Biscuits with Bartok 6 – Ma’amul

The concept of the weekly provision of a sweet treat for the musicians continues, allowing me to move away from the typical biscuit or cookie to something a little more out of the ordinary, Ma’amul.  Indeed the title of this series of posts is increasingly becoming a misnomer.  Bartok has been superseded in recent weeks by Telemann, the prolific late Baroque German composer – and there are a growing number of musicians.

There is something delightful and unique about sitting at my desk, working, listening to  music ebb and flow against the backdrop of the outdoor sound scape of birds, waves and wind. I hope it will eventually get warm enough to open the door so I can hear the pieces more clearly. Eventually, but for now it is still very cold, the wind swinging indiscriminately from south west to north and maintaining defiant persistence over the last 3 weeks.

Few seeds are yet planted outside, the soil temperature has dropped from 12 to 8 C.  I did try to plant some parsnip seeds, but they kept blowing out of the narrow drill.  I resorted to sowing small sections a few centimetres at a time and quickly covering them to ensure they stayed in the ground.

Dining out on fishing

Despite having more time indoors than I would normally care for at this time of year, I have had very little time over the last week to manage even one small blog post. Not only that, unusually, we have been out for dinner twice over the weekend.  Often, eating out is at houses of friends, but this was real dining out, on Uist. Imagine!

The annual dinners of North Uist Angling Club and South Uist Angling Club always occur back to back in the same weekend.  Friday night, we enjoyed a very well executed meal at Langass Lodge; smoked haddock risotto with samphire, hand dived scallops with cauliflower puree and lemoncello parfait with berries.  It really was spot on for a set meal for 35 people.  As current Chair of NUAC, I had to deliver a short speech, which was no hardship, and being Chair afforded us an invitation to the South Uist Club dinner the next evening at Grogarry Lodge, South Uist.  A tasty and comforting meal of salmon pate, venison and vegetables (significant portion and seconds offered!) and cheesecake was enjoyed and we were made to feel very welcome by the members of the club.

Sandwiched in between these dinners was our annual pollack competition on Loch Strumore, North Uist  when we attempt to catch pollack on the fly.  Always a challenge, the potential for some monster fish and a huge fight.  Two years ago we had a bathful of fish to deal with as a result and the winning angler caught an 8 lb beast that shredded his hand.  Alas, no monsters this year.  The weather deteriorated over the course of the day to intolerably freezing. I came home with a fish, as did The Man Named Sous, the only two pollack caught all day.  Another fishing trophy for my Dearest then as his was slightly bigger than mine.

pollack

As ever, when late spring arrives (the weather is allegedly supposed to improve about now), we have started to see our first visitors, from near and far.  I don’t expect therefore that I will get a huge amount of time to blog over the coming week, although my draft posts will continue to pile up (I have been experimenting with seaweed too – more on that in the next post). Tomorrow, we have a Swiss friend coming for dinner, musicians and more visitors the day after, who knows who else by the weekend. I will seize the moment to discuss the delights of ma’amul.

Ma’amul

Ma’amul (various spellings, commonly also Ma’amoul) is an appropriately windswept and interesting (as Billy Connolly would say) sweet experience. The innocuous looking shortbread-type biscuit conceals the surprise of a crumbly and aromatic exterior, which then relinquishes a sumptuous, sticky dried fruit and nutty rose-scented interior.  A definite curveball if you have not tried these before.

This is one of the most popular Arab cookies, eaten across the Middle East, particularly during Ramadan. They are rolled and stuffed with varying ingredients, commonly walnuts and dates, but also pistachios, figs and almonds. Ma’amul can be hand-rolled or pressed into decorative wooden moulds.  This reminded me of pressing shortbread into a wooden mould depicting a thistle, which I remember doing as a child, although, I don’t actually have that mould, so hand formed my ma’amul.

Texturally, I was looking for something different and I knew the main constituent ingredient of semolina would deliver an unusual textural experience while the flavours satisfy my continued love of all things aromatic, with the addition of orange blossom water and rosewater. The textures also extends to preparation and making ma’amul is a very pleasant quite unique tactile experience. Here I use a variation of the recipe from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem (I know, again, but I have been abstaining for a few weeks), altering the filling to include pistachios and figs instead of dates and replaced cinnamon with my preferred ground cardamom.

