Ma’amoul Mad bil Tamer

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Ma’amoul mad literally means ma’amoul spread in Arabic. It’s a slightly tweaked version of the regular semolina date cookies I posted in January, where the date filling is spread between two pieces of dough and cut into squares or diamonds before baking. I changed the ratio of the fine to coarse semolina for the dough to hold its shape when sliced. You’ll also notice that I used clarified butter called samneh in Arabic instead of regular unsalted butter for a couple of reasons that I listed below.

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Unlike most types of oils and fats that are composed of 100% fat, butter is an emulsion of roughly 80% butterfat, 15% water and 5% milk proteins. Butter has a low smoking point when melted because the proteins burn quickly, and it’s also prone to turn rancid fast from the high water content (Source: Serious Eats). When butter is clarified (i.e. milk proteins removed and water evaporated to get pure butterfat) the resulting samneh has a high smoking point and a longer shelf life. That’s why it’s so commonly used in Arabic sweets.

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This version of ma’amoul is way faster and easier to make than the individual ones, and it tastes just as good with a crumbly semolina crust filled with melt-in-your-mouth date paste spiced with mahleb and scented with orange blossom and rose water. It goes without saying that the higher the quality the dates the better the end result.

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Clarified butter – Instructions from Serious Eats
You can clarify any quantity of butter for future use. For this recipe, I used 300g of unsalted butter (roughly 2.5 sticks). Store any leftovers in the fridge.

Cut the butter into pieces and melt in a heavy-duty saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil (the milk protein will foam the surface). Once boiling, turn the heat to medium and let the butter simmer for roughly 10 minutes: first, the white foamy surface will break apart then the milk proteins will sink to the bottom and the boiling will begin to slowly cease.

Once the butter stops boiling, remove from the heat and pour through a cheesecloth-lined strainer or a coffee filter into a heatproof container to remove the browned milk solids. Let cool, then transfer to a sealed container and refrigerate until ready to use. Clarified butter should keep for at least 6 months in the refrigerator.

Date Filling
600g high quality soft medjool dates, pitted, peeled and white interior skin removed
1 tsp rose water
1 tsp orange blossom water
½ tsp ground mahleb
50g (2 Tbsp) clarified butter samneh, room temperature

Semolina Dough
340g (2 cups) coarse semolina flour (Smeed)
160g (1 cup) fine semolina flour (Farkha)
30g (2 Tbsp) granulated sugar
½ tsp instant dry yeast
½ tsp ground mahleb
210g (1 cup) clarified butter samneh, room temperature
2 Tbsp rose water
2 Tbsp orange blossom water (1/4 cup and 1 tablespoon)
Icing sugar (optional)

Make the date filling:
Mix the cleaned dates, rose water, orange blossom water, ground mahleb and clarified butter with your hands until a homogeneous paste is formed. Cover date paste with plastic wrap and set aside until later use.

Make the semolina dough:
In a large bowl mix the coarse semolina and fine semolina, sugar, yeast, and ground mahleb. Add the clarified butter and rub mixture together with the palm of your hands until the mixture is grainy and the butter is fully absorbed in the flour (about 5 minutes). Cover in plastic wrap and let it sit on the kitchen counter overnight or at least 2 hours.

After resting the dough, add the rose and orange blossom water, mix again and cover with plastic wrap leaving it to rest for another hour.

Preheat oven to 360°F (180°C). Brush a 9″x13″ rectangular baking pan or glass pyrex dish with clarified butter. Divide the semolina dough in half and cover the other half to prevent it from drying out. Roll out the first dough to roughly 9″x13″ inch and transfer to the baking dish (I find it easier to roll it between two sheets of wax paper). Use a bench scraper to smooth the dough and make sure that it’s evenly leveled. Repeat the same process with the date paste and the second half of the semolina dough.

Using a sharp knife, carefully slice the unbaked ma’amoul into 1.5″ vertical strips, making sure to slice all the way to the bottom of the baking dish. Then, slice diagonally in a crossways pattern, to create diamond shapes (alternatively, cut crosswise to make rectangles). Bake for 35 minutes, or until the top is golden and the edges are a light brown.

Take out the pan from the oven and let cool completely (preferably overnight). Dust the pieces of ma’amoul with icing sugar only before serving. Store in an air tight container up to a month or freeze up to 3 months.

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Linzer Cookies with Chestnut Paste and Black Raspberry Jam

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Nothing beats a delectable cookie that’s buttery, crumbly, and not too sweet with a hot cup of tea. Linzer cookies tick off all these boxes and more, they’re my absolute favorite to eat in the morning, the afternoon, and occasionally late at night before going to bed (don’t judge me).

While these Austrian Linzer cookies are traditionally made around Christmas time, the heart cut out shape makes me think of Valentine’s day. Besides, they look so gorgeous that you would want to share them with your loved ones or on social media – they’re seriously instagrammable! They do take some time to cut out, bake and assemble but the delight on people’s faces makes it all very worthwhile.

