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This pastry is so traditional for Easter that billboards all over the city had a picture of ma’amoul with the caption ” Only ma’amoul made by hand is good: use REAL butter” (ad for Danish butter).
Pick a good melting cheese. The key is to desalt the cheese thoroughly. Middle-Eastern stores in the US sell a type of white cheese called sweet cheese that does not contain any salt and is specifically made for these types of pastries. Otherwise, you can use a mozzarella that has been soaked in water and desalted.
INGREDIENTS: makes about 30 ma’amoul
- 1 1/2 cups of fine semolina flour
- 1 1/2 cups of coarse semolina flour or cream of wheat
- 1/2 tsp of dry instant yeast (optional)
- 2 sticks of unsalted butter + 1 tbsp of shortening or oil
- 1/2 tsp of mahlab (optional)
- 1/4 cup of rose and orange blossom water
- 1/4 cup of water (+more as needed)
- 8 ounces of cheese, like a sweet cheese or mozzarella
- 3 tbsp of flour or cornstarch
- 1 1/2 cups of sugar
- 3/4 cup of water
- 1 tsp of lemon juice
- 1 tsp of rose and orange blossom water
- Prepare the syrup: place the sugar, water in a saucepan and bring to a boil; add the lemon juice and boil for 10 minutes or until a drop of syrup on a countertop will feel sticky and somewhat firm. Add the flavoring at the end (rose and orange blossom or one or the other). Keep the syrup in a jar, in the fridge till needed.
- Make the dough: Place the semolina flour and cream of wheat in the bowl of a mixer or food processor. Add the dry instant yeast and mahlab if using. Combine for a few seconds. Melt the butter, skimming the froth if possible, and add the melted butter and shortening or oil to the bowl, mixing until the dough looks sandy. Add the orange blossom and rose water and the extra water and process till the dough leaves the sides of the bowl.
- Gather the dough, transfer into a bowl, cover and leave in the fridge overnight.
- Place the cheese in a bowl filled with water and change the water every 30 minutes or so until the cheese has lost all of its salt (this should take a couple of hours). Pat the cheese dry and shred in a food processor. Add the flour or cornstarch and mix to combine. Place in a bowl, cover and set aside.
- Remove the ma’amoul dough from the fridge and let it come to room temperature; make sure it is malleable; if it is too stiff, add a bit of rose water and knead it to get it softer. Break pieces of dough the size of large walnuts and set aside. Form a hole in the ball and fill with one tablespoon of cheese. Pinch the ball shut and crimp it with the special tweezers called malkat or a fork. Set the ma’amoul on a tray covered with baking paper and bake in a preheated 350F oven for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the pastries are light golden. Cool a bit and serve them with syrup.