So you know how Algerians are obsessed with almonds and use them in almost all their cookies? Well, another thing that I noticed Algerians really love is semolina. They use it in their sweets, breads, pancakes and most commonly, in their country's national dish, couscous, which is literally made from ground semolina.
Since I'm in Algeria right now, I figure it's only fitting for me to share with you guys one of my favorite Algerian cookies, which as you probably already guessed, are made with semolina. These cookies go by different names depending on what region in Algeria you're from. My family personally calls them mthaqba, but others may call them bradj, or mbarja. Regardless of what they're called though, they are all the same thing-- delicious semolina cookies filled with dates.
Now there's one thing you should know about the way Algerians bake and that is, they don't use weight measurements like 1 cup, 1/3 cup, etc. They bake by measuring the volume of ingredients. So although I've translated the recipe into terms of weight, the original recipe for these cookies calls for 3 measures of semolina and 1 measure of melted butter. The quantity of the cookies you end up with depends on how big the "measure" is that you're using.
Also, although I've specified the amount of dates I used in the recipe below, it really all depends on how much you want to fill your cookies with, how thick you want the layer to be.
As with all Algerian cookies, a photo tutorial was required for this post. From the pictures above you can see that I worked with a small portion of dough and this was because I used 6 cups of semolina and it would have been way too difficult to work with it all at once. Assembly is all the same though, no matter what amount of dough you work with. Flatten dough, flatten dates, flatten dough, flatten everything, cut into desired shapes, and then bake on top of the stove in a cast iron skillet. Simple as can be.
These cookies are best enjoyed when warm, with a tall glass of milk. They're also best enjoyed the same day, which isn't an issue at all because anyone who tastes them will keep coming back for more. Why else do you think I used 6 cups of semolina for a family of four? ;)
Side note: Since I have limited internet access here in Algeria, I've asked a wonderful group of bloggers to do some guest posts for me while I'm gone. They've got some great recipes lined up for you so stay tuned!
Algerian Date Filled Semolina Cookies
Ingredients:6 cups semolina
1 tablespoon black seeds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups melted butter (you can also use oil, or half oil/half butter)
For the filling:
13 oz. pitted baking dates
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon orange blossom water
2 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
Directions:Add cinnamon, orange blossom water, and a few drops of oil to the pitted dates and knead together until you have a smooth and pliable date paste. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together semolina, black seeds, and cinnamon. Add melted butter and gently mix with your hands, raking your fingers through the grains to incorporate the butter. Rubbing the semolina between your hands as if you are warming up your hands is also a great technique to ensure the butter reaches every grain.
In a small bowl, mix together the water and salt. Working with a small portion of the semolina at a time, gradually sprinkle water and moisten the grains, tossing and squeezing them WITHOUT KNEADING until you form a soft dough.
Divide the ball of dough into two equal parts. Flatten out one part into a disc, using additional water if needed to smooth out the edges. Take some of the date paste and flatten it out over the dough. Then, flatten out the second half of the dough over the date paste, and finally, flatten out the entire three layers together.
Cut the dough into diamonds or squares, or your preferred shape. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Place the cookies on the skillet and cook on each side until golden brown.
Click here to watch a video tutorial for making these cookies.