Maamoul mad is a crumbly semolina pastry, baked in layers with a date filling. Abu Hassan has been making it in a shady stone archway in the souks of Saida, or Sidon, for years. Every day he makes vast round trays of maamoul mad, getting the top beautifully golden and crispy without ever burning the sides. Once cooked, he cuts the vast pastry into little squares and ships them all over Lebanon. His version is the best. Sadly, despite my most charming efforts, Abu just roared with laughter every time I asked for the recipe. So this is my version, covered in runny honey and a fine rubble of nuts. And it’s just as good. Look for mahlab in a Middle Eastern store. It’s a spice made from the ground stones of a cherry, and is a traditional spice for making dessert pastry in Lebanon.
- Tip the two types of semolina into a mixing bowl and add the caster sugar, yeast and mahlab (if using). Mix well. Add 2 tablespoons of the rose water and the melted butter. Mix together and then rub the semolina between the palms of your hands to separate out the grains as much as possible. Cover and chill in the fridge for 2 hours.
- Meanwhile, put the walnuts in a food-processor and blitz until fine. Set aside 25g. Add the dates to the food-processor along with the remaining rose water and the cinnamon. Blitz together into a paste.
- Butter a 23cm round cake tin. Take the semolina out of the fridge and quickly work the mixture with your hands to separate out the grains again. Tip half into the cake tin. Spread out evenly, then press down with the palm of your hand to form a solid base.
- Next you want a layer of the date mixture. It’s easiest to do this in stages. Wet your hands to stop the dates from sticking ,then take a small piece of the date mixture and flatten it out. Put it into the tin and then continue until you have a layer covering the semolina. Wet your hands again and smooth the dates out into an even layer.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6. Top the date layer with the remaining semolina. Even out and then press down firmly to form an even layer. Run a sharp knife around the edge of the tin. Bake for 30–35 minutes until golden. Remove and leave to cool completely.
- Cover the cake tin with a large plate and carefully invert the maamoul mad to release it from the tin. Then cover it with a serving plate and flip again so that the lovely golden side is on top. Drizzle over the honey, then scatter the pistachios and remaining walnuts over the top. Cut into little squares and serve immediately.
110g fine semolina
130g caster sugar
3.5g (½ sachet) fast-action yeast
½ teaspoon mahlab (optional)
4 tablespoons rose water
170g butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
500g Medjool dates, pitted and any bits of stalk removed
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons runny honey
25g pistachio kernels, bashed into a rubble