Maamoul Cookie Adventures

Mamoul cookies
2016-02-07 15.18.52
Maamoul filled with dates and walnuts

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 manyΒ 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.

2016-02-07 15.41.16
Course semolina, fine semolina, and date paste

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 inΒ  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.

2016-02-07 15.22.10
Date paste balls and the walnut filling

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.

Date paste filling for mamoul
Put the ball on the flattened dough

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.

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Seal up the dough then press into the mold

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.Β  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.

Maamoul cookies with powdered sugar
Executive decision to sugar them all

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.

2016-02-07 15.18.52
Maamoul filled with dates and also walnuts…but which is which?

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.

Maamoul
Lynn’s mamul recipe, filled with walnuts and pecans

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!!

29 thoughts on “Maamoul Cookie Adventures”

  1. Such beautiful work, Cynthia! I too found many variations of the recipe…and spelling too! I’m so pleased you’ve enjoyed your baking adventure! Next up here are raspberry and apricot fillings πŸ™‚ I’m going to add this to my blog and Facebook pages today…so lovely! Thanks so much!

  2. Perfectly gorgeous little munchies! I love Lynn and Lana – how lovely to see you take their inspiration and run with it. Great narrative to the cooking πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you, Osyth! They are delicious, both versions that I tried. I’m glad you enjoyed my post πŸ™‚ Hope you get to try these cookies next time you’re in a baking mood.

  3. This is a wonderful post Cynthia! I love your research and your story about going in to the store and the tips! As you have witnessed, there are so many ways to make one middle eastern food and the funny thing is, each person tells you that their way is the only way and that there is absolutely no other way! This is one very funny thing I found in Arab culture and very endearing! Thanks for the mention! You really took your baking seriously! Love it!

    1. Thanks, Lynn! I’m happy that you enjoyed the post. How funny that people would insist that their recipe was the only way πŸ™‚ I think that shows that they had a lot of pride in their food and recipes and as you said, that’s endearing. Did you run into people who refused to share their recipe while you lived there? That drives me nuts when people won’t tell you the recipe because it’s a big secret or something! But I guess those people are also proud of their cooking. And they don’t want anyone else to be able to do it haha. Anyway have a great day!

      1. Well what I can say is I was accused of that many times! I could not understand what the heck they were talking about! So, then I thought hmm is that being done to me? I think that yes some people might leave things out! They are very very very, cant emphasize it enough into cooking! It is your pride I guess is how I could explain it! If you do not eat enough it is literally a huge insult. I was basically not spoken to because I could not eat more! Also I went to a ladies house to show her how to make cookies, she insisted I was not telling her the right way. I went, she used an eating spoon of baking soda, no measuring cups of course! It is very interesting and of course they view us the same way so you have to love these little things or at least accept them. Everyone is different and I discovered my way was weird to them! So anyway it is a different way and life!

        1. That is so interesting. I can see that there could be problems in translating a recipe, not only from English to Arabic but also you had convert to grams, right? That sounds confusing, especially if you weren’t sure what they were saying. That sounds like a lot of pressure to eat enough that the host isn’t insulted. Sorry you got the silent treatment! Your stories of life there are so interesting!

          1. hahahaha no ok Cynthia, hmm how can I explain this one. It is so sweet I wrote a post in the first month of blogging about this! Cream cheese spread glass is the cup– small arabic tea cup as well and eating spoons! so, totally different and I have never measured before and that is a reason for my blog measure and write it down! so, it is hard for me and we retest the recipes! haha a tea cup and a glass no grams

            1. Oh, I gotcha. Well, I can see where it was difficult to explain your recipes when you never really measured. But lucky for us you are writing them and posting them on your blog!

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