Biscuits arabesques

“arabesque”: decorative style, of Arabic or middle eastern inspiration

The “look” of these cookies was not exactly what I was going for. But the flavor…… I need to give these to friends asap or I’ll eat them all by this evening. These cookies are delicious.

WARNING: Despite my motivation for baking these, they are NOT “ma’moul”. They are a blend of Greek and Lebanese influences.

What about that “look”? I had been wanting to make a Lebanese cookie called “maamoul” for quite some time. You can shape them in the palm of your hand and then use a fork to create decorative patterns on the surface, or you can use small wooden molds (see below) for a more spectacular look.

I searched for months to find mamoul molds like those pictured above and found them in a shisha shop (of all places), but, alas, my molds are now in France and I am not. So… so…. what to do? I wanted to make these cookies and I was not confident that I could make them in my hand. “Aha!”, I thought. I’ve got some interesting molds that I could use to make a filled cookie.

As you can see in the photo above, I ended up using a mold AND making a few by hand. In the end, I learned that making them by hand was not as difficult as I had thought. Still, when I get back to France, I want to put those wooden molds to use.

What about that flavor? You’ll see and read the details below, but, just to say, clove, cinnamon and orange blossom water will put you in a dream state – and the only risk is caloric.

THE PROCESS IN A NUTSHEELL

  • Make cookie dough (reserve in fridge)
  • Make date filling
  • Make walnut filling
  • Make date filling balls rolled in pistachio powder
  • Make cookie dough balls
  • Assemble
  • Bake at 350 F / 190 C for 12 minutes and begin checking for light golden doneness.

COOKIE DOUGH

The recipe for the cookie dough in this blog comes from Dimitra’s Dishes. This Greek dough is lighter and more fragile than other doughs in this middle eastern cookie tradition. (US measurements from Dimitra. I did the metric conversions.)

  • ½ pound (227 gm) unsalted butter softened
  • 1 tablespoon (12 gm) granulated sugar
  • ½ cup confectioner’s sugar (110 gm) (NOTE: I believe that the super light texture of this dough comes from this ingredient).
  • 2 egg yolks (100 gm)
  • 2 teaspoons (10 gm) pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (250 gm) all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt (<2gm)
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder (2 gm)
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest (NOTE: I didn’t have any oranges in the house. I added 1 tablespoon of orange blossom water……… an addition that fills your senses every time you start to take a bite. Use this ingredient if you can.)
Mise en place
Be careful when using a hand mixer. It is more difficult to control the speed than with a stand mixer. Too fast can produce a tougher dough. I thought of working in the dough with a spatula but didn’t want to push the air out of the mixture.

CREAMY DATE FILLING (The following recipe makes enough filling for several batches of cookies or other deserts; keeps very well in the fridge.)

  • 1 kg dates (pitted`)
  • 200 gm cream cheese (not a traditional ingredient)
  • 50 gm powdered sugar
  • 9 gm ground nutmeg

I had a block of dates that I had to pit and then place in a food processor to create the paste. TIP: Lightly oil the blade and bowl of the processor before beginning. The dates are a bit tough and sticky. Then 1) process the dates into a sticky mass, 2) add the other ingredients and process until well combined and smooth. You may need to pulse, scrape the sides and pulse until you are satisfied with the texture. NOTE: The cream cheese is not a traditional ingredient in these cookies. I added it because I wanted a filling that I could pipe into other deserts as well. To counter act the tanginess of the cheese, I also added the powdered sugar to keep the sweet kick kicking. It worked well and tastes wonderful.

SPICY WALNUT FILLING (from Dimitra’s Dishes with a couple modifications)

  • 125 grams ground walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon ( 3 gm) ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon (about 1 gm) ground cloves
  • 2-3 tablespoons (app 7 gm) powdered sugar (Dimitra uses granulated sugar)
  • 2 tablespoons orange blossom water (Dimitra suggests water or rose water)
  • SPOILER: I also added a slurpy tablespoon full of some leftover sweet elixir from some orange confit that was in the fridge. It seemed like a good thing to do. It had a little butter in it too. I think some crêpes suzettes was in its history.

ASSEMBLY REQUIRED

AFTER OVEN

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