Well I have–too much actually. About once a year I get to indulge in Middle Eastern buttery cookies that are so time consuming to make, that my family has to form an assembly line to work on them for about 4 hours. The cookie is called Ma’amoul, a semolina shortbread pastry filled with either dates or walnuts.
Arab Christians eat them during Easter and Epiphany, and Muslims eat them at night during Ramadan and on the Eid al-Fitr holidays. These cookies are hugely popular in Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and the Gulf States, and are shaped like domes or doughnuts. They can be decorated by hand or formed into patterned wooden molds. Some say the wooden molds symbolize Jesus’s cross, the sugarless crust refers to the sadness of Christ’s death, and the filling is sweet to symbolise the resurrection.
One day I thought, why not take the flavors of this annual labor intensive cookie and put them into an easy to make cake that I can enjoy any time of the year? Hence my Ma’moul cake was born.
To mimic the flavors of the cookie, I created a cake that is not too sweet, so it’s ideal for breakfast and tea parties as well as dessert. Most traditional cake recipes add 2 cups of sugar for the batter, and 2 cups of sugar for the frosting, and I halved both without sacrificing flavor. The filling, which is usually the most decadent part of any cake, is actually the healthiest part! A blend of fiber filled dates and anti-oxidant rich almond butter with a touch of maple syrup create a sweet and creamy caramel flavor without refined sugar. The added cinnamon and nutmeg are the same flavors you would find in any ma’amoul cookie. To add another authentic touch, I added cherry kernel powder called mahlab to the batter. Mahlab is an aromatic spice from the seeds of the St Lucie cherry, which grows robustly in the Mediterranean and has been used in Middle Eastern baking for centuries. The cherry stones are cracked to extract the soft and chewy seed kernels, which are ground into a powder. The flavor is a combination of bitter almond and cherry, and can sharpen any sweet baked goods that you make this holiday season. You can find Mahlab powder in most Middle Eastern markets, but it is entirely optional for this cake.
To mimic the look of the donut shaped date ma’maoul, I baked the cake in a bundt pan, then cut the cake in half horizontally and spread with the date filling. You can also double the entire recipe to make a large 2 layer cake. Here is my video tutorial of how to put this cake together!