Traditionally, individual walnut or pistachio pastries are eaten when celebrating Easter. In the past, it used to be an opportunity for women to get together and make these delightful round-shaped pastries, it took hours but they enjoyed that occasional experience. I vividly remember the moulded chicks specially made by the grown ups for us who were then the children. To simplify matters, I am opting for baking the pastry as one piece in a tray and then slicing it. This is called Ma’moul Madd meaning a one piece pastry where the filling is sandwiched between two layers of pastry. Ma’moul Madd can be eaten at any time of the year and is not necessarily associated with Easter. The only difference is that Ma’moul Madd is served with Natef which is similar to marshmallow whip. Given that it is difficult to find the main ingredient for Natef: Bois de Panama, I substituted icing sugar which complements it nicely.
Traditionally also, the Ma’moul pastry is made with clarified butter (samneh) which I think gives it a crispier texture than butter.
There are different recipes for making Ma’moul. Some mix fine semolina with flour to help bind the dough. Others prefer combining coarse semolina with fine semolina, while the third category sticks to using only fine semolina because it gives a crispy crumbly texture that melts in the mouth, for that reason, I opted for the latter.
Makes about 18 squares
- 400 g / 14 oz fine semolina
- 175 g / 6 oz clarified butter softened or unsalted butter softened. For a better result, I normally use half of each
- ½ tsp ground mahlab (see glossary), if not available use ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- ¼ tsp easy blend yeast
- 1½ tbsp of each orange blossom and rose water, preferably lukewarm
- 1 tbsp lukewarm water to sprinkle, or just enough to bind the dough
- 200 g / 7 oz walnuts or pistachio nuts
- 75 g / 3 oz caster sugar
- 1 tbsp of each orange blossom water and rose water
- 1 tbsp of icing sugar
You also need a baking tray measuring 15 x 24 x 4 cms (6 x 9½ x 1½ inches)
- Tip semolina, mahlab (or nutmeg) and yeast into a bowl and mix well. Next, add the very softened butter or clarified butter (or mixture of both) and mix with your hands until semolina is fully incorporated into the fat. To start off, knead with your hands, you may find that you need to sprinkle a little water to soften the pastry, adding at the same time the orange blossom and rose water. Kneading is important when making this pastry because the mixture should become malleable so it can be shaped. That is why I rely on my hands as well as the electric mixer to do the kneading, usually in 2 batches. Cover with cling film and let it rest for several hours or preferably overnight.
- Knead again using your hands as well as the electric mixer until you obtain a soft smooth pliable pastry.
- Prepare the filling. Using the food processor or a small freezer bag well sealed, crush the nuts (rolling pin if by hand) until fine but not powdery. Transfer to a mixing bowl and mix in the remaining filling ingredients.
- Preheat the oven to 200 ºC / 400 ºF.
- Lightly grease the baking tray. Divide the dough in two. Take the first half and put it in the middle of the tray, then using you knuckles, spread it across evenly, adjusting where necessary until you have a uniform bottom layer that covers the tray. Now spread over the filling, pressing slightly with the back of a spoon. Spreading the top layer is slightly trickier because of the filling. The best way is to divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, take one piece at a time and flatten it between your palms to an even thickness, then lay it on top of the filling starting with one corner. Repeat the same process with the next one and lay it next to the first one so it overlaps with the first one and covers the opposite corner. Do likewise with the 2 remaining pieces, smooth down with your palm to ensure a uniform even layer. Cut into the desired sizes and pop it into the oven.
- Bake for 15-20minutes until cooked, it should be lightly golden brown.
- Cool in the tray and serve dusted with icing sugar or whipped marshmallow.
Note. Walnuts pastries store for up to a week in an airtight container, but you do not need in this case to dust them with icing sugar.