Sometimes I have the urge to root my body tableside, legs curled up not moving. Fingers forming little identical packets, moving of their own wisdom, wet with water, sticky with grain. Morsels of ripe dates and pale fine semolina, perfumed with orange flower and rose. I feel time rest and swell and move slower, and maybe it’s just because I’m used to cooking on my feet, but the act of sitting down feels defiant. Time is a tricky thing that runs out of your fingers like rice when you try to catch it, but will expand to fill every space when you decide to stop treating it like currency, to stop bargaining with it. It’s an odd fluid thing not to be coldly bartered with. It really hates that, I think.
Sometimes I try to do so many things at once I feel like a robot-woman. The classic multi-armed mother pose, making a game of firing all the synapses at once, pirouetting around the house in a bluster of mental and physical activity. And it feels good! I can’t lie. Who could hate trying to use themselves to full potential? Time swirls then, and ricochets to the beat of aspiration, fast-like and agile.
Sometimes I don’t want to do that, and would rather pretend that it were not today at all, but any other day in any other place, where it’s ok and better than ok to stake a claim on a bit of time and make something out of the ordinary. To invite time to sit and smell the rosewater. To wait patiently for tidy mandala-printed cookies to gain the merest tan, to take that first meltaway bite.
Sometimes the dance of an active mind doesn’t look like eight arms or a flurry of movement.
Sometimes it looks like patient creation, a cup of tea, and these cookies.
adapted From Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
These make an exceptionally soft and perfectly fragrant tea-time cookie. Buttery like shortbread, and with a fruity middle and just lightly sweet. Near the end of Ramadan women gather to form these together in large quantities, and there are many variants. I added more dates because I didn’t have enough walnuts for the recipe as written in the book, and they couldn’t have been more delicious.
- 2 cups plus 1 1/2 tbsp (350 grams) semolina (fine-ground cornmeal)
- 1/3 cup (40 grams) all-purpose flour
- 3 1/2 tbsp (40 grams) superfine sugar (regular sugar works fine too)
- pinch of salt
- 3/4 cup (180 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 3cm cubes
- 2 tbsp orange blossom water
- 1 tbsp rose water
- 1 1/2 tsp water
- icing sugar, to finish (optional)
Walnut & Date Filling
- 1 3/4 cups (180 grams) walnuts (toasting them is a nice optional step)
- 1 cup (150 grams) fresh soft dates, pitted
- 3 1/2 tbsp (45 grams) sugar
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 tsp rose water
- 1 tbsp orange blossom water
In a large bowl, add the semolina, flour, salt and sugar and mix well. Add the butter (at cool room temperature is perfect), and work it into the dry ingredients with your fingers until it’s fully incorporated. Add the orange blossom and rose water and regular water and mix until it forms a dough. Move the dough ball to a clean surface and knead for 4-5 minutes, then cover with a damp cloth and make the filling.
Put the dates, walnuts (if toasted, let them cool down first), cinnamon, and sugar in a food processor and grind them until the dates form a paste and the nuts are in small particles (but not fully ground up! Some texture is ideal). Add the rose and orange blossom waters and pulse twice or thrice to mix the paste. Transfer to a bowl.
To mold the cookies, make a bowl of water to keep your hands wet as you work, and weigh out 1 oz balls (28 grams) of semolina dough and roll them smooth. If you don’t have a scale, the size of a large walnut is about right. Keep them moist under a cloth as you work. Count the balls and divide the date paste to match the number.
Take a semolina ball and flatten it in your palm; I found that a triangle shape worked well for me. place a date ball in the middle and wrap it carefully with dough. Roll it again into a ball, squish it gently into a disc and press into a mold, or press decorations with a fork, and set aside.
Preheat oven to 400 F
Bake for 12 to 14 minutes. They will firm up to the touch but not take on much colour at all on the top. The bottoms with have a satisfying golden colour though. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool fully (or not) before eating. You can sprinkle icing sugar on top too, if you want.
These cookies keep well, 5 days in an airtight container. I stored unbaked cookies in the freezer to good effect.