Date pasties with fresh fig ice-cream recipe
Ma’moul are Arabshire’s “other” sweet – well, I mean, everybody knows paklava, but these little datey, nutty pastries are not perhaps quite as familiar. In my ignorance, I used to regard ma’amoul as the ugly sister, mousy and uninteresting, something to be left on the shelf.
Well, like many of the more restrained, classier things in life, the subtle butteriness of ma’amoul is actually infinitely more appealing than the floozy-ish, syrupy sweetness of paklava. Veggiestan: A Vegetable Lover’s Tour of the Middle East
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The pastry melts in the mouth like shortbread, and the filling is oh-so-moreish. And when they are served just a tad warm with our sensuous fig ice cream, well, what can I say? It’s the sort of dessert for the love of which a girl might just skip the main course.
The basic recipe for this is from Dina, our Lebanese bakers – but I have interfered with it a bit. Fresh Iranian dates will make your life easier – they are good and soft. I should also recommend unsalted butter, but I like salted in this context.
For the pastry:
500g / 1lb 2oz / 3⅓ cups plain flour
200g / 7oz / generous 1 cup semolina
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground allspice
350g / 12oz / 3 sticks butter
3–4 tablespoons of rose water or orange blossom water
3–4 tablespoons milk or water
icing sugar, for sifting
For the filling:
500g / 1lb 2 oz / 2½ cups pitted chopped dates
200g / 7oz finely chopped your-nut-of-choice (I do walnuts)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Sift the flour into a bowl, mix in the semolina and the spices, and then chop the butter into the mix and rub it through with the tips of your fingers. Add the flower water, and then beat in enough milk to make the dough cling together in a soft, tactile ball.
Cover with a clean dish towel and leave to sit for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the filling: to be honest, I just squidge it all together with my hands. Handy hint: if you are using dried dates, you can make them more malleable by putting them in a small pan, sploshing them with 1–2 tablespoons water, and bringing them to a simmer for 10 minutes.
To form the ma’amoul: they should look rather like baby, ridged traffic cones, so break off a little piece of the dough, cup it in your hand, and then use a finger to create a well in it. Press a little of the filling into the middle of each, and then close the pastry around it, flattening it off so that you can turn it upside down and sit it on a baking tray.
To get that authentic, ridged look, run a fork gently down the sides of the cone. (If you like this recipe, it is worth investing in a ma’amoul mould – you’ll not only save yourself time, but you’ll also gain one of those kitchen thingummybobs that any avid cook likes to collect.)
Bake the ma’amoul at 160 C° / 325F / Gas mark 3 for about 20 minutes, or until they acquire just the faintest golden hue: it is important not to overcook them, as they will then be awfully hard and dry once they cool. Let them cool a little and then dredge them with icing sugar before serving with the ice cream.
For the ice cream:
1 kg / 2 lb 4 oz fresh figs (16–20)
150 ml / 5fl oz / ⅔ cup water
zest and juice of 1 (unwaxed) lemon
150 g / 5 oz / ⅔ cup sugar
250 ml / 9fl oz / 1 cup double cream
Remove the knobbly bits from the figs, and quarter them. Pop them into a saucepan with the water and the lemon zest, cover and cook gently, stirring occasionally, for 8–10 minutes, or until the figs look lovely and soft and inviting. Next add the sugar, bring the liquid up to bubbling, and cook until the mixture becomes jammy. Allow to cool, then beat together with the cream and lemon juice to taste.
Pour into a freezer-safe container and freeze for 1 hour. After this time, churn it up again, and then pop it back into the freezer. Remove it from the freezer 10 minutes before serving.
• This recipe is taken from Veggiestan: a vegetable lover’s tour of the middle east by Sally Butcher with photography by Yuki Sugiura (Pavillion, £25). Order a copy for £20 from the Guardian bookshop