In Morocco, Israel, and most Sephardic communities, there’s an actual holiday to celebrate the end of Passover, called Mimouna. While I am of Ashkenazi origins, I have come to appreciate Sephardic cooking.
Mimouna was originally celebrated by Moroccan Jews, and like most timeless traditions, there are many theories behind its origin. Mimouna is not only a feast, but a symbolic and spiritual event that marks the beginning of spring–a time full of hope for wealth and abundance in the coming year.
Muslims took part in the celebration too, bringing milk and honey, hametz flours and couscous to their Jewish neighbors. Entire communities would come together, wishing for mutual productivity and prosperity for the coming year. People traveled from house to house, tasting sweets and celebrating with their neighbors.
One traditional treat that is served is ma’amoul, a delicious pastry stuffed with chopped nuts or dates. The cookies are perfumed with either rose water or orange blossom water and simply melt in your mouth. There is actually a special tool to use for decorating the ma’amoul, however, since I don’t have one, I used tweezers to make the traditional pattern that helps the confectioner’s sugar to adhere to the outside of the pastry. Stored in an airtight tin, the ma’amoul will keep for a long time – well, in theory they will. I challenge your family to not gobble them all up almost as quickly as you can serve them!
These can be made vegan by simply substituting the butter for vegan buttery sticks. Since I cannot choose which filling I prefer, I simply will make both. I will also make a dozen ma’amoul stuffed with mini-chocolate chips for my godchildren. It may not be authentic, but I’m sure that they will enjoy them. Not just for after Passover!
Ma’Amoul – Moroccan Stuffed Tartlets from A Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden
Yield: About 40 ma’amoul
2.5 cups of unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 sticks (1/2 pound) of unsalted butter or vegan butter substitute at room temperature
1 Tablespoon orange blossom or rose water
3 to 4.5 Tablespoons milk or water
Date or Nut Filling
Sifted Confectioner’s Sugar
For Date Filling
1/2 pound of pitted Medjool dates (This assumes that you will make all 40 cookies with the date filling)
About 1/4 cup of water
For Nut Filling
1 cup of finely chopped walnuts, pistachios or almonds (This assumes you will make all 40 cookies with the nut filling. Either filling can be halved if you wish to make both.) Any extra filling can be used up in other cookies, pastries etc.)
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon of rose water OR ground cinnamon
- Prepare the fillings first. For the date filling, place the pitted dates in a saucepan with the water and cook over low heat, stirring until the dates have softened into a homogenous mass. If the dates don’t seem to be softening, add more water, one tablespoon at a time. You want the filling to be thick.
- For the nut filling, mix the chopped nuts with the sugar and then add the rose water if you are using pistachios or almonds and cinnamon if you are using walnuts. (I actually used orange sugared almonds from Nuts.com and so I added rose water but did not add any additional sugar to mine. I also do not like things sickeningly sweet and the ma’amoul are covered with confectioner’s sugar after all.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
- Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Using your fingers, work the butter into the flour until they are throughly combined. Add either the orange blossom water OR the rose water, followed by the milk OR water , and work the dough until it is soft and malleable and easy to shape.
- Take a walnut-sized (that means a walnut in the shell!) lump of dough and roll it into a ball. Using your thumb, hollow out the center so it looks as if you have a tiny bowl. Using your fingers, press the sides up to make a pot with firm but thin sides.
- Fill the hole with either of the fillings. Do not over-fill.You want to be able to cleanly and completely cover the filling.
- Then press and pinch the sides back over the filling making a little ball shape. Place the pastries on a baking sheet covered with either parchment or Silpat. Leave them about an inch apart as they don’t really spread during baking.
- Using a fork or tweezers, decorate the tops of the pastries, making little dents.
- Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Do not allow the pastries to brown or they will become hard and not taste right. Leave them on the pan for about 2 minutes before removing them to a cooling rack. This will allow them to harden just enough to keep their shape. When they are almost totally cool, roll them in confectioner’s sugar.