Like many ethnic enclaves in America, Little Armenia is entwined with its neighbor, Hollywood’s Thai Town. Before the last Los Angeles Press Club gathering I attended at the Steve Allen Theater, I headed west on Hollywood Boulevard to check out Panos Pastry.
Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but the date- filled ma’amoul at Panos Pastry are among Lori Shahbazian’s family jewels.
After owning and operating his eponymous bakery for 14 years, Panos Zetlian, a native of Beirut, Lebanon, arrived in Los Angeles in the 1980s and in ten years, opened the shop in Hollywood and another in Glendale. Along with the requisite baklava, marzipan, and other Middle Eastern delights, the bakery features homemade chocolates by Panos’s daughter Jovina Shahbazian, and as if that weren’t enough, L.A.’s best ma’amoul.
A YouTube video of a clip from “The Secret Life of Cookies” shows the Zetlian/Shahbazian family showing host Jim O’Conner how ma’amoul are made. One bite of these treats – the date version in particular – will make you want to spin, much like merry bakers did in imitation of the formidable Hobart that mixes the dough.
“They’re full of vitamins from the fresh dates,” says Lori Shahbazian, Panos’s granddaughter, who has worked in the bakery since she was a kid. “A, B, C, the whole alphabet is in there. Dates are high in alkaline, which balances your pH levels.”
Nutritional facts aside, ma’amoul – which are also filled with pistachios or walnuts, another superfood - are just plain good, made with clarified butter and the grainy goodness of semolina that make them crumble and melt in your mouth. And they are one pastry that, like the ubiquitous black-and-white cookie, represents an idea of world peace: Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike in the Levantine nations all enjoy them during their respective holidays.
Look to the cookie... but save the date ma'amoul for me!
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