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I also love how versatile they are; The dough is made by combining flour, ground hazelnuts, sugar, eggs, spices. After baking the dough cutouts, I filled them with a thin spread of chestnut paste and black raspberry jam then topped it all off with powdered sugar. You can use almonds instead of hazelnuts and any type of filling such as nut butter, chocolate paste, jams, as well as fruit curds. Since I had chestnut paste leftovers from the previous chocolate roll recipe, I decided to add a thin layer into the cookie sandwich – you can also leave it out completely.

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The baked cookies are very crisp once baked, but they become much tender the next day especially after filling them with jam and storing them in an air tight container.

Recipe adapted from Epicurious ~ makes about 30 cookies 2.25″ (5.7cm)

Ingredients:
Cookies
160g (5 oz) whole raw hazelnuts
25g (2 tbps) light brown sugar

320g (2¼ cups) all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt

226g (2 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature
100g (1/2 cup) powdered sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

Extra powdered sugar for sifting
Black Raspberry Jam (I used Beth’s Farm Kitchen Jam)

Chestnut Paste (optional)
150g chestnut paste – recipe in link
10g powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp brandy or rum

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C) and toast raw hazelnuts on a baking sheet until fragrant and skins begin to loosen about 8 minutes. Take the nuts out of the oven and rub in a kitchen towel to remove any loose skins (some skins may not come off), then cool to room temperature.

2. After cooling, place roasted hazelnuts and light brown sugar in a food processor and pulse until nuts are finely ground.

3. Whisk together hazelnut meal, all-purpose flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl.

4. Using a paddle attachment in a stand mixer, beat together softened butter and powdered sugar at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually add the hazelnut mixture until just combined. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract until dough comes together. Divide into two equal disks, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

5. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C) and adjust racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

6. Place one disk between large sheets of wax paper, roll out to 1/8 inch thickness and freeze for 10 minutes. (I found it easier to work with the a really cold dough). Use a linzer cookie cutter to cut out the solid shapes – these will be the bottoms of each cookie – and carefully transfer them to one of the prepared baking sheets. Gather the scraps, roll out the dough, and repeat to make more solid cookies and transfer to second prepared baking sheet. If the dough becomes too soft to roll out, chill until firm.

7. Freeze the cookie sheets for 10-15 minutes before baking to ensure that the cookies keep their shape.

8. Bake cookies until golden, about 10-12 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer baking sheets to wire racks and allow to cool for 3 minutes. Using a metal spatula, transfer cookies directly to wire racks.

9. When baking sheets have cooled, repeat Steps 6 through 8 with the remaining portion of dough, this time using the cookie cutter with a punched-out center.

11. Once the cookies have fully cooled, sift the extra powdered sugar over the cookies the punched-out centers.

12. Make the chestnut paste by mixing it with the sugar, vanilla and brandy until combined. Spread the solid bottom cookies with a thin layer of chestnut paste and about ½ tsp of jam. Place the cut-out cookies on top to complete the sandwich cookies.

13. Store cookies layered between sheets of wax paper in an airtight container for a week. They can also be frozen for up to a month.

 

Braided Easter Bread

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Each year for the Easter holiday, my mom bakes small raisin bread rolls that are usually braided in 2 or 3 strands. It’s a family tradition that’s been around for many years, so I wanted to post a similar recipe that’s bit less sweet and dense but just as good. I came across a very similar breaded raisin bread recipe in Kamran Siddiqi’s book Hand Made Baking that uses honey as a sweeter instead of refined sugar. What also caught my attention is that the whole dough is braided into one big circular loaf instead of several small loaves. So I decided to give my mom’s classic recipe a twist and the result is spectacular! It’s a slightly sweet and fluffy bread with a brioche-like texture that’s dotted with juicy raisins soaked in apple juice.

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We traditionally serve this bread for the Greek Orthodox Easter (which is a different day than western Easter). It is actually based on the Julian calendar–introduced by Julian Caesar–instead of the Gregorian calendar, and it’s always the first Sunday after the first full moon AFTER the spring equinox which will be April 4th this year. That’s an easier way to remember it. I actually had to look up this information, because my friends always ask me why we celebrate Easter on a different date… Well there you have it.

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The steps in this recipe might seem daunting at first, but believe me it’s not as hard as it seems. It just needs a little bit of patience – and that is the hardest part for me. You basically mix some warm water, yeast, oil, eggs, honey, flour, and raisins together and wait for the dough to double in size then put it in the fridge overnight. The next day you’re going to punch the dough down, braid it into a beautiful round loaf, wait for it to double in size again, and then bake until it’s golden. The loaf will be slightly flaky on the outside and delightfully tender in the middle. You can even use some leftovers stale pieces for French Toast!

