Fatimah’s Eid Mahmoul Biscuits
One of the most highly-regarded European novels of the 20th century is Marcel Proust’s ‘A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu’. In English, it’s called ‘In Search of Lost Time’ or ‘A Remembrance of Time Past’. It’s in seven volumes and I’ve got to admit, I haven’t read it! What I do know is that the narrator recollects his memories of childhood and experiences into adulthood in late 19th and early 20th century France and reflects on loss of time and lack of meaning in the world. And I know that it’s most famous for ‘the episode of the madeleine cake’ and how the smell and the taste reawaken forgotten memories.
The narrator says “For a long time, I went to bed early” and he has a memory of being in his bedroom in the family’s country home in a place called Combray, while downstairs his parents entertain a friend called Charles Swann, an elegant man of Jewish origin with strong ties to society. He remembers missing his mother’s goodnight kiss, and that later she spends the night reading to him. It’s his only memory of Combray until years later, the taste of a madeleine cake dipped in tea stirs memories of a similar snack as a child with his invalid aunt Leonie, and leads to more memories of Combray.
I thought about this when I offered to share my childhood memories of Eid and my mum’s Mamoul semolina biscuit recipe. My biggest passions are baking and all things sweet and I know those passions came from my mum and my childhood.
Mum and dad both grew up in Tripoli on the north west coast of Lebanon. Tripoli has a lot of Syrian influence and I think it’s fair to say our sweet pastries are probably the best in the Middle East.
I sometimes joke that I grew up in the kitchen alongside my mother who didn’t so much teach me how to cook as use me for child labour! But I loved it. I was the designated cake batter bowl licker – that was my reward and probably has something to do with my love of cake-making and baking and desserts.
I didn’t understand the concept of time when I was young but I always knew Eid was around the corner the second mum laid out a blanket on the floor of the kitchen. That’s how we prepped for mamoul every year.
A semolina cookie dough filled with nuts or dates and lightly dusted with icing sugar, mamoul is traditionally eaten on Eid celebrations and just the scent of those sweet morsels brings childhood memories of Eid rushing back.
From making the dough the night before to the careful wrapping of each and every fragile piece, my mum would literally make mamoul in kilos and give it out to close family members in single individual pieces.
Every mother and grandmother proudly claims they own the ‘Best Mamoul Recipe’ but I know in my heart of hearts, my mother’s pistachio mamoul is a melt in your mouth moment which I’ll never be able to compete with – and neither can anyone else.
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In a bowl, mix the softened butter with clean hands until it’s smooth and creamy.
Slowly pour the semolina while continuously stirring until completely incorporated. And then add the sugar. Mixing well.
Combine warm milk, yeast, blossom and rose water in a cup. Mix well and slowly add to the dough while mixing. Once it’s all mixed together thoroughly, need for a few minutes then cover with plastic wrap and leave to rest overnight.
500gm freshly roasted shelled pistachio
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 tbsp rose water
1 tbsp orange blossom
In a food processor, process all the filling ingredients and leave in the fridge overnight to soak in the flavours.
Roll dough in to ball shapes and make a open hole in the centre. Fill with pistachio filling and close up again.
Using a traditional mamoul mould, place the ball on to it and press to flatten. Then flip it back on to a baking tray to form the shape of the print.
Repeat until tray is full and bake in a hot oven of 250 degrees until light golden.
Once it’s completely cold, dust with icing sugar mixture. You can store in airtight containers or wrap individually with greaseproof paper.