World of Mouth: A homemade Purim treat

The column that brings you food festivals from around the world; Purim is more than just Hamentaschen, learn to bake other goodies to celebrate this festive holiday.

Mamoul Date Cookies (photo credit: Chanita Harel)
Mamoul Date Cookies
(photo credit: Chanita Harel)
Johanna Bailey is a blogger, freelance writer and student at the Hofmann Culinary School in Barcelona, Spain.
Everyone knows that food plays an integral role in the Purim celebrations. Although there are certain dishes that are eaten by many Jews around the world, other popular Purim foods can vary widely based on the cultural background of the celebrants. Nevertheless, despite the differences, the underlying symbolism of many of these dishes remains the same.
Probably the most well-known food associated with Purim are Hamentaschen, Haman’s pocket/ear/hat shaped cookies that are often filled with poppy seeds, nuts, fruits or chocolate. Amongst Sephardic Jews, however, deep-fried strips of dough called “Orejas de Haman” (Haman’s ears) are often the primary Purim treats, while with some Western European and Scandinavian Jews, it is traditional to bake and eat gingerbread men in the shape of Haman. As we can see, despite the differences in the anatomical details, there is definitely a pattern of “eat and erase the villain” behavior in Purim foods around the world!
Another typical feature of Purim foods is the idea of having a hidden filling, a reference to the notion that there are many secrets and surprises in the story of Purim. In Ashkenazie culinary tradition, it is customary to eat Kreplach (a meat or potato filled dumpling), pirogen, stuffed cabbage, or knishes. Italian Jews often celebrate Purim with spinach-filled pasta and “buricche,” puff pastry turnovers filled with vegetables or meat; while Persian and Iraqi Jews eat “sambusak,” turnovers filled with savory ingredients such as ground lamb, cheese, chickpeas, chicken or spinach.
Because Esther supposedly kept to a strict vegetarian diet while in Haman’s palace, Jewish communities around the world eat foods containing nuts and seeds at Purim. Many Iraqi Jews eat “Hadgi Badah,” sugar cookies with cardamom and almonds. Another Middle Eastern Purim favorite, especially in Lebanon and Syria, are mamoul, semolina cookies filled with nuts or dates.
Traditionally mamoul cookies are made using decorative wooden molds, but they are easy to shape by hand as well. Israeli food blogger Chanita Harel decided to try her hand at mamoul cookies and was thrilled with the results, saying that they were “not too sweet and very easy to make.” Here is the recipe she used:
Mamoul Date Cookies
For the cookies-1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast-1/4 cup lukewarm water-1 tablespoon orange flower water-1 large egg-1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm-1 1/2 cups coarse semolina (a coarse grind, like polenta, not fine semolina flour)-2 tablespoons sugar-1/4 teaspoon salt-1 cup all-purpose flour-Milk for brushing
For the filling-3/4 cup honey dates-3 tablespoons sugar-1 1/2 teaspoons orange flower water-1 1/2 teaspoons rose water
Directions1. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water. Add the orange flower water, egg, and melted butter. Stir.
2. Stir in the semolina and then sprinkle on the sugar and salt and stir.
3. Add the flour and stir to combine. The mixture should be crumbly but hold together when squeezed. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 1 hour.
4. Place all the ingredients in a food processor and process to a paste. Transfer to a bowl and set aside, covered.
5. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Set out an 18-by-12-inch baking sheet near your work surface.
6. To shape the mamoul without a mold,, use a tablespoon to scoop up a full level tablespoon of dough and then use your hands to flatten it into a nearly 3-inch-diameter round. Scoop up 1 1/2 teaspoons of the filling and place it on the center of the round. Pull the edges up to cover the filling, then roll the cookie lightly between your palms to make a ball. Place seam side down on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling, placing the cookies about 1/2-inch apart. Prick each cookie decoratively with a fork. Brush the tops with a little milk.
7. If you are using a carved mold to shape the cookies, oil the inside of the mold with a bit of olive oil and then fill it so it is almost full of dough, using your fingers to press the dough into the mold to make a hollow. Then place the filling in the hollow and wrap the dough around the filling before removing from the mold. Remember to re-oil the molds every 3 or 4 cookies.
8. Bake cookies until they are golden brown at the edges, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer immediately to a wire rack to cool.
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