Be it Easter or Eid, holidays in the Levantine region of the Middle East are incomplete without a shortbread cookie called maamoul. Stuffed with date paste or chopped walnuts or pistachios, and dusted with powdered sugar, these buttery cookies are the perfect reward after a month of fasting during Ramadan or Lent.
The dough is made with wheat flour or semolina (or a combination of the two), then pressed into special molds, traditionally carved in wood. And the fillings are fragrant with rosewater or orange blossom.
In the weeks leading up to Easter, the Beirut sweet shop Helwayat Al-Salam becomes a veritable factory of maamoul. Owner Mitri Hanna Moussa dips pitted dates into rosewater, then passes them through a meat grinder to make a paste. Mitri’s mother, Samira, a small, older woman with wrinkled hands but perfectly manicured nails, sits at a makeshift table sorting pistachios. She makes sure that neither a speck of shell nor a single shriveled pistachio makes its way into their renowned cookies. Once all ingredients are ready, Mitri and his assistant pinch off balls from their mountain of semolina dough. They shape the dough balls into small cups which they stuff with either date paste, pistachios or walnuts.
Then, Samira presses each stuffed dough ball into an antique wooden mold, which she thwacks against a wooden stump to toss out a perfectly formed cookie, ready to be baked. In a matter of minutes, the three of them prepare dozens more.
1¼ cups all-purpose flour •
¼ cup sugar • ½ cup butter, at room temperature •
¼ teaspoon vanilla • 1 tablespoon dried egg whites • 2 tablespoons water • Fresh pesticide-free pansies or violas
• Preheat oven to 325° degrees. Pick flowers, rinse gently and pat dry. Place on a paper towel to finish air-drying.
• Place sugar and flour in a large bowl. Mix together. Using a pastry cutter, cut in butter and vanilla until the mixture resembles fine crumbs and starts to cling together. Gather up crumbs into a ball and kneed together until smooth.
• Roll out dough just scant of
¼” thick. Cut with cookie cutter; a fluted 2½” cookie cutter is best.
• Place cookies 2″ apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, until the bottom and sides are just beginning to slightly brown and the center of top is firm. Take out of oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet.
• Combine dried egg whites and water in a small bowl. When the cookies are cooled, brush egg white mixture on one cookie at a time and top with pansy. Use your fingers to press the pansy down in the middle and smooth out all petals so they are firmly stuck to the cookie. Brush a thin layer of egg white mixture on top of the pansy and smooth. Sprinkle lightly with sugar. Return to parchment-lined baking sheet.
• Bake at 325° for 5 minutes. Remove from oven. With your fingers, smooth out any petals that have shriveled up. Set out on a cooling rack until the top of the cookies are completely dry.
I hosted an impromptu Pride and Prejudice tea party! Kind of went on a baking craze here with what was supposed to be just a simple movie night, but I made a bunch of things I’ve never done before so it was really fun! The raspberry jam was from a jar, but other than that I made everything by hand! Super happy with how everything turned out!
What if Rukh has second thoughts about stabbing Thrawn?
Thrawn: Rukh, I painted a portrait of you… Rukh, I bought you a caf… Rukh, I used your name as my override code for my sparring bots… Rukh, I brought you an art-piece I pilfered from this planet… Rukh, push me higher on the swing… Rukh… I baked you shortbread cookies… Rukh, I’m going to exploit your Noghri species through cruel tactics but not you, my Rukh… Ruuuuuukh…
Rukh:(sniffs and polishes knife) Sorry, bro, but you gotta go. Maybe I can give you a hug when I stab you.