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Braided Easter Bread (recipe adapted from Hand Made Baking)

Ingredients:
¾ cup (180ml) warm water (100°F/38°C)
2 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp granulated sugar
5 Tbsp (75ml) vegetable oil
1/3 cup (80ml) honey
3 large eggs, room temperature
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp sea salt
3¾ cups (470g) all purpose flour
1 cup (160g) raisins, soaked in simmered apple juice for 5 minutes then patted dry

Egg wash:
1 small egg
1 tsp water

Directions:
1. In a large bowl, pour the warm water and then add the yeast and sugar. Let it sit for 5 minutes without stirring until a foamy surface forms. Then stir until the yeast dissolves in the water.
2. Add the vegetable oil, honey, eggs, vanilla extract, and salt into the yeast mixture and whisk until homogeneous.
3. Stir in the flour and raisins with a wooden spoon.
4. Tip the mixture on a floured surface and knead with your hands for 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour until it just comes together.
5. Shape the dough into a round and put it in a lightly oiled large bowl, turning it a few times to coat it with the oil.
6. Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and let it rise in a warm place for 2 hours. (I like to preheat the oven for a minute or two to place the bowl in it). The dough will double in size.
7. Remove the damp towel and cover the dough in plastic wrap and place in the fridge overnight.
8. The next day, take out the dough from the fridge and let it sit on the counter for an hour to come to room temperature.
9. Meanwhile, line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
10. Punch down the dough and divide it into three equal portions.
11. Roll out each portion into 20″ (50 cm) ropes. Lay them parallel to each other, pinch one end together and braid the pieces, then pinch the other end. Roll the long braid into a circle to form a round loaf.
12. Transfer the loaf to the lined baking sheet.
13. Whisk the small egg with 1 tsp of water and brush it all over the loaf. Wait for the egg wash to dry for 5 minutes then brush it again.
14. Place the loaf in a warm place and let it rise for one hour until it doubles in size.
15. After 45 minutes, preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) and adjust the rack to the center of the oven.
16. Bake for 35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway, until the braided loaf is a deep golden color and sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom.
17. Let cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet then transfer on a wire rack to cool completely.
18. Store in a plastic bag or tupperware for 3 days (this bread can be frozen too).

Chewy Almond Cookies

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2013 is almost coming to an end.

It’s been a year full of ups and downs, challenges and accomplishments, and I’ve learned so many life, love, and work lessons that helped me grow as a person. Not only did I start this blog in 2013, but I also had the amazing opportunity to travel to New York to pursue my passion in graphic design and get lost in a big city full of opportunities and inspirations. I’m simply amazed at how much I enjoy the work that I do today (my full time job, freelance work, and baking blog!) and how many awesome people I get to meet everyday. I’m so grateful for having incredible parents, family, and friends who have been encouraging me and supporting all of my decisions. I’m also grateful for the people who have been following Brownie Box; the past few months have been slow but I’m working hard and putting a lot of effort into every single post.

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We’re still in the stretch of the holidays and some of you might be relieved that Christmas is over because of the copious amount of FOOD we ate for 3 days straight, but I’m not done baking. In fact, I’m still using the “Christmas/New Year” excuse to constantly replenish the supply of cookies and chocolate.

Today’s post is about these incredibly chewy almond cookies. I still can’t believe that I recently discovered this recipe. It’s so GOOD it’s making me sad that I just started baking these; they’re perfect with coffee, tea, or even dipped in chocolate ganache! I seriously can’t stop munching on them all day.

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The recipe calls for almond paste: a combination of almond meal and sugar in equal quantities mixed with a little bit egg white to hold the ingredients together. You can buy almond paste at the grocery store or make your own (see below!) because it’s tastier and more economical. Now there’s a difference between marzipan and almond paste: the former is sweeter and commonly used for decoration purposes – like fondant. Almond paste contains double the amount of almonds, which is perfect for baked goods because of its intense flavor.

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Almond Paste

Almond Paste

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I guarantee that everyone will love these cookies because they are so light and versatile! What’s your favorite holiday cookie recipe?

Ingredients:
Almond Paste:
150 grams (1¼ cup) halved blanched almonds
150 grams (¾ cup) powdered sugar
1 egg white
Note: This recipe yields 8½ oz. (250 gr.) of almond paste. The cookies recipe calls for 3½ oz. (100 gr.), so you can freeze the rest or double the cookie recipe!

1. Place almonds in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process the almonds until they are very finely ground, stopping periodically to scrape the sides of the bowl.
2. Add the sugar and egg white, process until smooth.
3. Knead the dough on a working surface until firm and smooth (you can also use a dough hook).

Cookies: Yields ~ 36 cookies
1 large egg, room temperature
½ cup (100 grams) sugar
1 stick (113 grams, ½ cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
3½ oz. (100 grams) almond paste
1 teaspoon vanilla or vanilla bean paste
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

1. Beat together the egg and sugar using a stand or hand mixer.
2. Add the softened butter, almond paste, and vanilla. Continue mixing until homogeneous.
3. Add the sifted flour and salt to the egg mixture. Then mix by hand or using a wooden spoon until combined.
4. Shape the dough into a disk and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
5. Preheat oven to 320ºF or 160ºC.
5. Transfer dough to a large parchment paper that fits a 19″x13″ inch baking sheet (48×32 cm). Press down the dough with a rolling pin and move it from the center out to form a flat dough of ¼” inch or 0.5 cm in thickness.
6. Cut out the dough using a cookie cutter. (Note: you can also shape the dough into small balls and flatten them with the palm of your hand).
7. Bake for 12 minutes (the cookies will stay white and soft), take out the baking sheet of the oven, and let cool completely until they harden.