through sieve set over large metal or glass bowl, pressing on solids with the back of spatula to release as much puree as possible. Discard solids in sieve.
• Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water); whisk the puree until thickened for 12-15 minutes.
• Set the bowl on a moist towel and whisk in butter 1 piece at a time. Transfer to a glass jar, cover and refrigerate.

Orange Blossom Peach Pie with Whipped Labneh

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When I visit the farmer’s market on Sundays, I always buy a couple of necessary things like grape tomatoes, goat cheese, fresh farm eggs, herbs, mushrooms, berries, and of course tree ripened peaches. I can’t get enough of peaches during the summer time and they make wonderfully seasonal sweet pie fillings.

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The combination of the sweet peaches and buttery, flaky dough is a perfectly classic American baked good. I decided to add a twist to it by including orange blossom water in the filling and serving it with whipped honey’d labneh on the side. Distilled from the essence of orange tree flowers, orange blossom water adds a delicate and refreshing floral scent and taste that elevates the pie to an almost otherworldly fruit dessert.

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Pie Crust:
Yields two 9″ (23 cm) pie crusts. Recipe Adapted from Pastry Affair

315 grams (2 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
226 grams (1 cup) unsalted butter, freezer cold, cut into 1/2 inch dice
4 tbsp + 2 tsp ice water
1 tsp white vinegar

Egg wash (1 whole egg + 2 tsp water)
Demerara sugar

• In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt.
• Add half of the cold, cubed butter and rub the butter and flour between your fingers until it resembles coarse sand. (Alternatively, you can use a food processor or mixer with a paddle attachment)
• Add the second half the cubed butter and rub in into the flour, but leave it in larger pieces (approximately the size of a hazelnut).
• Gradually add the ice cold water and vinegar and mix the dough together until the dough holds together when squeezed in your hand. Add more water one teaspoon at a time if needed.
• Place the dough on parchment paper and use the paper to press the dough into a disk. To make the dough uniform, fold the dough in half, using the paper. Press down and fold in the opposite direction. Repeat until the dough appears uniform.
• Cut the dough in half, and shape into two disks, wrap each in plastic wrap, and chill for at least an hour – preferably overnight (or up to 2-3 days). Pie dough can be also kept in the freezer wrapped tightly up to 3 months.
• Working quickly, roll out the first disk on a lightly floured surface into a 14″ (35 cm) round for a 9″ (23 cm) pie pan. Wrap dough lightly around a rolling pin and transfer to the pie pan. Gently press dough into the bottom and sides of the pan. Trim the dough to allow a 1″ (2.5 cm) overhang.
• Pour the strained peach filling (see recipe below) into the pastry shell.
• Roll out the second pie crust to top the filling and create small slits to allow venting. Or create a decorative lattice top.
• Brush the pie crust with the egg wash and sprinkle generously with demerara sugar. Refrigerate the pie for 20-30 minutes.
• Meanwhile, place a large baking sheet in the middle rack of the oven and preheat to 375ºF (190ºC).
• Place the pie on the baking sheet and bake for 80-90 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

Peach Filling:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup corn starch
2.5 pounds peaches, around 8 small peaches sliced (peeling is optional)
1/3 cup orange blossom honey
Zest of half an organic lemon
2 tbsp orange blossom water (Mazaher)

• Mix the sugar and corn starch in a large bowl until homogeneous. Add the sliced peaches, honey, lemon zest, and orange blossom water and gently mix with a spatula until homogeneous.
• Let it sit in the fridge for 20 minutes, then strain the mixture before pouring it into the pie shell.

Whipped Labneh:
1/2 cup labneh (see recipe here)
2 tbsp heavy cream
1 tbsp orange blossom honey
1/2 tsp orange blossom water (Mazaher)

• Using a hand mixer, whip all the ingredients until airy. Serve cold dollops of whipped labneh with warm peach pie slices.