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  Bartok has been superseded in recent weeks by Telemann, the prolific late Baroque German composer – and there are a growing number of musicians.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

Biscuits with Bartok 3 – Spiced orange blossom and chocolate cookies

I’ve had a pretty hectic week, not least because I was away for work for half of it.  As a result, my indulgence in the blogosphere has been restricted to access on my phone on the go – and my backlog of draft posts is growing.  The opportunity to write posts relevant to Shrove Tuesday and Valentine’s Day passed me by.  We enjoyed a couple of very nice venison-based meals that I did not photograph so I let them slip by for our own personal indulgence only. I will make these again, so there will be other opportunities to write a post for these recipes in the future.

We also have the good fortune to be benefiting from the adaptive management programme initiated to reduce greylag goose numbers and limit the significant damage they are currently doing to crops here.  Geese are being shot under licence and we are very grateful to receive another 6 wild geese, all in excellent condition, to keep our freezer stocked. Of course, this means considerable time preparing the goose, so we also had to get this done on my return.

I arrived home on a morning flight a couple of hours before the musicians were due to play, so I didn’t have time to make my 3rd biscuit of the series for them.  I decided to go ahead anyway as I wanted to try a biscuit flavoured with orange blossom water, an itch I just had to scratch.

Signs of spring

Despite the inconvenience of the snow on the mainland, here spring is showing signs of progression.  On my return, I heard the first song thrush singing from the corner of our garden.  A chipping snipe in the marshy grassland around the house means I will most likely enjoy the sound of the first drumming snipe imminently. If I stood outside for long enough at dusk, I would probably hear one – usually around Valentine’s Day each year we hear the first.  I can see the lapwings beginning to assemble again on the croftland in pre-breeding readiness.

The lighter nights mean I have no excuse to get out for a run after work, or start getting more serious about the garden other than whimsically reviewing my seed collection and plans for 2013.

My last long run (12km) had the usual smattering of Uist-based incidents.  I spent about 2 miles running behind a sheep flock being herded by a land rover and a collie from fields and along the roads to a fank.  Nice waft of urine all the way along the road, followed by copious amount of fresh sheep droppings in my trainer treads.  I opted to turn back when I caught the sheep up at the fank as I didn’t want to scatter them and the scene looked chaotic enough with one sheepdog doing his best to filter a large, tired flock into the fank.

On the way back, I passed a croft and a collie ran out to greet me. Sometimes they nip your heels as if you are a sheep but this one was friendly, too friendly, in fact.  She followed me all the way back to my car, about 5 km.  She had no road sense and although not much traffic passed us on the single track road, I had to keep stopping and grabbing her and had to wait on the verge until cars passed.  They probably either thought I was an idiot for taking a dog with no traffic-sense out on the road for a run, or were possibly laughing, having recognised the dog as local and saw it had tagged along with me.  I had to put her in the car and drive back to the croft.  I did this just as the crofter was getting in his tractor to look for her.  Not the first time apparently.

Where Eagles Dare

I was glad to get back and into my usual routine of dog walking over the moor near our house. Friday was a beautiful clear day and there was some bird activity up there too.  The dogs flushed a couple of snipe and a woodcock and a pair of ravens passed noisily overhead.  As we were coming over a rise, I could see another bird in the distance.  The profile initially looked like a raven, but then it became apparent it was very much bigger and was in fact a golden eagle.

It is not uncommon for us to see golden eagles, or sea eagles around this area.  It is part of a local golden eagle territory and there is a regularly used nest not too far away.  The first job I had when I moved to Uist was a role for a certain well known NGO that involved checking golden and sea eagle nests.  Golden eagles are much shyer than sea eagles and tend to keep their distance.  I know this pair have a regular plucking spot overlooking a loch on the walk and I often see the silhouette of an eagle there.  The pair regularly fly together over the hills surrounding the loch prior to settling down to breed.

The eagle was unusually inquisitive and passed directly overhead before turning and circling.  Since it was directly above me and at a height of about 15 metres and began circling, I decided it would be pertinent to keep the dogs close.  Though there was only an outside chance that an eagle would come down so close to a person and attempt to take a dog, it’s not unheard of.  I had known of a falconer’s dog to be killed by a golden eagle they were working. The eagle stayed with us, circling close overhead continuously for about 3-4 minutes before heading back over its territory to the hill near the nest.  Certainly a new experience for me. I managed to capture a few shots on my iPhone as it circled.  It was certainly an unusually close and spectacular view of this beautiful raptor.

eagle 2eagle 1Spiced orange blossom biscuits with chocolate

I wanted to incorporate orange blossom water into a biscuit, as I plan to with other aromatic flavourings such as lavender and rose and I thought orange blossom was probably a safe place to start experimenting.  I had some ingredients I wanted to incorporate including some lovely spiced orange slices given to me as a gift, golden sultanas and I also wanted to add a decadent garnish of candied orange. I had just made some to incorporate into Turron ice cream, the recipe courtesy of David Leibovitz. Cointreau was added for additional oranginess and decadence.

