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Receipts from the Kitchen Witch

Ma’amoul (Date Cakes)


I nipped into town the other week to pick up a, well let’s just call it a personal item, for Johnny (he’s not allowed into that shop anymore after last year’s incident) and on the way back I passed the museum. There were a dozen or so bearded men outside waving placards. We do not often get protests in town (and when we do it’s usually about parking charges going up) so I paused a while to read the banners. It seemed that the men were from the local mosque and had been deeply offended by some exhibition inside the museum. I will admit to a somewhat perverse instinct which leads me to want to know about things that others tell me I should not – so I wandered inside to see what all the fuss was about.


The beleaguered museum attendant explained that the museum was playing host to a travelling exhibit of Middle Eastern statues and other artefacts. None of them had expected to get the kind of reaction taking place on the steps outside. It had already progressed beyond placard-waving and petitions, with one young man having tried to lob a tin of paint over a statue (he missed and splattered some old dear’s rain mac instead). The attendant had to check through my shopping bag for offensive weapons before allowing me to go on through to the exhibit – telling me to make the most of it before the management buckled to pressure and closed it down.


The rather elegant curator looked relieved to see a visitor who was merely curious rather than militant. Professor Aaliyah Khalimar explained that the various statues and exhibits were all of pre-Islamic deities from Saudi Arabia. They had been unearthed by some eccentric Victorian aristocrat who had shipped them out of Saudi in the days when foreign money spoke louder than religious fundamentalism. She told me that, had they been dug up today, then they would undoubtedly been blown to smithereens. The protestors outside regarded these stone carvings as blasphemous in the extreme and worthy only of destruction. Apparently some protestors had declared that simply having the things in town would bring down the wrath of God on their heads. Aaliyah had received death threats, but she shrugged this off and (seeing my own pagan jewellery) confided that those threats would probably have been carried out if any of the letter writers knew that she actually worshipped the deities whose statues we stood amongst.


Her favourite was Zat-Badar, goddess of the oasis. A stone goat knelt beside the statue and Aaliyah laid a small cake before it as we spoke, I asked, and she said it was an offering of a date cake – this being one of Her sacred fruits. Conversation naturally led to the sharing of the receipt for the tasty morsel. I baked some on arriving home and asked her to protect the professor from the extremists.



100g butter 

350g fine semolina

100g plain flour

½ tsp fast action dried yeast

2tbsp caster sugar

a pinch salt

2 tbsp orange blossom water

130ml milk

200g dates, roughly chopped

25g butter

Pinch of ground cinnamon

Pinch of ground cardamom




Melt the butter and combine with the semolina, flour, yeast, sugar, and salt. Beat vigorously and add the orange blossom water and milk. This should soon form a stiff dough. Set aside and cover with a clean tea towel, leaving to rise at rest at room temperature for one hour. During this time, place the dates, butter and spices in a saucepan with 50ml of water, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and stir for 4–5 minutes until a thick paste has formed. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool whilst you neck a strong coffee. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4 and line a baking tray with baking paper. 

Break off walnut-sized balls of dough and flatten against a clean surface. Cup the flattened dough in your hand and stuff with a teaspoon of the date mixture. Fold the dough around the filling and seal. The professor had traditional wooden ma’amoul moulds to press the dough into ornate shapes, but I couldn’t find such things in any of the shops here and just put them in a madeleine tray. Apparently Zat-Badar likes aesthetically pleasing offerings. Use up all of the dough and date mixture (waste not want not). Place onto the tray and bake for 15 minutes until lightly golden. They will harden as they cool. Dust with a little icing sugar before serving.


Place a couple out by a water source (not many oases in Suffolk) and call out, “Zat-Badar, goat-horned goddess, take my offering and refresh my life!