Making ma'amoul is a family and friends affair. Mothers, daughters, sisters, cousins, or friends come together and form a sort of assembly line, with some forming the date balls, others making dough balls, some filling them, some shaping them and the all-important person who stands by the oven and makes sure the ma'amoul doesn't burn! Hundreds of cookies are made and distributed to the families of everyone who helped. I love this tradition and although I don't live near many of my family members, the few who I do live by gather before Eid and carry on the tradition. However, with everyone on lockdown and some being unable to get together to make ma'amoul, this cheesecake is the perfect way to have the taste of Eid without as much work!
I actually came up with this recipe three years ago and tested it out once and was happy with the idea, but it needed some tweaking, but life got in the way and I, like many, was inspired to spend more time in the kitchen during the lockdown and got it just right. I am so excited to introduce this to the world and can't wait for people to try it!
Although it may seem labour intensive, with the three layers, it is actually quite easy. The base comes together pretty quickly, probably in as much time as it takes to crush the digestive biscuits by hand! You want to make sure that you add enough water to cook the semolina through, but not too much that the crust becomes watery and doesn't come together. You also want to make sure it is completely cool before adding the cheesecake layer.
The cheesecake layer is pretty standard, but the addition of orange blossom water and mastic gives it the pistachio ma'amoul flavour we are all familiar with. If you don't have mastic, the cheesecake is still delicious without it, so don't worry! You could add a bit more orange blossom water if you like. The key is not to overwhip the mixture once you've added the cream, otherwise it will split. If, however, you accidently overwhip it, add a bit more cream and it should come back together, but make sure to add a bit more sugar to make up for the extra cream!
The final layer is the natef layer, which is what really makes this cheesecake special and takes it to the next level. It may seem intimidating, but I promise it is much easier than you think. You want to whip the egg white really well and then add the syrup in steadily until you've put it all in. I like mine to have a strong orange blossom water flavour, so I add about 5 tablespoons, but feel free to add less if you aren't keen on the flavour, or even replace it with some rose water if you prefer.
This cheesecake is one of my favourite creations and I truly hope it becomes an Eid (or any time of the year) favourite of yours too!
75 g butter
1 cup coarse semolina
100 g pistachios, coarsely ground
5 tbsp sugar
2 cups water, or until semolina softens
400 g cream cheese
½-¾ cup icing sugar
2 tbsp orange blossom water
½ tbsp mastic ground with 1 tsp sugar
400 ml double cream
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
½ tbsp lemon juice
1 egg white
Pinch of salt
3-5 tbsp orange blossom, to taste
2 tsp vanilla essence
Pistachios to garnish
- To make the base, melt butter in a large pan and add the semolina on medium heat. Slowly toast the semolina and when it starts to become golden and aromatic, add the pistachios, then the sugar. Finally, gradually add in the water and continue to stir until the water is absorbed and the semolina becomes soft and resembles a thick paste or porridge-like consistency. It should hold its shape. Different types of semolina require different amounts of water, so add gradually and you may require a bit more water to cook the semolina through. Spread evenly in a cake tin and leave to cool at least half an hour before adding the cheesecake layer.
- For the cheesecake layer, in a stand mixer, or using a hand mixer, whisk the cream cheese until it is light and fluffy. Add the icing sugar, orange blossom water and mastic. Mix well and gradually add in the double cream. You could use more or less cream, depending on how prominent you like the cream cheese flavour to be. Taste the sugar level midway and adjust to your liking. Make sure not to overmix because the cream can separate. Spread over the base and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
- To make the natef layer, begin with making the syrup. Put the sugar and water in a small pot and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Leave to bubble on medium heat for about 10 minutes or until it reaches 120 C. If you do not have a thermometer, test if it is ready by pouring a drop into some cold water. It should come together, and you should be able to pick it up. It will be a gel consistency. Once the sugar syrup begins to boil, begin whisking your eggs in a stand mixer with a pinch of salt. Whisk until it forms stiff peaks, like a meringue. Once the sugar syrup is ready, turn the mixer on and add in the vanilla and orange blossom water, then pour the hot syrup in a stream until you've added it all. Leave to whisk until your natef cools down, about 5 minutes. You should end up with a glossy fluffy consistency, like marshmallow fluff. Cover and refrigerate.
- Once the natef is cooled completely, spread over the cheesecake layer and refrigerate for an hour.
- Garnish the cheesecake with pistachios before serving and enjoy!