Ingredients

350g semolina

40g plain flour

pinch of salt

180g unsalted butter, cut into 3 cm cubes

2 tbsp orange blossom water

1 tbsp rose water

icing sugar for dusting

Fruit and nut filling:

150g pistachios

75g walnuts

45g dried figs

45g caster sugar

1 tsp ground cardamom

1 1/2 tsp rose water

1 tbsp orange blossom water

Preheat the oven to 190C

Method

  • Put the semolina, flour, sugar and salt in a bowl and mix.  Add the butter and work it to the texture of breadcrumbs.
  • Add the orange blossom and rose waters and 1/2 a tablespoon of water to bring the mixture together into a ball.
  • Knead on the surface until completely smooth, about 5 minutes.  By now it will smell refreshing and aromatic and you will get the sense of the distinctive texture.
  • Cover with a damp cloth and rest for about 30 minutes.

Now make the filling:

  • Put the pistachios, walnuts, figs, sugar and cardamom in a food processor, pulse then process until finely chopped but not completely ground.
  • Add the orange blossom and rose waters and pulse to produce a coarse paste.

Moulding your ma’amul

If uniformity of biscuits matters to you (as it does to me), it is always handy to have some very accurate scales to measure out each piece of dough before rolling the finished item.  I use jewellery scales. I know such scales are often associated with clandestine activities (I do not mean weighing jewellery-related items), but my original use for the scales was innocuous, albeit slightly obscure.

I bought these many years ago as a tool to weigh birds that I was ringing, unfortunately, I can no longer find the time to ring and the scales have been recycled into the kitchen.  These were ideal for accurately weighing small passerines such as goldcrests and wrens. Goldcrests weigh only 5 -7 grams, so 5 goldcrests are the same weight as the dough for just 1 biscuit, what a random fact!

Don’t be put off by the convoluted preparation description – the dough is easy to manipulate and reshape if you put your thumb through it the first time. Ma’amul can be decorated in many ways but I have opted for simply pressing across the tops with a fork.

Ma'amul cooking 001

Method

  • Get a small bowl of water and keep you hands moist to stop the dough from cracking.
  • Pick up a bit of dough about the size of a walnut, it should be about 25g, roll it into a ball between your damp palms.
  • Cup the dough in the palm of one hand and press the centre with the thumb of your other hand to form an indentation.  This is similar to producing a clay thumb pot, forming a space in the centre of the dough for the stuffing.
  • The sides of the ‘pot’ should be about 5mm thick and 2.5 cm high.
  • Keep in your palm and grab about 20g of the filling and place it in the ‘pot’.  Pull up the dough around the filling to enclose it within the dough and roll gently into a ball again.

Ma'amul cooking 003

  • At this stage, I rolled the balls into slightly tall cylinders so I could press them down with a fork on the baking sheet. Place each on a baking sheet lined with silicone sheet or parchment paper.
  • Press down gently  on the top of the biscuit with a fork to create a pattern across the top of each biscuit.

Ma'amul cooking 005

  • Bake for 12 – 14 minutes, until cooked, ensuring the biscuits take on no colour.
  • Cool on a wire rack and sprinkle with icing sugar, if desired, before serving. Enjoy with a strong espresso.

Ma'amul 026Ma'amul 021Ma'amul 044

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34 thoughts on “Biscuits with Bartok 6 – Ma’amul

  1. Busy times ahead for you Tracey. The dining out sounds really nice, and those Arabic biscuits look scrumptious too! Nice enough here today, for a trip to the beach this afternoon. I tolerated shorts, in a fresh wind, but had to resort to a fleece on top. Regards from Norfolk. Pete. x

  2. I now understand why your recipes are so beautifully turned out – you use jewellery scales and I guess-timate an awful lot! LOL!!
    We are lucky enough to have the tiny little Goldcrests here and the image of 5 of them equalling one biscuit is adorable Tracey!

