Today I’m joining several other bloggers to take part a virtual potluck hosted by Kitchen Play. We’re all preparing recipes from An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair by Faith Gorsky. I was tasked with making date-filled cookies, a recipe that I’ll admit was a bit outside of my comfort zone. Up until now I’ve had zero experience with preparing Middle Eastern cuisine.
I do love dates, though. They’re one of my favorite dried fruits and I always jump at the chance to use them in a recipe. I did tweak Faith’s recipe slightly; I added about a tablespoon of orange blossom water to the dough. Rose water would have also been really good. It makes such a fragrant, lovely cookie! These are very unlike the cookies I typically make; they’re a bit dense and not overly sweet. We loved them and I’m looking forward to trying more recipes from the book.
This recipe calls for a few unique ingredients and tools. These cookies are typically made using a decorative ma’amoul cookie mold. I didn’t have one so I shaped them by hand and have included instructions on how to make the cookies with or without the ma’amoul. The recipe also calls for a spice called ground mahlab or sour black cherry pits. You can find this at any Middle Eastern market or online. However, the cookies will still taste good even if you omit that spice altogether.
Here’s what Faith has to say about these cookies:
My mother-in-law always makes these beautiful date-filled cookies for the Eid (“Festival”) at the end of Ramadan. They can also be stuffed with orange blossom-scented pistachios or cinnamon-spiced walnuts, but date filling is particularly delicious and is traditional for holidays.
The date filling is uniquely spiced with the flavors of mahlab (a spice that comes from the seed kernel from the center of St Lucie Cherry pits), anise, and fennel, along with more commonly used warm spices like cinnamon and ginger. In my cookbook I show step-by-step photos for how to use a Ma’amoul mold to fill these cookies, and I also give directions on how to shape and fill these cookies by hand without a mold…it’s easier than you might think!
Paired with a fresh pot of steaming hot Turkish coffee that’s scented of cardamom, these cookies make for a lovely afternoon.
You can purchase the book online here: An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair. Here’s Faith’s post about the her book.
Be sure to check out the other posts from today’s virtual potluck (more links will be added throughout the day):
- Bibberche – Spinach Turnover
- The Spiced Life – Scrambled Eggs with Meat and Onion
- MarocMama – Meat and Veggie Casserole with Pomegranates
- Kitchen Concoctions – Falafel
- 52 Kitchen Adventures – Coconut Semolina Cake
- ¾ pound (350 g) pitted dates, coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1½ teaspoons Cake Spice Mix
- 1 cup (225 g) sugar
- ¾ cup (1 80 ml) water
- ¼ cup (65 ml) oil
- ¾ cup (175 g) clarifed butter
- 4 cups (500 g) all-purpose flour, plus up to 4 tablespoons more for kneading
- ½ teaspoon instant yeast
- ¼ cup (30 g) powdered sugar (optional, for dusting on top)
- ½ teaspoon ground mahlab (Sour Black Cherry Pits)
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground fennel
- ¼ teaspoon ground anise
- ½ tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1¼ teaspoons ground allspice
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- Mix together the spices for the Cake Spice Mix. You will only need 1 ½ teaspoons of the spice mix for recipe; store the remaining spice mix in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 6 months.
- To make the date filling, grind the dates and oil in a stand mixer fitted with a food grinding attachment (fine grind) or in a heavy-duty food processor. If using a stand mixer, alternate between adding the dates and oil. If you’re using a food processor, before you add any dates, rub oil on the blade and inside of the bowl. Once processed, oil your hands and knead the Cake Spice Mix into the dates.
- To make the dough, combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat; bring to a full, rolling boil (occasionally giving the pan a swirl), boil 1 minute, and then turn off the heat. Cool 5 to 10 minutes.
- Combine oil and clarified butter in a separate small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the butter is just melted, about 2 minutes; cool slightly.
- Put the flour in a large bowl and whisk in the yeast. Use a wooden spoon to gradually incorporate the oil mixture, then gradually incorporate the sugar syrup. Knead the dough until it comes together nicely, adding up to 4 tablespoons more flour as needed (when done, the dough will be soft and should look smooth, shiny, and slightly oily). Cover the dough, put it in the freezer to stiffen slightly, about 5 to 10 minutes, and then knead it again for a couple minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C); line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat liners.
- To shape the cookies with a ma'amoul mold, measure 1 slightly scant tablespoon of dough and roll it into a ball; slightly flatten it with your hands, then press it into the bottom and up the sides of the mold. Measure 1 teaspoon of the date mixture and roll it into a ball; slightly flatten it and gently press it into the dough in the mold. Measure 1 slightly scant teaspoon of dough, roll it into a ball, slightly flatten it, then put it on top of the date mixture in the mold; use your fingers to press the dough on the top into the dough on the sides. To remove the cookie from the mold, hold the mold by the handle and tap the flat rim on a secure surface; the cookie will drop right out.
- To shape cookies by hand (as seen in the photo), take a small handful of dough (about 1½ tablespoons) and roll it into an egg shape. Gently insert your finger into one end (don't go through to the other side), rotating the dough as you do so; you will end up with a little well. Fill this well with about 1 teaspoon of filling and pinch the end to seal. Use your hands to gently shape it into a circle and then slightly flatten the circle into a disc. Use a fork to make a decorative crosshatch pattern on top.
- Arrange the cookies on the baking sheets about ½ to 1 inch (1.25 to 2.5 cm) apart (if you use 2 half-sheet pans, the cookies should all fit on 2 pans; if you use smaller pans you will need to cook them in 2 batches); bake until light golden brown on the bottom, about 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the trays once.
- Cool completely, and then dust with the powdered sugar. To store the cookies, package them layered between parchment paper in an airtight container.