There are Arab biscuits that smell of rose or orange water, characterized by a very long preparation, by the presence of mastic gum and by a variable filling of dates or dried fruit
When I met Armani Nimerawi he said to me: come to my house to do the ka'k tomorrow, I already started yesterday! In fact, the preparation of these cookies lasts two days, so you have to start working at least 24 hours before. For this reason it is a dessert that is made only for important occasions, such as the arrival of a special guest. In fact, I felt particularly flattered when she proposed to do them together immediately after my arrival. But the Palestinians are like that, the welcome and hospitality are in their blood, so much so that most of these cookies are made and then given away to friends and relatives. "And then this is a dessert that all women usually prepare together, he thinks they can make up to 600 ka'k in one day!".
Traditional biscuits: ka'k and ma’amul
In Palestine there is a huge confectionery tradition, very varied, with different types of preparations. What does not change is the reason why they do it: celebrate important occasions, such as the arrival of a guest, a wedding, Easter or Eid, the Ramadan end party. In reality there is a second Eid, Eid al-Adha, which would be the Feast of the Sacrifice, about 2 months and 10 days later. It is celebrated to remember a passage present both in the Koran and in the Bible, that is when God would test Abraham asking him to sacrifice his son Ishmael as proof of faith towards him; according to the text, he was later blocked by the angel as a sign of gratitude for Abraham's obedience, accepting only that of a ram as a sacrifice. Thus, it is during this Eid (and not the first), that the known sacrifice of the animal takes place, together with the preparation of many desserts including these semolina biscuits. In fact, ka'k and ma'amul are actually widespread throughout the Arab world, not only in Palestine: we find them from Lebanon to Syria, to Jordan and Egypt (where it seems they have been present for a long time old). They differ from each other only in the filling: the ka'k are with dates, while the ma'amul with dried fruit, usually pistachios, walnuts or almonds. For the rest, they are practically identical, in particular sharing three characteristics: the semolina mixture, the scent given by the water of roses and orange blossom and the precious presence of mastic.
Mastic gum, a rare ingredient
Mastic is a vegetable resin obtained from mastic, which is grown in Greece, in particular on the island of Chios. In recent years it has become a PDO product, as well as the ability to cultivate mastic and its resin have become humanity's intangible world heritage. Like manna, which flows from the ash trees and is mainly produced in Sicily, mastic also comes out of the tree, condensing into small drops (for this reason also called Chios' tear); then it dries in contact with the air, in a resin that can be chewed directly, as it is very refreshing, bitter and refreshing. In the kitchen it can be used as a spice, to flavor liqueurs or it can be used in various pastry desserts such as these biscuits, although in reality very few people use it today in ka'k and ma'amul because it is difficult to find and certainly not economic. But in the oldest and most original recipe, like that of Armani, it is present. So, you just have to go in search of all the ingredients you need, gather a group of willing people and get to work. The result will pay for any sacrifice, also because they are exquisite biscuits with an irresistible taste, but extremely nutritious and substantial (it is difficult to eat more than three each).
The original ka'k recipe
It seems that the ma'amul derive from the ka'k, whose presence has been attested for more than 3500 years, particularly in Egypt. So we can say that this is the most original version of these biscuits, whose recipe comes directly from Armani Nimerawi, who has translated for us. To prepare them it would take a particular wooden mold that gives the characteristic shape typical of these biscuits; we didn't have it, so we did everything freehand, only with the help of tweezers! The following is the recipe divided into two days, to result in about 30 cookies, although it will depend on the size. For example, there are those who make the finest dough, those who are "coarser"; those who make taller biscuits, those who are rounder or longer or wider. In short, there are an infinite number of ways to prepare these biscuits, according to your own personal recipe. This is Armani's!
In a large bowl, add the semolina and mix. Add the mahlab, anise and orange or rose flower water.
In a mortar add the chews and sugar and mash until the mastic gum is as fine as sugar. Then add the semolina and mix.
Melt the butter and oil together and set aside to cool, then add it to the semolina and mix. Cover with plastic wrap, put it in a cool and dry place and let it rest overnight.
120 g flour
2.5 g salt
120 g sugar
250 ml milk
3 g brewer's yeast
150 g dates
1 g ground cinnamon
8 g sunflower oil
ground cloves (optional)
Add the yeast to a part of the warm milk and wait 5 minutes until bubbles form.
Take the semolina mixture out of the fridge and let it take air.
Add the flour, sugar, remaining milk and salt. Continue to work and mix the dough well. Also add the milk with the yeast and stir slowly.
Continue to mix and knead, perhaps adding more water, until a smooth and homogeneous dough is obtained, with which it will be possible to make the balls without crumbling. Cover and let stand for half an hour.
In the meantime, prepare the filling. In a food processor, add the dates previously pitted with cinnamon, clove powder and oil and blend until the puree becomes sticky. Shape small balls using a spoonful or melon baller.
Preheat the oven to 190 ° C, then take the semolina pasta and roll it into slightly larger balls than the date balls.
Flatten them and add a ball of dates to the center. Also flatten that leaving some space at the edges, then fold the edges of the dough towards the center, on the date filling. In the case of ma'amul, put walnuts and pistachios in the middle and close in the same way.
Turn and with a stick create a hole in the middle. With the decorative tongs make patterns around the edges and the top and continue until you have finished all the dough. If there is any remaining dough, you can store it in the freezer for future use.
Place the biscuits on a baking sheet with parchment paper, let them rest for another 20 minutes, then bake them until the top and bottom of the biscuits are just golden brown (the parts below will be darker than the tops). Transfer to a tray and let cool. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve with sweetened tea or coffee and mint.
In case you want to try the variant of ma'amul with dried fruit, just follow the same procedure as the ka'k, replacing the filling of dates with that of dried fruit. Pistachios, almonds or walnuts are usually used; there are those who use a mix of all three, who only two, others only one. In short, even in this case there are various ways to prepare cookies. Basically take about 150 g of pistachios, almonds or walnuts, and dissolve 50 grams of sugar in equal quantities of water, in order to obtain a sweet syrup. Once boiled, add a little lemon juice and a drop of rose water or orange blossom; then add the syrup little by little to the dough until it becomes moist and a little sticky.
We just have to wish you Ahlan wa sahlan, which in Palestinian means: "Welcome, you can enter this house as if you were a member of our family."
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