Although mainstream media seldom talks about Arab Christians, there are millions of us all over the world, from Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. Easter is huge for us, and there are many traditions we participate in to prepare for this big holiday. Palm Sunday masses tend to be massive processions where everyone is holding palms, flowers, or ornately decorated candles. The mass is usually read in Latin, and everyone wears their Sunday best. There are no Easter bunny or chocolate eggs in sight, but eggs are colored with natural dyes like onion skin boiled in water (which gives the eggs an orangy color) or beet juice. Food traditions are very important too, and ma’moul cookies, or ka’ak bajwa (date cookies) are fundamental to the food preparation. Ma’moul is not the type of cookie made by one person, unless that person has a ton of time to spare. The cookie has many steps which an require assembly line. This requires the whole family to participate which is great because everyone feels like they are a part of this big holiday. Generally one person rolls the dough into balls and the date paste into cylinders, another shapes the cookie, and another decorates the cookie. And of course everyone loves to eat the cookie right out of the oven, when the dates are soft and almost chocolaty in flavor, and the buttery dough just melts in your mouth.
The cookie is actually meant to symbolize the crown of thorns worn on Jesus’s head. The reason why no sugar is added to the dough is Jesus’s death was bittersweet. The dough is sugarless, because during Lent many fast from sugar to respect the crucifixion. The sweet date interior reflects the sweetness of Jesus’s resurrection. But people of all denominations enjoy this cookie, which is also made by Muslims during their big Eid holiday. People make the cookie more festive with a dusting of powdered sugar for Easter.
These cookies can be frozen, which many like to do to enjoy the cookie all year round without having to make it again!
As a thank you to you, my subscribers, here is my latest vlog which shows you how to assemble these cookies, followed by ingredients and instructions. And for all of you that celebrate, have a very Happy Easter!
3 cups semolina flour
1 cup clarified butter (or ghee, at room temperature)
1/4 tsp mahlab or ground cherry kernel powder (optional found in Middle Eastern stores)
1 packet yeast
3/4 c warm water
1 tsp sugar
1 pound pitted mejdool dates (make sure they are really soft)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Combine the semolina flour, mahlab and clarified butter. Cover and leave overnight (don’t worry it won’t spoil as clarified butter has no cheese curds left). The next day combine the yeast with the water and sugar and stir vigorously, cover with a towel. Wait 10 minutes before adding to the semolina mixture. Add a little bit of yeast /water mixture to the semolina at a time, combining with the dough with your fingers (so wash your hands!). You want the dough to be pliable and easy to work with, and not crumbly. Depending on the type of semolina you buy, you might need all of the water or a fraction of it. For the dates, make sure they are very soft, and whirl them into a large food processor along with the nutmeg and cinnamon until it forms a paste. You can also buy ready made date paste (sold in middle eastern markets and health food stores) and combine with the spices for a shortcut. Roll the date paste into long logs about 1/4 inch thick. Now to assemble, look at the video above, which will show you step by step how to assemble. Bake on a cookie sheet for 12 minutes (or until tops are browned) at 400 degrees.