Happy Easter! It’s really great to be able to share this recipe with you, and maybe from the photo above, you too will feel there are things worth coming back to this world for. This is my tray of maamoul, a traditional Lebanese sweet that is made especially for Easter. Maamoul is a semolina shortbread bound with butter, orange blossom water and rose water which on the inside holds a sweet filling. The filling is either buttery dates, or a concoction of walnuts or pistachios with sugar, more orange blossom water and rosewater. Now consider that for a minute. Imagine biting through that buttery, crumbly crust and getting the faint hint of roses and orange blossoms, followed by the chewiness of pistachios, nutty and sweet. Delicious opulence and comfortable luxury. Maamoul works on so many levels.
If you look through the photo series, you will get a basic understanding of how these Easter cakes are made. You can see the beautiful pattern that is formed when the filled dough is pressed into a traditional wooden mold. There is a shape for every flavour and that makes it easy to know which is which. According to Ludwig’s sister, who’s a real wiz with computers, there’s anecdotal evidence pointing to the tradition of making maamoul on Easter. Apparently the wooden mold symbolises Jesus’ cross, the mold’s pattern resembles the shape of the sponge with which Jesus was given vinegar to drink, the crust contains no sugar in reference to Christ’s death containing no happiness, and the inside is sweet and joyful to symbolise the resurrection. I’m not sure how steeped in tradition all this symbolism is, but at the least, it’s a nice story.
It’s been nine years since I’ve taken part in a maamoul making session, and this is actually my first attempt at it, as it was usually my mother who took care of the whole mission. Long distance phone calls with mom, mirrored by similar efforts from Ludwig resulted in the recipe we used. Just like we used to do, the dough was prepared on Good Friday and the maamoul was baked on Easter Saturday. But unlike being under the strict, observing eyes of our parents, this time we allowed ourselves to indulge in trying the maamoul as it was warm, instead of having to wait for Sunday as tradition requires. I am now convinced that eating maamoul warm is the only way to do it with the filling still gooey and slightly runny. The flavour warms my heart and the scent takes me back to my childhood, and the result is a maamoul I know even mom would be proud of!
Fillings are tricky to give amounts with, because it depends on how many types you want to make. Use these ratios as a guideline, and make less/more depending on how much you want to make
Homemade cordial calls back to my childhood, and mom made the best. Dad would come back with boxes full of oranges, which he would have picked up from the local growers, and mom, knowing that there was no way we would get through them, would start the “mooneh”. The word mooneh translates to “supplies”, but is most usually used to indicate the larder, or the winter store with pickles, jams and of course cordials. My brother Fady was a big fan of mom’s thirst quenching cordial, of which she kept several bottles in the kitchen pantry. I remember walking into the kitchen and seeing Fady pull out a bottle from the pantry, pour some in a glass, and add some water straight from the tap, and in his haste, he downed it all without stirring. Before I could say anything, Fady spat out the lot. Those of you who know Fady, know he is a bit like Emile, the gluttonous brother from Ratatouille. Fady had taken a bottle of our own cold pressed, unfiltered olive oil and downed the contents. I have not let him forget that story.
This weekend we went for an Easter visit to Lainy’s parents, who own a fantastic plot of land in Picton, NSW. I’ve tried to grow some vegetable there before, but our visits were not frequent enough, and the land itself needed some serious work, so the yield was low. There are, however, some old fruitful trees that are in desperate need of being taken care of. One of which is a loquat tree (my favourite) which self seeded in the same month I met Lainy, and we take that as a “sign”. Another one is a sorry looking orange tree, around a meter and a half tall, but with fantastic yield. My in-laws are not big fans of this tree, and I have difficulty convincing them that the oranges should be eaten, rather than let go to waste. So I picked some oranges and brought them home with me. I also picked some of the orange blossoms in order to infuse them in my cordial.
So once I got home, I cordially recruited Ludwig’s help (as he had made the last batch of lime cordial). The recipe could not be any simpler than this:
4 cups of orange juice
8 cups of boiling water
10 orange blossoms
1.5 kg of sugar (yep!)
1 tsp citric acid (from the supermarket)
The rind of 3 lemons
Dissolve the sugar in the boiling water, infuse the lemon rind and the orange blossoms for 10 minutes. Add the orange juice and citric acid and stir, making sure all the sugar has dissolved. It’s now ready to go, so add some water as desired, and plenty of ice! And it tastes so good, especially with the orange blossoms having infused in there. Very Lebanese!