Sunday, April 2, 2017

Spicy Date Filled Cookies

Sometimes baking in the kitchen can be like resolving a mystery. You see something that you have never made nor have you ever tasted. Then you review the recipe, noting that it has some challenges that take time. Like most bloggers, we step up to the plate, eager to create and push our skills further.

This particular recipe originates from the Middle East, so there are special ingredients as well as a special tool needed to create this traditional cookie called Ma'amoul. However, you can scale it back in a few ways. The mold is only for appearance, so the cookies can be formed by hand. Also, clarified butter can be made from real butter, if you have the time. The specialty spices can be found on line or at an Indian or Middle Eastern grocers. Also, the mold can be ordered on line.

These may be called cookies, but they are definitely more of a pastry type of item. The outer part contains yeast and the dough is used in a manner much like a crust rather than a cookie. The crust houses a blend of sweet dates, spices and walnuts. All in all, this recipe mystery unraveled into round pastries housing exotic flavor that were both pleasing in appearance and taste. The recipe is definitely a keeper, especially when you want to impress for special occasions. 

Now, without further delay, below is the recipe, which makes about 2 dozen cookies. Note that the spice mix yields more than required in this recipe, but the mix can be stored for later use.

Spicy Date Filled Cookies
adapted from an Edible Mosaic

Ingredients/Spice Blend
1 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground anise
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground fennel seeds
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground mahlab (ground cherry pits)
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
2 tbs canola oil
3/4 lb of date paste
1 1/2 tsp of spice blend (above)

1/4 cup oil
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup clarified butter (ghee)
4 cups flour
1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar (for dusting on top/optional)

Start by whisking all the spice ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.

To create the filling, a food processor or stand mixer will need to be used. Prepare the blade and the interior of the bowl by coating with oil. Place the date paste in the bowl and then pour in the oil. Pulse the food processor or beat on medium speed with mixer until the oil is blended with the date paste. During this process you may need to stop occasionally and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Oil the surface of a cutting board and empty the date mixture onto the board. Separate out 1 1/2 tsp of the spice blend and store the remaining in a small jar or time for later use. Oil your hands and sprinkle some of the spice mix on the date mixture. Knead the spice into the date filling and then add some more spice and knead again. Repeat the process until all the spice is blended into the filling. Then do the same with the chopped walnuts. Set the bowl aside.

For the dough, get out two saucepans. Fill one with sugar and water. Fill the other with the butter and oil. Place the saucepan with the sugar/water over medium high heat. Let the mixture heat up to boiling and swirl a few times to get the sugar swirled into the water. It should boil for 1 minute and then remove from heat and set aside. Put the saucepan filled with the butter and oil over the medium high heat and let cook until the butter is completely melted. This saucepan is also to be removed from heat and set aside.

Sift together the flour and yeast in a large bowl. Form a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the butter/oil mixture. Using a wooden spoon, fold the liquid into the flour mixture. Once this comes together, blend in the sugar syrup in three increments until a dough is formed (it will be oily). Dust a flat surface with flour and knead the dough on the surface for 2 minutes. Form into a flat disc and cover with plastic wrap and place in freezer for about 7 minutes. Remove and knead again for 2 minutes.

Prepare 2 baking sheets by lining with parchment paper.

To form the cookies by using the mold: Take one tablespoon of dough and fill the mold and shape it much the same way as you do a tart pan, flattening and bringing up the sides. Once this is formed, take a knife to remove the excess dough, running the knife from the center top edge outward to the left then the right. Separate out a teaspoon of filling and flatten it into the center of the dough in the mold, being careful that it does not touch the sides. Then separate out a teaspoon of dough and flatten it into a disc, big enough to cover the filling. Place it on top of the filling and press down, so the edge is compressed with the edge of the first layer of dough. Make sure there are no cracks and the filling is completely covered. Lastly, tap the side rim of the mold on a flat surface and the cookie will fall out.

To form the cookies by hand: use the same measurements above, but use your palm as a mold and create the same coverage of the filling and make a slightly flattened circle. Use the tines of a fork to make a cross hatch on top.

After making 6 cookies and placing them on a cookie sheet one inch apart, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Make 6 more, spacing the same on the cookie sheet. Place pan in oven and let cookies bake for about 10-12 minutes, then rotate and bake for another 10-12 minutes. Cookies are done when the bottom is toasty and golden.  Remove and transfer to rack to completely cool.

Once cooled and prior to serving, you can dust with powdered sugar.

Tips and Notes:
1. Do not worry about the filling bubbling up and bursting the cookie, it does not hold that much liquid, so fill these cookies with as much as they can hold. In the beginning, I was too sparing on the filling resulting in more cookie than filling. The cookie is only to be a crust.

2. The dough is oily, so if you find it becoming too slick while forming the cookies, put it the fridge for 3-5 minutes to firm up. I did spend a lot of time forming these, so I needed the re-chill in the process.

3. If you find the cookie release from the mold requires too much effort, use a light dusting of flour in the mold before forming another cookie.

4. As stated before, specialty items can be ordered on line or can be found at a Middle Eastern or Indian grocery store. Also, you can always grind whole spices (Anise, Fennel) if the "ground" version is not available.
                               **LAST YEAR: Sawdust Pie**