Celebrate Eid With Ma'amoul Med, a Cookie Bar Filled With Dates

For many who celebrate Eid, the holiday isn't complete without ma'amoul, a tender yeasted semolina cookie made with clarified butter and mahlab, a spice made of ground cherry pits. The pastries are often filled with date paste or ground nuts-usually pistachios or walnuts-and traditionally shaped with intricate molds called qalab. Throughout the Middle East, ma'amoul and its many iterations, including Egyptian kahk, Iraqi kleicha, and Iranian koloocheh, are prepared and given as gifts by both Arab Christians and Muslims.

Chef and cookbook author Reem Assil remembers making ma'amoul with her sisters in Sudbury, Massachusetts, where she grew up. She recalls pushing the dough into the qalab, stuffing the cookies, and then smashing the molds down onto the table to release the pastry. "It helps you get out a lot of aggression," she laughs. Between filling and shaping cookies, Assil would play with the oily, buttery dough. Though she enjoys making ma'amoul, Assil admits that it's a time-consuming baking project because you're not only making a yeasted cookie but also stuffing and shaping it.

Ma'amoul dough begins with semolina, all-purpose flour, mahlab, salt, sugar, and yeast, with clarified butter mixed in. The mixture rests and hardens for 30 minutes, developing a texture similar to polenta that's been sitting for a while. It is then broken up and stirred together with whole milk and fragrant orange blossom water. After another 30 minutes or so the dough is divided, stuffed with date paste (Assil adds a touch of espresso and ground cinnamon to the date mixture for depth of flavor) and ground nuts. Finally, it's shaped with the qalab molds or pinched with tweezers to form intricate, decorative patterns.

"My sisters and I would make these labor-intensive cookies with gusto," Assil writes in her new cookbook Arabiyya. "But my mother, ever efficient, often made a Fig Newton-form of cookie bar, rolling out two layers of dough to sandwich the date filling." While the dough used for both the bar and the cookie are the same, it's rolled out-instead of molded-and then portioned after it's baked. Whenever Assil's family hosted dinner parties, her mother would produce a sheet tray for guests; her recipe was easily scaled up to feed large crowds. This version of ma'amoul, called ma'amoul med, translates literally to "spread."

The first time Assil saw ma'amoul med outside of her mother's kitchen was in Lebanon, when she visited as an adult. There she saw huge trays, made with two thin layers of the semolina dough, with a layer of ashta, a clotted cream, between them. The dough was drenched in a syrup of orange blossom water, rose water, and lemon juice. It "feels more like a cake," she explains. "I thought my mom had just made it up to make it faster," she chuckles. "But they have huge sheets of it all over Lebanon!"

Though her mother didn't make ma'amoul med with ashta, Assil's ma'amoul med recipe in Arabiyya offers both a date version and an option with ashta cream filling, inspired by her Lebanon visit. With these bars, there's no special equipment needed-just a little extra care when rolling out the soft sheets of yeasted dough. "Not everyone is going to be able to find a ma'amoul mold, so to be able to do something that's equally as decorative felt important to me," says Assil. Each bite is just as sweet and celebratory as the individually shaped cookies, and perfect for breaking your fast.