About a year ago, Maus asked me whether I wanted a tamar. I had no idea what a tamar was but, if Maus was suggesting I might want one, I sure as hell wasn’t saying “No”. She went on to explain that she had been looking at Whispers from a Lebanese Kitchen, by Nouha Taouk, and that you needed a tamar if you wanted to make Ma’mools. I was still none the wiser but my interest had been aroused.
Ma’mools (Maamouls – I am not sure of the significance in the difference in spelling) are date or walnut (or even pistachio)-filled Lebanese biscuits made especially for Easter.
The next time we were at our favourite Middle Eastern grocery shop in Morley, I asked whether they had any tamars. He didn’t but suggested, in a non-convincing manner, that I come back next week. I wasn’t convinced. I decided to try my luck in Sydney when I was there and, as luck would have it, I got the last one from a shop in Dulwich Hill.
Equipped with a tamar, I decided to check out the recipe. The next hurdle was mahlab. According to Wikapedia:
Mahlab is an aromatic spice made from the seeds of a species of cherry, Prunus mahaleb (the St Lucie cherry, aka the Mahaleb cherry). The cherry stones are cracked to extract the seed kernel, which is about 5 mm diameter, soft and chewy on extraction. The seed kernel is ground to a powder before use. Its flavour is similar to a combination of bitter almond and cherry. It is used in small quantities to sharpen sweet foods.
Off to the shop in Morley I went – no, they didn’t have it. Mmmmmm. The gorgeous Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial sensed my predicament and came to the rescue. She sent me some from Sydney. She is such a darling. (After much enquiry, we later found it (more expensive and pre-packaged) at The Lebanese Bakery in Belmont). Whilst Maus was at the The Lebanese Bakery stocking up on nougat for Christmas, she bought me a second tamar. This one was much flatter. Maus was told it was for making date ma’mools. So now I have two.
- 500g unsalted butter
- 500g coarse semolina
- 500g fine semolina
- 110g sugar
- 1 tsp mahlab
- 1 tsp ground aniseed powder (I didn’t have any aniseed powder so I put some aniseed seeds in my coffee grinder and voila! Powder.)
- ½ tsp active dry yeast
- 1 tbs (20mls) rosewater*
- 125 mls orange blossom water, plus 1½ tbs extra*
- 350g walnuts
- 110g sugar
- 700g Lebanese date purée***
*Rosewater and orange blossom water can be bought from most stores that sell more than the ‘run of the mill’ products.
**I made up the amount of filling suggested but didn’t use more than half of it, so you may want to make up half and see how you go.
*** I actually bought some date purée but if you can’t get any, in The Lebanese Kitchen, Salma Hage suggests putting 300g dates into a microwave-proof bowl with one tablespoon of water and cook on high for 2 minutes. Mash with a fork and add 1 teaspoon of apple pie mixed spice. Clearly, you will need to increase the quantities as appropriate.
- Pulse a handful of the walnuts at a time in a food processor so they are still a little chunky.
- Place in a bowl and combine with the sugar.
Depending on the shape of your tamar, either roll small chunks of the date puree into balls or flatten them to form a small disc.
- Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat or in a bowl in your microwave. Remove from the heat as soon as it has melted. Set aside to cool.
- In a large bowl, combine the coarse and fine semolina, sugar, mahlab and aniseed powder and mix thoroughly.
- Dissolve the yeast in 1 tbs of lukewarm water.
- Add the yeast to the semolina mixture.
- Add the rosewater and orange blossom water. Mix well.
- Start kneading the dough and slowly begin to pour in the melted butter. (I kneaded the dough in my electric mixer but, traditionally, it would have been done by hand.)
- Knead the dough until it is soft and smooth (you may need to add a little extra semolina). Nouha doesn’t say for how long. I figured that since we are not trying to develop the gluten, less, rather than more, was appropriate.
- Set the dough aside in a bowl, covered with a cloth, at room temperature for a minimum of 3 hours and up to 24 hours.
- After the rest, add the extra orange blossom water and knead for 5 minutes.
As it turns out, Nouha advises that her family uses 2 tamars. They use one for the date biscuits and one for the walnut biscuits. I was set.
- Line two baking trays with baking paper.
- Tear off a small chunk of dough and roll into a 4 cm diameter ball.
- Poke through one end to hollow out a pocket
- Work your finger around to create a thin wall.
- Fill the pocket with 1 tbs of either the walnut or date mixture.
- Close it up.
- Press the dough ball into the concave dome of the tamar.
- Flatten the exposed based of the dough using your hand.
- Turn the tamar over, hit the tip against a hard surface. The biscuit will fall out.
- Put biscuits on a prepared tray. Repeat.
Shaping the biscuits was much easier than I thought it would be and they did, indeed, fall out of the mould. Because the date mould was pretty flat, we took to flattening the ball of dough, positioning it in the mould and then placing a disc of date on it. We then brought the sides of the dough over.
- Preheat your oven to 150°C.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the biscuits turn a pale golden brown.