Ma’amouls-A Cross Cultural Cookie

by Sarah on September 23, 2010

ma'amouls

Hummus is off fighting wars in the Middle East, arming itself with increasingly more ammunition and decimating the world’s supply of chickpeas. And for what? Conquering what cannot be possessed? This innocent legume is forced to play a pathetic role in the bolstering of national pride instead of humbly filling bellies. For those not following the hummus wars you can read about it here.

But Maamouls, thankfully, are different. They have integrity and honor and do not have delusional ideas of self importance. It knows how to share.

Indeed, during different seasons and celebrations this traditional Middle Eastern pastry adorns resplendent tables around the world.  Easter, Ramadan, Hannukah and Purim would be lacking without it, as religion and food have become inseparable. Yet none of them are sniggering that the others have stolen cultural treasures. At least I have not seen any world biggest ma’amoul competitions on the news.

maamouls

In many areas high quality ma’amouls can be bought at local bakeries but there is something special about making them at home. The ma’amoul mold, known as, taabeh is one of the most beautiful kitchen tools. With intricate carved designs, it is practical art and the inversion of the graceful pastry. There might be invariable number of ways to prepare ma’amouls- with rosewater, orange blossom water, freshly ground mahlab, a pinch of fenugreek, stuffed with pistachios, walnuts or dates but it is always easily identified by its festive shell.

The first time I made ma’amouls I used Claudia Roden’s recipe which called for using only white flour in the dough, a method preferred by Jews. Although they were delicious, the abundance of butter caused them to partially melt and lose shape. I added semolina to the mixture, although not as much as many traditional recipes call for. This compromise helped produce tender cookies while preserving their decorative shell. It is also faster to make since it does not require over night resting time for the dough or extensive kneading.

maamouls

Ma’amouls-Middle Eastern Filled Cookies

If using orange blossom water instead of orange essence decrease the milk to 1/4 cup and add 1/4 cup orange blossom water. Kleicha is another variety of ma’amouls made by Iraqis, whose origin is discussed by Nawal Nasrallah, expert on Middle Eastern food history.

Makes about 25 small ma’amouls

1 cup white flour

1 cup coarse semolina

100 grams butter, softened

1 teaspoon freshly ground mahlab (cherry stone of the St. Lucie Cherry)

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon orange blossom essence

1/2 cup milk

Filling

Traditionally the filling consists of dates or ground nuts, such as pistachios, almonds and walnuts. The Medjool dates I used were as soft as butter and I didn’t feel the need to add more to it. Some recipes add mahlab to the filling. I added about 2 tablespoons of sugar for every cup of nut filling. There are some dates such as Halawi which are drier than Medjools  and these should be soaked for 30 minutes in water to soften them before mashing, either in the food processor or by hand. For this recipe I used about 1 cup of mashed dates and 1 cup of ground nuts.

In a stand mixer combine the semolina, flour, mahlab, sugar and butter and mix well. Add the orange blossom essence and continue to mix slowly while adding the milk a little at a time. The mixture should come together without being sticky or crumbly.  Add more milk if necessary. Do not mix longer since this will develop the gluten and cause the dough to be tough. Let rest for about 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and return to room temperature. Take a walnut size piece of dough. Form a small cup using your thumb to make a hole and pinching the sides thin. Stuff with desired filling so it comes 3/4 of the way up and close carefully, rolling smooth. Place in an oiled mold, pressing gently so it does not open. Remove the ma’amoul from the mold by tapping the end of the mold against the edge of a table or other hard object, catching the falling cookie.

Bake at 160°C for 20-30 minutes. Make sure the cookies do not brown but remain pale. Cool completely before handling and store in an airtight container. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

maamouls

Here is a list of ma’amoul recipes worth visiting

Palestinian Easter Tradition

Traditional Lebanese Easter Cookie

Middle Eastern Cookies stuffed with Pistachios and Walnuts

Karabeej Halab for Eid El Fitr

Ma’amoul Cookies (Tony has a great tip for getting the ma’amouls out of the molds- panty hose!)

Ma’amoul, Filled Cookies from Israel

Related Posts with Thumbnails

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosa September 23, 2010 at 9:43 am

I love Ma’amouls! Yours are very pretty!

Cheers,

Rosa

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Cherine September 23, 2010 at 9:52 am

Ma’amoul, a delightful treat. Yours look absolutely delicious!
Great shots!

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Yael the Finn September 23, 2010 at 10:27 am

Nice post! I have a few maamoul moulds and when still in Finland,used to make them sometimes.But the best maamouls ever I had in Caracas,Venezuela,in a lebanese bakery.

