Medieval Egyptian date-filled biscuit (كعك بالعجوة, ka’k bi ‘l-‘ajwa)

This recipe is a precursor of the type of biscuit that is still very popular all over the Arab world today, though its origins may in fact go as far back as ancient Egypt. The biscuits are associated with the feast celebrating the end of Ramadan, the Eid al-Fitr (عيد الفطر), and for this reason they are also known, for instance in Egypt, as ka’k al-eid (كعك العيد). Another common name for them, especially in the Levant, is ma’amoul (معمول). Instead of dates, the biscuits can be filled with other dried fruits — figs are a particular favourite — or nuts (pistachios, walnuts), and are often also dusted with sugar. Among Arab Christians, the biscuits are a staple sweet served at Easter. They are also the ancestor of the British and American fig roll.

For the medieval biscuit dough in this recipe from The Sultan’s Feast, you need flour, sesame oil, and then, of course, date paste, with some aromatics like rose water, saffron, the aṭrāf al-ṭīb spice mix, pepper and ginger being thrown in for good measure.

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