    • Thank you, although I do a fair bit of guessing a lot of the time too – my bigger scales are pretty inaccurate. Lucky you, having goldcrests. I miss them and species like treecreepers, dunnocks and blue tits, we don’t get them here. Still, should I complain when I get hen harriers and short-eared owls flying over the garden daily? No, it’s just so different, in a good way.

  3. That looks amazing…never eaten one before – Middle Eastern food isn’t readily availible in our area, but I sure wish it was!
    Enjoy your company – we’ll all be here when you have the time 🙂

    • Thank you, like you, we have no access to Middle Eastern food – we have got to make our own , which is fun! We have enjoyed our visitors this week – lots more tourists around just now, although the weather is horrible. Poor things, especially the cyclists. Hope they are not put off too much!

    • Thanks, I agree about cardamom – it is featuring a lot in my recipes at the moment. I prefer it to cinnamon, which as you say would be a bit weird with pistachios – my favourite nut, just ahead of hazelnuts 🙂

  4. Sounds like you’re gardening in pretty extreme conditions if you’re having to develop new techniques to stop the seeds blowing away as you sow them! The biscuits look delicious – do you think they are the reason for the growing number of musicians coming to your house?

    • Yes, Sarah, I have been trying hard to sow seeds for 3 weeks now, and have failed, although at least the polytunnel is full of happy plants – need to get myself a keder house one day (it is my ambition). As for the biscuits, some are more popular than others, but they are always eaten, so that does for me, thanks!

  5. Lovely post as always. Fly fishing for seafish sound a great challenge, it’s not something I’ve ever considered together! Great biscuit recipe too – the far superior source of the infamous mass market Fig Roll?

    • Thank you so much! Yes, fly fishing for seafish is a bit unusual, and very good fun, they behave quite differently to trout. Spot on about the ma’amul and fig rolls – they are slightly reminiscent of them, and admit I do like fig rolls too, an especially good snack for long cycles 🙂

  6. These look great. I love Middle-Eastern style sweet things. Do you have any suggestions for a gluten-free alternative to semolina that might have the same texture? Perhaps ground rice?
    Love the random fact about the goldcrests!

  7. Well, these look delicious. Do you do mail order? With a Bartok CD thrown in for international customers? Your angling societies dine well, by the sound of it. Smoked haddock risotto,now there’s an idea I’ll file away for future use. Interesting about the pollock. Over here pollock is considered a cheap–and inferior–substitute for Atlantic cod. I don’t necessarily agree with this assessment, and lord knows cod need a break, but there’s always a scandal when somebody gets caught (not usually by a diner) serving pollock in fish and chips instead of cod. Ken

    • Thank you Ken, mail order – only if I had any left 🙂 The risotto was very good – especially with the burst of flavour from the samphire. I more often have smoked haddock in kedgeree. Interesting about pollack, there is the same view here about it being slightly bland and inferior to cod (misguided in my opinion, I can’t get enough of it – literally), but I don’t eat cod unless I catch it myself due to sustainability issues. I’m sure there is a lot of cod replacement goes on with pollack here too, in fact, it was reported just last week in the press!

    • Thank you so much Fi! Yes, I would love some Angus asparagus, intriguing. Got your book – it is great, working on a wee review just now, in conjunction with a carrageen post, and that’s all down to you too, and it worked out very well, so thanks! Happy to pick the asparagus up from Cal Mac on the 12th. Need to offer you something in exchange soon – trying hard to grow stuff, but weather is grim. Maybe trout?

  8. Fantastic post as ever, I used to catch Pollock quite often in Jersey, normally whilst fishing for mackerel; but on the fly, impressed! Biscuits look delicious I hope I get chance to catch up on some of your recipes one day, or convince someone else to make them for me 🙂

  9. You are an excellent travel marketer for the Hebrides – such a unique place. I just want to hop on a plane NOW!

    In the way of food, we are more kindred souls. I was just pondering which Moroccan cookies I wanted to include on a Moroccan menu. These were my second choice. Looking at your photos, now I wish I had opted for them. Of course, mine may not have looked quite so beautiful…

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