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Miriam/The Winter Guest September 23, 2010 at 11:19 am

These look gorgeous! I wish I had the mold…

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lisaiscooking September 23, 2010 at 2:44 pm

These cookies are beauties! I love the molds for the decorative surfaces. And, the date filling sounds delicious.

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Nisrine@ Dinners & Dreams September 23, 2010 at 5:52 pm

Such beautiful maamoul cookies. I can imagine exactly how they taste and feel in the mouth even though I’ve never tried them. I wish I had one of those wooden molds.

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OysterCulture September 25, 2010 at 11:28 am

Oh wow, these look amazing. I’ve had some maamoul before but I’d love to compare the way the different cultures tweak their recipes. Thanks so much for the wonderful recipe and the background story.

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Sarah September 25, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Oysterculture, Thank you, That would be very interesting research, especially if you made and tasted all the variations, I think that would be a great project.

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Faye Levy September 25, 2010 at 3:35 pm

I love your cross-cultural approach!

A Lebanese-born woman from Jerusalem showed me what to do if you don’t have a ma’amoul mold. You can shape them the way you explained, then put them on a baking sheet and make decorate flutes with pastry pinchers or just lines with the tines of a fork. They won’t be as beautiful but you can still enjoy the wonderful flavor.

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Sarah September 25, 2010 at 9:32 pm

thank you! There are serrated ma’amoul pinchers especially for this job which I sometimes use as well. They take less space in the kitchen drawer but, as you mentioned, not as pretty.

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pamela September 25, 2010 at 9:01 pm

These are new to me – they look so delicious, I’m dying to try them out. The ground cherry stone is a new one on me – what is it’s role and can you just grind any cherry stones?

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Sarah September 25, 2010 at 9:43 pm

The mahlab imparts a lovely almond/cherry flavor but too much of it can be bitter. It needs to bought whole and ground on the spot since it loses flavor quickly. I am not sure if other varieties of cherries can be used as a spice, one thing for sure, cherry pits are poisonous in large doses.

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Amnah September 27, 2010 at 7:59 am

Now I’m even more determined to make some for the next Eid. Didn’t get around to trying them this time. It just doesn’t feel like Eid without them. Thanks for the recipe.

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Sarah September 27, 2010 at 8:08 am

Amnah, You have plenty of time to practice until the next Eid. What could happen? it can be a bit too crumbly or too sticky but that is something that is easy to fix.
Looking forward to see your Ma’amouls!

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Sheryl September 27, 2010 at 9:09 am

My my are they gorgeous or are they gorgeous! Definitely gonna be my next baking project. Problem is, they don’t stock mahlab where I come from…is there anything I can substitute it with? Or is it ok to leave it out?

Thanks a bunch for sharing this recipe! =)

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Sarah September 27, 2010 at 9:16 am

thank you Sheryl!
you can leave the mahlab out. It will still smell lovely with the orange blossom or rosewater. I have tasted ma’amouls with fenugreek but I didn’t like them as much with this strong spice.

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Nanette October 2, 2010 at 3:16 am

I really have no excuse now, do I?

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Sarah October 2, 2010 at 3:47 am

trying to make them for the first time is the hardest part, now they are one of my favorite homemade cookies

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Sophia October 11, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Wow, what delicious-looking cookies. I love sweets and these cookies look mouth-watering! I usually stick to these Brownie Cookies. They’re pretty tasty too!

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Sara November 13, 2010 at 8:38 pm

Sarah, I LOVE Mamouls! Your wonderful recipe has inspired me to make them at home! I usually request a Jordanian friend of mine to bring me a box from Amman or buy it from a local ME market.

Thank you for visiting my blog! come again! :)

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Swathi November 18, 2010 at 2:44 pm

I love maamouls, looks delicious. I will try to make at home.

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Swathi November 18, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Glad to find your blog.

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sophia December 27, 2010 at 9:52 pm

these molds are easy to find just go to any middle easter shop they are easy to find and cheap but making ma’mool is time consuming and the calorie/butter intake is immense but well worth it…BYI u cant eat it without sprinkling powdered sugar on top and i think its better eaten warm with a glass of cold milk!!! great job

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mase August 5, 2012 at 10:13 am

You forgot to mention that these cookies are most famous around the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. Thats when these are most popular and made.

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Sarah August 5, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Yes, you are right. I didn’t know this when I wrote the post.

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Ann Steer August 8, 2013 at 4:42 am

I cannot get mahlab can I used something else, such as ground almonds

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