Thanks to a post on Lana’s blog Once Upon A Spice, I was introduced to a shortbread-style Middle Eastern cookie called maamoul. This was a guest post by Lynn at Lynz Real Cooking, whose fascinating blog provides recipes and stories of her life in the Middle East raising 9 kids. The pictures were lovely and the recipe sounded delicious. Also, I was intrigued by the idea of using a wooden mold to form the cookies (after seeing someone use a similar tool on the Great British Bake Off).
I was so curious about these cookies and did a little research. There seem to be many spellings of the cookie as well as many variations of the basic recipe. (Lynn spells her recipe “mamul,” and in general I found the most common spelling to be “maamoul,” so that’s what I went with). I was sold–this was something I had to try to make.
I found a specialty grocery store and talked to elderly gentleman behind the counter about what I was looking for. Did he have any molds, can he show me where the semolina is, oh and also the rose and orange blossom waters? See, I had found this recipe online and wanted to give it a try. He gave me half a smile and suggested that I might be interested in one of the many brands of maamoul sold in boxes, already made and imported.
“No, thanks,” I replied, and he came out from behind the counter.
He stopped in front of the semolina and asked if I wanted course or fine, holding one in each of his hands. I said I couldn’t remember and started to fumble with my phone.
“I know it’s part flour and part semolina, but I don’t know which one,” I trailed off as I looked for Lana’s post.
“No flour, you don’t use flour in maamoul,” he said, “usually, you use part course and part fine semolina.” I replied that I had remembered seeing a different recipe that called for that, so maybe I’d start with that one and then figure out the other. I took the two bags from him.
“What are you filling them with?” he asked. I said maybe some with dates and some with walnuts, recalling some of the other recipes I had researched.
“How are you going to do the dates?” he asked.
“Um, chop them up I guess?” I replied. I hadn’t thought that far ahead. I started feeling a little self conscious. “Maybe the food processor?”
“No,” he said, handing me another package, “you need this: date paste. It’s ground up dates used for baking, they are ground very fine, and this is what we use in maamoul.” I thanked him for his advice, and appreciated what felt like insider information. I also picked up some rose water and orange blossom water. Unfortunately, they did not have molds, but I could figure something else out.
We chatted some more and he said that he’s Lebanese. I realized that was why his recipe tips sounded familiar–because the recipe that had stuck out in my mind, one that I had bookmarked, was from a website called mamaslebanesekitchen.com. When I made my first version of maamoul, I used a combination of this recipe and the one in this video, posted by Laila’s kitchen.
Watching the video was a great help because I could see what the texture of the dough should look like at each stage, and it was helpful to watch the cookies being filled. I did cut the rose and orange blossom water by more than half in the dough because the flavors were quite strong, and it’s not something that we’ve had before. I replaced it with orange juice when I mixed up the walnut filling.
My family liked the walnut-filled cookies, but the dates were a hard sell. I’m pretty much the only dates fan around here, but I shared with some friends, who really enjoyed them.
Now, here’s an example of me falling into the trap of over-researching and over-thinking to the point where I start confusing myself. I had read lots of recipes, and I can’t say whether I read conflicting information on different sites, or whether I just got it confused in my own head, but I knew there was something about the shape of the cookie corresponding to the filling. As mamaslebanesekitchen explains:
Maamoul fillings can include dates, walnuts, pistachio, or a combination of both or other nuts. Traditionally, maamoul with dates (also called maamoul bi siwa) is made with a round shaped mold, and maamoul with nuts with an elongated shape mold. Only nuts-filled maamoul gets sprinkled with powdered sugar. Dates-filled maamoul is baked slightly longer to get light brown cookies, whereas nuts-filled maamoul is removed from the oven at the slightest hint of browning.
So I followed the guidelines for the shapes, using a round plastic play-doh cap as my mold, and then shaping the other filling by hand. At some point while the first batch was in the oven, I decided to skim the recipe again and realized I had gotten the fillings and shapes switched. So for the subsequent batches, I followed the shape/filling combos above. This elegant system of the cookie shape indicating the filling inside was messed up from the start, haha. It was a bit of a gamble as to what kind of cookie you were biting into (luckily I liked both). But since I had read so many different variations on the recipe, I told myself that perhaps there is no hard and fast rule about the shape/filling relationship.
I knowingly decided, however, to break the rules and sprinkle powdered sugar on all of them.
Here are the results, one more time, of the recipe adapted from mamaslebanesekitchen and Laila’s kitchen.
And back to Lana’s post of Lynn’s recipe, which started it all. I was eager to make these cookies, too. They were delicious, and went over so well with the family. I ran out of walnuts for the filling so I chopped up some pecans as well (my favorite nut, yum!). Since I had leftover of both course and fine semolina, I used the course, which adds a little bit of texture to what is similar to a shortbread-style cookie. It’s an excellent combination. I did add a tiny bit of the rose and orange blossom water, but not too much. Just enough for a little hint of the flavor.
Overall, this maamoul adventure was a lot of fun. Thank you to Lana and to Lynn for teaching me about something new! Without your posts, I would have never known of this new cookie to research and bake. And, of course, eat! I tend to bake my way through the bleak winter days, and this was a perfectly delicious distraction. So thank you again, ladies!!