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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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.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

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I never really thought about making homemade ice-cream until I came across a superb book called The Chocolate Bible. After going through the whole book over and over again (it never gets boring) I decided to try the custard based vanilla bean ice cream recipe – as well as other chocolate recipes.

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Custard based ice cream is also known as French-style ice cream; it’s thick, silky, and very scoop-able because of the addition of egg yolks which thickens the mixture. American style ice cream is not as dense, and it’s far quicker to prepare since it doesn’t require cooking a custard base; it is simply a combination of milk, cream, sugar, and flavoring.

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For the custard, you first start cooking the milk, vanilla, and egg yolks over low heat for a few minutes and add the whipping cream at the end. After chilling the mixture for two hours, you pour it in an ice cream maker which will simultaneously freeze the mixture while churning (to aerate it and avoid ice crystals to form). The result was so wonderful: the ice cream was rich and creamy, it tasted exactly like Häagen-Dazs! Can you imagine how impressed everyone would be when they find out that you whipped out a delicious traditional vanilla bean ice cream from scratch?! You will feel special, I’m telling you ;).

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Serve this ice cream with Fudgy Brownies, Chocolate Ganache, Apple Tart, or chunks of chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies… My mouth is watering while writing this post, so I’m going to jump right ahead with the ingredients and instructions.

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Ingredients: (from The Chocolate Bible)
• 5 egg yolks
• 125 grams (½ cup+2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
• 500 ml (2 cups) milk
• 1 vanilla pod, split
• 50 ml (¼ cup) whipping cream

Instructions:
1. Beat the egg yolks and 60 grams (5 tablespoons) of the sugar until pale, yellow, and creamy.
2. Pour the milk into a saucepan; add the remaining sugar.
3. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod – using the point of a knife – into the milk. Add the pod in the saucepan and slowly bring it to the boil.
4. Whisk 1/3 of the hot mixture into the eggs and sugar mixture, stirring well to combine. Then pour this mixture into the remaining hot milk.
5. Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, cook over low heat until the mixture is thickened and coats the back of the spoon. (~10 to 15 minutes. Do not allow to boil).
6. Stir in the whipping cream and remove from the heat immediately; strain into a bowl.
7. Stand a bowl in crushed ice and place in fridge for two hours until the mixture is cold.
8. Pour the mixture into an ice-cream maker and churn for 30 minutes.
9. Remove the ice cream from the machine and transfer it to the freezer before serving.

Blackberry Muffins

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Blackberry muffins are great for breakfast or as a mid-day snack. They are healthy because they do not contain a lot of butter and sugar, and blackberries are low in calories, carbohydrates, and fat, making them one of the best fruits for a balanced diet – and these muffins are loaded with them!blackberry muffins 5 blackberry muffins 4I also omitted the crumble that the original William Sonoma recipe called for because I didn’t want them to turn out too sweet. By the way did I mention how much I adore their recipes? They are just foolproof! The results are always picture perfect.blackberry muffins 3

These muffins taste reaaally good, and what’s amazing about them is the center that is slightly dry, contrasting with the bursting, juicy blackberries. This actually prevents super soggy muffins. You don’t want that.

You can always substitute the blackberries with blueberries, raspberries, or strawberries. Remember to treat soft berries very gently because they will break and bleed in the batter. If the berries that you bought are too soft, follow this technique: Wash the berries, pat them dry, then place them on a baking sheet in the freezer for ≈ 15 minutes. This will firm up the berries before mixing them in the batter.

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Ingredients: (Recipe from William Sonoma) – Makes 16 muffins.
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1⁄2 tsp. baking soda
1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Grated zest of 1⁄2 lemon
1⁄4 tsp. salt
1 egg room temperature, beaten
5 Tbs.(70 grams) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup buttermilk (check substitute)
2 cups fresh blackberries or 2 1⁄2 cups frozen unsweetened blackberries, unthawed

