Dairy Free – Egg Free – Vegan – Freezer Friendly
RECIPE YIELD: 48 slices
These delicious and healthy anise-flavored date-filled bars were inspired by two different Lebanese sweets: anise maakaroun (which are semolina fingers traditionally deep fried then soaked in syrup) and maamoul madd (the pan-pressed version of maamoul, which are decorative, stuffed cookies traditionally made with refined flour, semolina, sugar, and butter). First adapted from an uncle’s recipe of baked anise maakaroun filled with date paste, I modified it to include only heart-healthy oils and whole ingredients (whole wheat flour and honey instead of refined flour and sugar). To add convenience to this recipe, I found myself rolling out the dough and layering the date paste to resemble maamoul madd baked in the oven.
- 4 cups whole wheat flour (520 g)
- ¼ cup anise seeds (25 g)
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 2 tsp mahlab
- 1/3 tsp salt
- ¾ cup hot water
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ cup avocado oil
- 1/3 cup honey
- 37 large soft pitted medjool dates (705 g)
- 2 tbsp orange blossom water
- For the dough, start with sorting through the anise seeds and removing any impurities. Place in a small bowl, then add the water and stir to mix. Let sit to cool.
- Measure out the flour, baking powder, mahlab, and salt into a bowl. Mix gently and set aside.
- In a separate bowl, mix the oils and honey, then pour over the dry ingredients. Add the anise seeds with the water, then mix well until a uniform dough is formed. Knead the dough for a few minutes, then cover the bowl with a plate or towel and let rest for an hour.
- For the date filling, place the dates and orange blossom water in a large food processor and blend, scraping down the sides as needed (no need to make the date paste super smooth; some small chunks of dates add a nice texture to the bars).
- Grease a large sheet pan (recommended dimensions: 30 cm x 40 cm or similar) with some olive oil, then divide the dough in half.
- Using a coarse cheese grater, grate one half of the dough onto the pan. Press down with one’s hands to flatten the surface and bind the grated dough together until the surface is even and the base of the pan is completely covered (this process takes some time and patience).
- Drop the date paste onto the dough in small batches. Using one’s hands, spread the date paste over the dough, patting down well until the whole surface is covered.
- Preheat the oven to 325 °F.
- Grate the remainder half of the dough over the date layer. Press down with one’s hands to flatten the surface and bind the grated dough together until the surface is even and the date paste is completely covered.
- Score the top layer with a sharp knife to define the 48 slices.
- Bake for 40 minutes (one can then broil the surface until light brown and crisp if desired).
- Let cool for at least an hour before slicing and serving.
- Store, covered, at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
- Since the date paste is quite sticky, it is best to dip one’s hands in water or oil to help spread the paste over the dough layer.
- If a smoother look to the baked crust is desired, one can, in steps 6 and 9, avoid using a cheese grater, and instead, flatten small patches of the dough between the hands and lay out onto the pan or over the filling. Join the patches and mold them together with one’s hands, patting down gently, until a uniform surface is formed. One can also use a small roller to smoothen out the look of the surface if desired.
NUTRITION FACTS PER SLICE:
- 131 Kcal
- 5 g Fat
- 2.4 g Protein
- 21 g Carbs
- 3 g Fiber
- 12 g Sugar
To make fig anise bars, make the following changes to the wet ingredients: substitute the dates with 850 g of fresh figs (no skin), omit the orange blossom water, and add 1 tbsp lemon juice. Mash up the figs, then cook in a saucepan, covered, on low heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Mix in an additional 2 teaspoons of anise seeds, then set aside to cool, before spreading out onto the first layer of dough. Continue with the rest of the steps just as above.
This recipe was featured in the Appetites segment on MPR News – October 20, 2021.
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