Ramadan — a sacred month of prayer for Muslims — comes to an end this week (NYC public schools will be closed Friday in observance). And though the holy month is marked by daylong fasting, food plays a large part, especially come sundown when observers break their fast.
Sweets in particular are a fixture, whether given to guests, hosts or snacked on at night, chef Anissa Helou notes in her new cookbook, “Feast: Food of the Islamic World.”
The authority on Middle Eastern cuisine includes a recipe for shortbread cookies filled with dates, known as maamoul and common in Lebanon and Syria.
“[T]hese date-filled cookies are a typical Ramadan sweet,” she writes. “They are time-consuming to make but well worth the effort.”
The cookies are shaped using a special mold that’s commonly made in plastic, though wood molds are more traditional.
If you can’t find the store-bought date paste, Helou recommends substituting with an equal amount of pitted dates and blending with the cinnamon and butter in a food processor until smooth.
Ramadan date cookies
(Makes about 40)
For the dough
2 cups semolina
1⁄4 cup plus 1 tbsp. all- purpose ﬂour, plus more for rolling the dough
1⁄4 tsp. instant (fast-acting) yeast
1⁄4 cup baker’s sugar or superﬁne sugar
1 stick plus 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tbsp. orange blossom water
3 tbsp. rose water
For the date filling
12 oz. dried date paste
1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1. To make the dough: Mix the semolina, all-purpose ﬂour, yeast and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the softened butter and, with the tips of your ﬁngers, work it in until fully incorporated. Add the orange blossom and rose water and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Roll the dough into a ball and place seam side down on your lightly ﬂoured counter. Cover with a very damp cloth and let rest for 1 1⁄2 hours in a cool place.
2. To make the date ﬁlling: Put the date paste in a bowl. Add the cinnamon and gradually add the melted butter, working it in by hand until you have a smooth, soft paste. Pinch off a small piece and shape it into a disk 1 1⁄2 inches in diameter and about 1⁄4 inch thick. Place on a plate and make the remaining disks until you have used up all the paste. You should end up with 40 date disks. Cover with plastic wrap.
3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
4. To make date-ﬁlled cookies: Pinch off a piece of dough and roll into a ball the size of a walnut. Flatten it on your palm until you have a 3-inch disk that is about 1⁄4 inch thick. Lay a date disk in the middle of the dough and ﬂap the dough over the date to cover it. Pinch the edges together — the date disk should be covered with an even layer of dough. Lightly press into the round ﬂat mold that is used for the date-ﬁlled cookies, then turn the mold over and tap the top edge lightly against a table while holding your other hand underneath to catch the cookie as it falls out of the mold. Slide the cookie onto a nonstick baking sheet, or one lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Make the remaining cookies in the same way. You should end up with 40 date cookies.
5. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, or until lightly golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve or pack in an airtight container where they will keep for two weeks.
Recipe from “Feast: Food of the Islamic World” by Anissa Helou. Copyright 2018 by Anissa Helou. Reprinted with permission of Ecco. All rights reserved.