17 May 2011
There is a beautiful pastry shop in the bottom of one of the hotels in Damascus, I can't remember its name but somewhere near Sepky Park, that sells the most refined versions of Arab sweets. The tiniest baklava you've ever seen, cookies filled with date puree so light it was almost like custard, and the most elegant ma'amoul in a variety of seasonal flavors - plum, peach, apricot, fig. I was inspired by those to make my own apricot ma'amoul, though much more rustic and humbling in appearance.
But the flavor is there, tart, tangy. I miss good fresh apricots, the kind that would arrive in Damascus on trucks everyday, just picked, dripping the moment you bite into them. They are hard to find like that farther away from the Mediterranean (goal: move back closer to to the Med). So this time I used dried apricots, just re-hydrated and simmered in a bit of honey and cinnamon and allspice. I'm pretty sure Paul ate most of them, which has to be a good sign.
Ma'amoul molds, like the one pictured above, are available at Middle Eastern groceries or can be ordered online. Depending on the size and style of your mold, you may need more or less filling for the recipe (it depends on how thin you make the crust). Makes about 40 small size cookies.
1/2 cup solid shortening
8 tablespoons or 4 ounces butter
1 cup flour, all purpose
2 cups semolina
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking power
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon rose flower water and
1 teaspoon orange flower water
7 tablespoons water
1 cup chopped dried apricot (chop into small pieces)
4 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon each cinnamon, allspice
1. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, pour over apricots, let stand to soften while you prepare the crust.
2. Prepare crust: Melt the shortening and butter in the microwave in a large bowl. Add the flour, semolina, salt baking powder and sugar and stir to combine. Add the rose and orange flower waters and gradually add the water, stirring to make a crumbly dough. Put the dough in the fridge to rest while you make the filling.
2. Filling: Scoop out apricots and place them in a sauce pan with about 2 tablespoons of their water (reserve remainder of soaking water in case needed). Ad remaining filling ingredients in a saucepan and cook over low heat for 10-15 minutes, adding water as necessary, until the apricots are very soft and mashed together.
3. Preheat oven to 325 F. Flatten a tablespoon of the semolina dough in the palm of your hand. Add a small amount of filling. Fold up the semolina around the filling, adding a little more dough to enclose the ball. Roll into a ball and press into a mold, or simply place on a greased baking sheet and decorate the top with the tines of a fork.
4. Bake 12-15 minutes until solid but not darkened in color. Let cool, then shift powdered sugar over top.