The Baking Stress Reliever

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I used to kick-box. A lot. And I loved to brag about it.

What’d you do today? Oh, not much, just worked. And kick-boxed…

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and there was a point when all of the runs up and down Chicago’s lakeshore just didn’t cut it. Seems I had plenty of pent-up punches to get out of me, and better the open air take the hits.

Most of the time my inner kick-boxer is tame, but I know that she comes straight out of the Abood genetic cocktail. We are wired for action, and even more so for reaction. It’s a high blood pressure sort of a thing (but mine is low, at least for now; hurray for Mom’s genes), a high-intensity, stress-inclined personality that has its benefits and drawbacks. It’s an Abood hallmark (is that not true, cousins?).


Aunt Hilda, like her siblings, did not escape the tumult either. I couldn’t help thinking about that when I was making my way through her and Sitto’s ma’moul recipes recently.

Aunt Hilda always said she wasn’t a baker, yet she got after baklawa and ma’moul—beautifully molded, meltaway butter cookies stuffed with nuts or dates—like nobody’s business (not to mention her strawberry-whipped cream cake, one I’d kickbox my way to dip a fork into once again). Those aren’t exactly rookie pastries to master, and the ma’moul in particular takes some doing.

I’m surprised that the finer points of stuffing the heaven-soft ma’moul butter dough, shaping the cookies and then molding them in their special wooden forms held interest for Hilda, for not being a baker. But then perhaps the most crucial aspect of making ma’moul—releasing the cookies from the molds—was a real attraction: Dust the mold with flour, fill it with a nut-stuffed ball of dough to make the impression, then slam the mold face down against the (sturdy) table two or three times, until the cookie comes out.


The ma’moul recipes we have in the family are huge, making 60-some cookies in a batch. My sense is that Hilda didn’t mind a bit the quantity, both for the beautifully wrapped trays she used to give along with her baklawi every Christmas, and, now I know, for all of the whacking she could get out of every big batch she made. I’ve been whacking away myself, wondering why I didn’t ma’moul my troubles away long ago.

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