We were so lucky to have my grandparents live close to us in Toronto. They were living in Haifa, Palestine before they were forced to flee to Lebanon in 1948, with my mother and Aunt Samia. It was difficult for them to settle in Beirut and when the Lebanese civil war started, things became ugly and they fled once again, but this time leaving the Arab world all together and joining their children in Canada.
I have great memories of my Teta Yvonne and my mother busy in the kitchen making kaak and maamoul. My grandmother’s recipe is so divine, soft and crumbly and buttery. I remember laughter and endless chit chat while they rolled and decorated them. Although it was a lot of work, they truly enjoyed it and I loved to eat them. I use to sneak into the kitchen to grab some when they were fresh out of the oven.
Kaak and maamoul is an ancient cookie that inaugurates Easter and Eid in the Middle East that is a shortbread filled with date paste or chopped walnuts and pistachios. For Christians, kaak and maamoul represents much more than just a cookie, I was told that their shape of the kaak is a representation of Jesus’ thorn crown and the maamoul his tomb stone.
This is my grandmother’s recipe.
- 2 hours + resting
- 10 – 15 minutes
- 4 – 6 pax
For the Pastry
- 850g medium semolina
- 1 cup fine semolina
- 500g butter at room temperature
- 1 tsp of instant yeast
- 3/4 cup orange blossom
- 1/4 cup rosewater
- 1 tsp crushed mahlab
For the Filling (option 1)
- 1kg date paste
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tbsp butter
For the Filling (option 2)
- 500g coarsely chopped walnuts or pistachios (or use a combination of both)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp rose water
- icing sugar for dusting
- Place Semolina fine and medium and mix with butter in a large bowl. Work with your hands until fully combined and the mixture resembles wet sand, at least 10-15 minutes.
- Cover with plastic wrap and leave over night.
- The next day, add the mahlab to the semolina and gently rub with your hands.
- Add the yeast, orange blossom and rose water slowly and mix gently to combine. Start to add water if needed, a tablespoon at a time and knead gently (don’t over mix or it will become tough).
- Mix until it is not crumbling. Cover and leave to rest for 15-30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, if using the date filling, put all the ingredients into a bowl and knead together until combined, then shape into grape-sized balls.
- If using nut filling, combine all the ingredients together and set aside.
- To make the date cookies, take a walnut size piece of dough flatten slightly, and place a date ball inside. Make sure the date is fully enclosed by the dough and Rolling into a ball. Slightly flatten with your palm and with the round tip of a wooden spoon, make a hole in the middle of the cookie. Use a metal pincher or cake mold to decorate. There is special equipment to decorate mammoul if you can find it.
- To make nut cookies, take a similar size piece of dough and use your thumb to create and indention. Fill with about 1 tbsp of the nut mixture. Close carefully, form into a dome or oblong shape, and use a cake mod or metal pincher to decorate.
- Preheat the oven to 400F/200C and line a couple of baking sheets with parchment. Place the cookie on the lined baking sheet and bake until the bottom edges are very light golden brown, 5-10 minutes.
- Remove and cool completely.
- They keep for 7-10 days at room temperature or the freezer for 3 months.
- Dust with icing sugar before serving.
Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Tanya knew that Palestine was her symbolic homeland. Always curious about her identity and connecting with her roots, she was eager to strengthen her ties to the Levant and traveled the region, desperate to learn more. It wasn’t until her first trip to Palestine that she became spiritually and emotionally connected.
She studied Political Science and Sociology at the University of Toronto. She then moved to the UAE, supporting numerous NGOs related to children’s welfare in the region. When she had her own family, she created the My Olive Roots platform in the hopes that her children and the Arabs diaspora would have a place to connect, learn and preserve their roots. Tanya enjoys discovering humanist stories and exploring the connection of food and art with culture.