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375 °F (190 °C)
2. Grease 12 standard muffin cups with butter, or line with paper liners.
3. In a bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, lemon zest and salt.
4. Make a well in the center and add the egg, melted butter, and buttermilk.
5. Stir just until evenly moistened. The batter will be slightly lumpy.
6. Sprinkle with the blackberries and gently fold in with a large rubber spatula just until evenly distributed, no more than a few strokes. Take care not to break up the fruit. Do not overmix.
7. Fill the prepared muffin cups with the batter, filling each to the rim of the cup.
8. Bake until the muffins are golden, dry and springy to the touch, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (25 to 30 minutes).
9. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Unmold the muffins. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

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I had a red velvet craze a few months ago when they got uber trendy (everywhere). I used to read blogs and gawk at pictures of red vevet cupcakes trying to imagine what these insanely red colored cakes would taste like. I decided to bake a batch for my friend’s birthday because I was falling in love with a cake that I’ve never tasted before!

I really wanted these cupcakes to taste delicious so I looked up recipes and read many reviews online. I am not a fan of food coloring in general, so I tried to reduce the amount as much as possible (that’s why the cupcakes turned out to be burgundy in color rather than a bright red). The cupcakes were extra moist and light. Just perfect with the super rich cream cheese frosting!

My frosting recipe is not very thick because I don’t like overly sweet icing, but you can always add more sugar if you prefer a stiffer consistency. The frosting can be either piped or smeared on the cupcakes with a spatula.

I would definitely bake these cupcakes again 🙂

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Ingredients: (Adapted from Martha Stewart)

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour, sifted
4 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder, sifted
1 teaspoon salt
1+1/4 cups sugar
1+1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 large eggs, room temperature
3 teaspoons liquid red food color
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk*
1+1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
*You can substitute buttermilk by placing 1 Tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice in a 1 cup measuring cup. Then add enough milk to bring the liquid up to one cup. Wait for 5 minutes before using it.

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.
  • Whisk together cake flour, cocoa, and salt.
  • With an electric mixer on medium speed, whisk together sugar and oil until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Mix in food color and vanilla.
  • Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of buttermilk, and whisking well after each. Stir together the baking soda and vinegar in a small bowl (it will foam); add mixture to the batter, and mix on medium speed 10 seconds.
  • Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each 3/4 full. Bake for 25 minutes, until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

1/2 cup (110g) butter, almost room temperature
8 oz. (225g) cream cheese, cold
1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract
3 cups powdered confectioners sugar, sifted
2 Tablespoons heavy cream

  • Blend butter and cream cheese in large mixing bowl, about 30 seconds.
  • Add vanilla extract and powdered sugar and blend on low speed until combined. Increase to medium speed and beat until it begins to get fluffy.
  • Slowly add the heavy cream.
  • Beat until fluffy, about 1 minute.
  • Use at once or keep refrigerated for a few days.

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For the Lebanese Independence Day!

 

Chocolate Chip Brownies

Chocolate Chip Brownies
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I’m very excited to write my first post on my blog that I named after my favorite chocolate treat! I baked and tested several brownie recipes and this is my BEST go-to brownies recipe. They’re very dense and moist in texture and the chocolate chips really melt in your mouth, especially when they are warm and freshly baked.

I baked these brownies on several occasions and they are ALWAYS a big hit. They don’t require a lot of time to prepare and it’s a very easy one-bowl recipe. So go ahead, try it! And make sure to follow the recipe exactly.

Ingredients: adapted from The Golden Book of Chocolate
85g (2/3 cup) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
150g (5 oz.) bittersweet dark chocolate
113g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
150g (3/4 cup) firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
100g (1 cup) chopped pecans or walnuts
180g (1 cup) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:
1.Preheat the oven 180°C/ 350°F/ gas 4.
2. Butter and flour a 20 cm/ 8″ square baking pan. Line with baking sheet.
3. Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
4. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler (bain-marie) over barely simmering water. Remove from heat and let cool for 15 minutes.
5. In a separate bowl beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer (or with a fork) until creamy.
6. Stir the cooled chocolate mixture into the egg mixture.
7. Fold in the dry ingredients, followed by the pecans and chocolate chips.
8. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.
9. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the top is dry and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs.
10. Cool the brownies in the pan on a wire rack or stove for 40 minutes before turning them over on another wire rack. (don’t miss this step because the cake will crumble if it’s still hot!)