Middle Eastern Walnut and Pistachio Biscuits

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Made for special occasions and holidays, maa’moul are a type of shortbread filled with nuts or dates, the different shapes reflecting the filling.  I made two types – the longer ones are pistachio, and the little domes are walnut.  I discovered there are countless variations to this recipe – it is often handed from mother to daughter, so each family has their own way.  After reading about 20 different versions and comparing them, and having no idea which version to try, a (translated) phone consultation with Mrs E, a Renowned Maker of Maa’moul, set me on the right path.  She advised to go all semolina, no flour, and no milk. The all semolina pastry came out delicate and crumbly, and these were great with a morning coffee. I would like to give a combined semolina/flour version a go just to compare the texture.

I was surprised at how hard it was to find the molds, even Sydney surround Middle Eastern groceries had limited stock. I finally found them online at the Jo Shop, which sell them in packs of three with different sizes in each pack.  The quality was beautiful.  As for ingredients, you might struggle at your standard supermarket; again a Middle Eastern grocery store is the way to go. If you don’t have one in reach, on the North Shore you’ll find the Oriental and Continental Food store in Artarmon. This is one of those treasure trove food warehouse type places, where you can just lose yourself in the aisles.  It’s also great if you need to buy nuts in bulk.

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The recipe makes about 50. You’ll need to make the dough the night before and let it rest. The fillings can be made once you are ready to shape the biscuits.

Ingredients – dough
750g coarse semolina
250g fine semolina
500g unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon ground mahlab (also called mahlep)
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1 tablespoon rosewater
125ml orange blossom water
2 tablespoons orange blossom water, extra
Icing sugar, for dusting

Walnut filling
150g walnuts, ground to a coarse crumb
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
Combine in a bowl and set aside until ready to use

Pistachio filling
150g natural pistachios, ground to a coarse crumb
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
Combine in a bowl and set aside until ready to use

Making it
1. In a bowl, combine both semolinas, the sugar, and the mahlab. Add the butter and combine well using either your hands or a pastry cutter.
2. Dissolve the yeast in the rosewater and add to the dough, then add the 125ml of orange blossom water. Knead the dough until smooth and silky. Cover and let the dough rest overnight.
3. In the morning, add the extra orangeblossom water and knead again
4. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and line some trays with baking paper.
5. Using a tablespoon measure, measure out quantities of dough and shape into balls.
6. Take a ball, poke your finger in the centre and then rotate the ball with your thumb to form a little pocket. This is really hard to explain – the easiest thing is to watch a youtube video on making maa’mould and you’ll see what I mean! (the picture on the left shows a pocket with the pistachio filling, on the right a walnut filling pocket being pressed into the mold).

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7. Put a teaspoon of filling inside the pocket, seal it, then press it into the mold. Turn the mold over and give it a whack on the bench (very satisfying!!) and voila! Place on a baking tray.
8. Once all done place in the oven for around 20 minutes until lightly golden. Allow to cool then dust with icing sugar.

Oriental & Continental Foods, 43 Carlotta St, Artarmon Ph (02) 9906 8990

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