I added chocolate because there’s no denying that the marriage of chocolate and orange is tried and tested.  I don’t often use milk chocolate, hence the inclusion.  The Co-op’s Fairtrade milk chocolate is reasonably good, with 30% cocoa solids. I based the quantities of the basics of the dry ingredients on Ottolenghi’s spiced cookies from ‘Jerusalem’, but there is significant variation from that recipe.  The biscuit-making stabilisers aren’t quite off, so wanted to use the basis of the recipe to ensure success.

Ingredients

125g golden sultanas

2 tbsp cointreau

240g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/4 tsp salt

75g golden caster sugar

75g light muscovado sugar

125g unsalted butter

1/2 tsp vanilla essence

1 tsp orange blossom water

zest of 1/2 lemon

zest of 1/2 orange

1/2 a medium egg

1/2 tsp each of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice

100g milk chocolate

3 slices of preserved spiced oranges (optional)

Method

  • Soak the sultanas in the cointreau for 10 minutes.
  • Mix the flour, baking powder, bicarb, spices and salt together in a bowl.
  • Put butter, sugar, vanilla and zests in a food mixer and beat for 1 minute.
  • Add the egg, slowly while the machine is running and mix for another minute.
  • Add the dry ingredients, then the soaked raisins.
  • Divide the dough into roughly 50g balls and place a couple of cm apart on a lined baking sheet.
  • Rest in the fridge for about an hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 190C and bake for 15-20 minutes.  Allow to cool for 5 minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Melt the chocolate in a bain marie and drizzle over the cookies. Top with candied orange just before serving.

spiced biscuit 1

Candied orange

Making this is vaguely reminiscent to marmalade-making and the resulting candied orange will keep for a couple of months in the fridge and can be added to cakes, biscuits and ice cream.

Ingredients

Zest of 4 large oranges

500ml water

200g sugar

1 tbsp glucose syrup

Pinch of salt

Method

  • Using a veg. peeler, remove 3 cm strips of peel (no pith) from the oranges.
  • Slice length-ways into very fine strips, no wider than a toothpick.
  • Place the strips in a pan, cover with a few cm of water, bring to the boil, then reduce to a gentle boil for 15 minutes.
  • Combine the water, sugar, glucose and salt in a pan. Bring to the boil, add the peel and cook at a low boil for 25 minutes. Add a sugar thermometer and when the mix is at 110C, take off the heat.  Store the peel in the syrup in the fridge.

spice biscuit 2

Polenta, coconut and marmalade cake

Having had little time to browse the numerous new recipe books acquired at Christmas, I thought it was time to delve into one.  Looking for mid-week cake inspiration, I flicked through Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s delightful ‘Jerusalem’ and found just what I needed – a cake containing marmalade – semolina , coconut and marmalade cake.

However, as ever, I didn’t quite have all the ingredients, so a semolina cake morphed into polenta cake and orange juice was replaced by pink grapefruit juice. Nothing too radical, so I figured the resulting mix was unlikely to fail, from a bake perspective at least.  More of a question over how it might taste. I use the introductory text in the book as justification. Given the statement that semolina cakes soaked in syrup are pretty ubiquitous across the Middle East and there are so many variants, I might as well go the extra step – wholesale replacement of one of the key ingredients. In for a penny, in for a pound!

I am pleased to say, no harm done in using polenta – or pink grapefruit juice. The orange blossom water in the syrup gives the cake a real aromatic lift.  The amount of sugar in the syrup is high.  I cut it down a bit and still found it very sweet, although this is unsurprising for a cake recipe originating from this part of the world (and containing a syrup!). However, serving with natural yoghurt mixed with a few drops of orange blossom water complemented the cake perfectly and unleashed the coconut flavour and citrus tang, offsetting the sweetness too.

Note to runners: Another thing, I found that just a little bit of this cake half an hour or so before a run improves your pace.  No indigestion guaranteed.  Justification to indulge indeed!

The recipe is that I used to accommodate changes in ingredients.

Preheat oven to 160C (fan)

Ingredients

240ml grapefruit juice

180ml sunflower oil

160g Seville orange marmalade, homemade, of course

4 medium eggs, free range, of course

grated zest of half a pink grapefruit

70g caster sugar

70g desiccated coconut

90g plain flour

180g polenta

2 tblsp ground almonds

2 tsp baking powder

Syrup:

150g caster sugar

120ml water

1tblsp orange blossom water

To serve:

Natural yoghurt mixed with a few drops of orange blossom water

Ottolenghi coconut cake

Method

  • Mix together the wet ingredients: oil, fruit juice, marmalade, eggs and zest. I used my KitchenAid to mix the wet ingredients, then added the dry ingredients: sugar, coconut, semolina, almonds and baking powder. This should form a runny cake mixture.
  • Grease and line a cake tin, capacity 1 litre (or 2 x 500 g as the recipe suggests), pour the filling in and bake for 45-60 minutes for 500g, 1 hour 20 minutes or so for 1 litre tin.
  • Check with a skewer that the cake is cooked all the way through, if it is clean, it is. I also covered the top with foil to prevent burning, given the longer cooking time for a bigger single cake.
  • Just before the cake is ready to come out, add the syrup ingredients to a pan, bring to the boil, remove from the heat and pour over the cake(s) when they come out of the oven.
  • I pierced the cake with a cocktail stick to help the syrup percolate and permeate the cake.
  • Leave to cool completely then slice and serve with yoghurt and orange blossom water.

semolina cake