Every Muslim high holiday and especially during the month of Ramadan my friend Muzna brings Maamouls - semi-dome shaped semolina cakes stuffed with dates, with a lovely embossing. I never dared to try to prepare them myself until Muzana who is my best friend and my closest critic, convinced me to try and gave me the recipe that runs in her family from generation to generation.
Muzna gave me a special mold for making the Maamouls. Extracting the Maamouls from it has become a task in itself, and allows for releasing aggression creatively, forcing them out with a blow.
Any attempt to identify the ingredients of the special spice mixture used both in the dough and in the filling failed, I was unable to reveal it.
Just before Ramadan, I tried my luck in the perfume market in the Old City of Jerusalem, where I found the closest thing to Muzna's, but they also refused to reveal the recipe. At this point I decided to give up and respect it.
For me the Maamoul is a perfect example of decorative pastry, so I tried to perfect the preparation process, both for the wonderful semolina dough and for the date filling.
I even dared to play with the colors of the topping. This was a bit too much for Muzna who didn't like me sprinkling the Maamouls with black cocoa, beetroot powder, and wheat germ powder, instead of the traditional white sugar powder.
January 2009 - As member of the Italian Arti e Mestieri bakers club, I was asked to demonstrae a local dish at the Sigep trade show in Italy. I chose the Maamoul that was very attractive and made a lot of noise (literally, especially the blow of the mold on the stainless steel table), and that's when it got complicated...
Extracting the Maamoul
Black Okolon mold
Unorthodox colored topping
Spice shop at the "Perfume Market" in Jerusalem
Group photo of Club Arti e Mestieri at the 2009 Sigep Bread Cup Competition
(I am in front second on the left, with the red bandana)
Me in the Italian club uniform demonstrating new technique for Maamoul preparation
...I was caught by surprise when one of the senior chefs asked if he could have the mold for his collection, and without hesitation I just handed it to him. All the way home I was trying to think of a good line that will explain to Muzna why I didn't bring the mold back with me. Although Musana didn't make a big deal about it, I felt so guilty ever since, that I was searching the markets endlessly trying to find the exact same mold so I could return it to her.
I traveled with Tamar to the Amalfi coast in Italy, where we stayed at a B&B that belongs to a family of chefs I knew. I brought them a Maamoul mold along with the Muzna's recipe translated into Italian. Valerio, who is an experienced baker couldn't resist it and prepared Maamouls on our second night there. Muzna would have been very proud of him if she had seen what skill he had shown after the first attempt.
In March 2013, I attended a culinary event in Sicily. As before, the Maamoul preparation attracted a lot of attention. I brought some molds as giveaways which allowed me to swap gifts with other teams. The Moroccan team were extremely excited about it as they were familiar with the Maamouls, so for them it was a special treat.
A week later on a random trip to the Acre market I finally found Muzna's lost mold.
Yes, after 4 years of searching, I found it. In the process I also found many others, and I now own a remarkable collection of over 100 different patterns, sizes, materials and types.
Valerio Buonocore is showing skills
Once I cleared my conscious, I dared to develope my own versions of Maamouls that are very unorthodox of course. Mini chocolate Maamoul filled with halva or Nutella cream, or just an Amarena cherry, and a savory pink maamoul with green filling - by adding dried beets to the dough and filled with spinach, walnuts and feta cheese. It failed the "Muzana test", but I'm still hoping to convince her, because it really is yummy.
Mini Chocolate Maamouls filled with Halva cream, Peanut butter, and Amarena cherries
Beetroot Maamoul paste, stuffed with spinach, walnuts ans Feta Cheese