Ma’Moul: The Ancient Tribal Cookie

From our friends at Caravan-Serai, a holiday cookie to go with your Happy Easter weekend!

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Happy Easter from your friends at Willamette Intl Travel!

Ma’Moul: The Ancient Tribal Cookie

With Easter this weekend and Ramadan fast approaching, Caravan-Serai wishes to highlight a special cookie that has made it through the centuries. Dating from the bygone ages of Egyptian Pharaohs, the Ma’Moul is an old cookie with religious significance for both Christians and Muslims in the Arab World. 

For Arab Christians, the Ma’Moul symbolizes Jesus’ crown of thorns. While that may sound morbid, Arab Christian families eat these cookies after going vegan for the 40 days of Lent to celebrate Jesus’s resurrection. They also eat these cookies during Epiphany.

For Arab Muslims, this cookie is eaten around the great feast of Eid al-Fitr and evenings of Ramadan after breaking their fast. These cookies are called “tribal,” in that they require a ‘tribe’ of people to mix, roll, shape the dough into doughnut or spherical goodies. And of course, we can’t forget the decorations!

Preparing the dough and the dates are simple enough, and you can form a kitchen table gathering of helping hands to shape and decorate these cookies. To decorate, use cookie tweezers or molds that you can order online or find in Middle Eastern markets. If you don’t have a market near you, you can use a fork to make the decorative indentations instead. Notice these cookies do not have sugar in the actual dough. This is not by accident. The dates are so sweet there is no need for extra sugar. Also, adding sugar to the dough will cause the sugar to crystallize, leaving a crumbly, rather than a soft buttery cookie.

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The Recipe (makes 35 cookies)

3 cups semolina flour

1 cup ghee or clarified butter (no substitutions)                   

1 package fast rising yeast

1 tsp sugar

½ cup warm water

1 ½ lbs date paste or pitted soft Medjool dates

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

½ tsp mahleb (powdered cherry kernels see note)

Powdered sugar for dusting cookies

Incorporate both semolina and ghee by using a gentle rolling motion with your fingers. Cover with a cloth and let sit overnight.

The next day, combine 1 package of yeast, sugar, and warm water. Let rest while you work on rolling the dates.

To prepare the dates, place them in a food processor with the nutmeg and cinnamon. Process until the dates make a thick paste. Or you can skip this step if you bought already prepared date paste.

Oil your hands, and using your fingers, roll the date paste into logs about 3 inches long and ½ inch in diameter. 

Meanwhile, add yeast mixture and the mahleb to the semolina mixture. If the semolina has hardened, then loosen up with a spoon until crumbly in texture. Work the dough into a thick paste with your fingers. You want a soft dough that doesn’t crack easily.

Now you are ready to assemble the cookies. Take a piece of dough, about a golf ball size, and roll into a cylinder about 4 inches long and 1 inch in diameter. Flatten with your finger. Place the log of date down the center, then pinch the dough up to enclose the date. Roll with your hands and pinch together both sides to make a doughnut shape.

Now you can decorate the cookie with dots using a fork or tweezers. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. These taste fabulous warm and dusted with powdered sugar. 

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