Rosewater Date Semolina Squares
Makes one 8 x 8 inch pan of date-filled bars
Mamouls are buttery Middle Eastern cookies, traditionally shaped like little mounds with pretty patterns pressed on their tops and filled with intensely sweet fillings. Special molds are used to press the cookies into a variety of shapes and patterns, but for the rest of us without special mamoul presses we’ll press the pleasantly sandy semolina dough and rosewater scented date filling into a more prosaic brownie pan. The results are like an exotic take on fruit sandwich cookie squares, with a flourish of pistachios and powdered sugar on top, and they make a delectable ending to any Middle Eastern meal or a luscious tea time snack. Served warm, these are my favorite dessert in this book, period.
1 pound dates without pits, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon rose water or orange flower water
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup non-hydrogenate margarine, lightly softened (should not be melty or greasy looking)
1/4 cup non-hydrogenate shortening
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind or 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup fine semolina flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped pistachios
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1. Make the filling first: drain the dates in a mesh sieve, pressing the dates down to remove any excess water. Transfer to a food processor and pulse with the remaining filling ingredients into a thick paste; scrape down the sides of the processor often with a rubber spatula.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of an 8 inch square brownie pan with foil up to the edges of the pan, and fold about 1 inch of foil over the sides of the pan. Spray the bottom with a light coating of cooking oil spray.
3. Now make the cookie dough. Using a handheld mixer or standing mixer, in a large bowl cream together lightly softened margarine and the shortening. Scrap sides of bowl frequently and beat until mixture is thick and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the powdered sugar, then the vanilla extract and lemon rind. Add the flour, semolina flour, baking powder, and salt and use a fork or a pastry cutter to cut the dry ingredients into the margarine to form a sandy, crumbly dough.
4. Pour half of the dough into the lined pan and firmly press it into an even layer on the bottom of the pan. Drop spoonfuls of the date filling over this layer, then lightly moisten your fingers and press the filling into an even layer all the way to the edges of the pan. Crumble the remaining dough over the date filling, then firmly press this down into an even layer all the way to the edges of the pan. Sprinkle the top with the chopped pistachios, and gently press these into the dough.
5. Bake for 30 minutes or until the top is a pale, slightly golden in color and feels firm. Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes, then use the foil on the edges of the pan to lift the entire pastry out of the pan. Gently peel the foil away from the sides of the pastry and use a sharp knife to slice into 16 small squares (or smaller squares, as these are very rich). Sprinkle the top with powdered sugar. Serve warm or stored in a tightly covered container at room temperature, the squares will stay fresh for up to a week.