Ma’amoul cookies

Ma’amoul cookies are famous middle eastern shortbread pastries filled with dates and walnuts. You will find variations that use pistachios or almonds instead. The dates are sometimes replaced by figs or raisins, but I prefer the traditional date and walnut combination. They can be in the shape of balls, domes or flattened cookies. Traditionally ma’amoul cookies are decorated by hand with something that looks like icing crimpers or shaped in special wooden moulds.

ma'amoul cookies

I can imagine that the idea of making ma’amoul cookies can be a bit intimidating. First of all, they look very fiddly to put together. How do you put the filling in the cookies? Also, how do you decorate the cookies? You can find some impressive decorations online when searching for ma’amoul cookies.

Well, I’m here to reassure you it’s actually not that complicated. The most important thing is to get the dough to the right consistency. If you manage to do that then the rest is as simple as you want it to be. That is because you can make the decorations as complicated as you want, even not decorating is an option. Just sprinkle them with powdered sugar after baking and they will be pretty enough. What I can do is give you a recipe that will produce a perfect dough. I will even give you my secret decorating tip to make them the prettiest cookies you have ever seen with little effort. Trust me…………

Filling the ma’amoul is not that difficult either. Take a piece of dough and place it in the palm of your hand, flatten it with your thumb and place the fillings in the middle of the dough. Then you close the dough by folding the edges over the fillings and you make sure the filling is not visible after closing. After that you have a few choices:

  • You leave it in the shape of a ball or press it down with your palm or with a fork if you want a pattern; that’s the easiest choice.
  • You shape it into a cigar like I did once when I didn’t have moulds yet.

ma'amoul cookies

ma'amoul cookies

  • You use a traditional wooden mould (see below picture). Place the ball inside the wooden mould. Press it gently inside the mould and then slam it against a cutting board until the dough falls out the of the mould, nicely shaped.
  • Use pincers or icing crimpers to form patterns of your choice.
  • Use any small mould you have. I have used an ice cube holder in the past which had the shape of a flower.
  • My secret method: use a mooncake mould (see picture below) to shape the ma’amoul cookies. This is my go-to method nowadays and the one I will use in below recipe. the combination of ma’amoul and mooncakes is kind off east meets middle-east.

ma'amoul cookies

To this already delicious Ottolenghi recipe, I added ½ tsp of mahlab. Mahlab is a spice that is made of ground cherry pits. It smells like a combination of almonds and cherries, with a hint of anise. If you can’t find this spice it’s ok to omit it, because the original recipe is amazing as is. The mahlab just adds a little more oomph. I also used more dates than in the original recipe, because I like a lot of filling.

ma'amoul cookies

I hope you enjoy this ma’amoul cookie recipe as much as we did. If you try it, please let me know! Leave a comment, telling me what you think of it. You can also tag your photo on Instagram with @culyzaar or post it on my Facebook page so I can see it. I love seeing your takes on the recipes on my blog!

ma'amoul cookies

5 from 2 votes
Ma'amoul Cookies
Prep Time
45 mins
Cook Time
15 mins
Total Time
1 hr 30 mins

Source: ‘Jerusalem’ – Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Servings: 40 cookies
Semolina dough:
  • 350 g semolina (very fine)
  • 40 g plain flour
  • 40 g caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground mahlab (can be omitted)
  • pinch of salt
  • 180 g unsalted butter, cut into 1cm cubes
  • 2 tbsp orange blossom water
  • 1 tbsp rose water
Walnut filling:
  • 225 g walnuts
  • 100 g Medjool dates, roughly chopped
  • 45 g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp rose water
  • 1 tbsp orange blossom water
  1. Mix the fine semolina and the flour, along with the sugar, salt and mahlab in a big bowl.

  2. Rub the cubed butter in until completely blended. Mix the rose water and the orange blossom water into the dough. Add the ½ tbsp of water and knead the dough by hand until you can form a ball. Resist the urge to over-work the dough. Work it just enough to get it to come together (max 5 minutes). After that, you need to let it rest for 30 minutes under a damp cloth.

  3. While the dough is resting we can make the filling. In a food processor grind the walnuts until small and a bit chunky (not too fine). Ideally, they should have a texture of coarse sand, with some little bits of nut still visible. Cut the dates with a knife into small pieces and add them to the food processor. Add the sugar, cinnamon, rose water, orange blossom water and a teaspoon of regular water. Pulse a few times. If it doesn’t come together into a paste add another teaspoon of water and pulse again. It should easily come together when you squeeze it. Be careful with the amount of water you use as too much will make the filling too mushy and difficult to work with.

  4. Preheat the oven to 190C (170C fan).

  5. Now for the 'finicky' part. Pinch off 15 gr balls from the semolina dough. First time I made them I weighed every single ball, but now I just weigh one then go by the look of the first one. Then I do the same with the filling, but for the filling I use 9gr.

  6. Place one of the semolina dough balls in the palm of your hand and flatten it to a disk large enough to cover the filling. Place the fillings into its centre then close the dough over the filling making sure the seams are closed. Roll it around on your palm and set to the side. Cover them as you go, otherwise the dough will dry out. Dip your fingers into a bowl of water every once in a while to keep the dough soft. Keep going until all the cookies are filled.

  7. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set it out on the counter. Choose the pattern you want to use for your ma’amoul and add it to your mooncake mould. Put one of the filled dough balls in front of you and place the mooncake mould over it. Press the mould down ever so gently and lift your mooncake mould as you carefully let the ma’amoul cookie fall out of the mould into your palm. Place your pretty ma’amoul cookies on the baking sheet and repeat with the rest.

  8. Bake the ma'amoul cookies for 12-15 minutes and turn the tray after about 8 minutes. Do not overbake the ma’amoul, they might look pale and underbaked after 15 minutes, but that’s how they are supposed to look. Let them cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Make sure your cookies are completely cooled before storing them. If you store them before they are completely cooled, condensation will cause the cookies to become soggy.

  9. Now the ma’amoul cookies are ready to be devoured. They should be of a consistency that melts in your mouth yet holds its shape without crumbling. Serve them with a cup of mint tea and enjoy your easy made ma’amoul cookies which will look like they were made by a famous pastry chef.

  10. See, that wasn't that difficult right?

Parmesan Cookies

Who says cookies have to be sweet? I don’t have much of a sweet tooth so I prefer nibbling on a savoury snack over drinks. As I wrote in another post, I have a lot of siblings. When we were little, we had a rotation schedule for chores like doing the dishes or setting the table. Like any kid I hated doing my chores, but I knew my mum would be mad if I didn’t do them. So I thought of an inventive way to do as little chores as possible. How? When my mother gave us candy I would not eat it, but store it in a container in my closet instead. Whenever it was my turn to do a chore I would take out my container and bribe one of my sisters or brothers to do it for me in exchange for a sweet (or two). One of my sisters, let’s call her K, who had the biggest sweet tooth of all of us would always be willing to do my chore for a sweet. There was one time I managed to go all summer without doing the dishes, setting the table or doing any chore whatsoever. Am I genius or what…….?

So let’s go back to my original question…….….. Who says cookies have to be sweet? I don’t! These tender, crumbly, buttery Parmesan Cookies from Ottolenghi ‘The Cookbook’ are a delicious savoury snack. They are a twist on the traditional sweet slice-and-bake shortbread cookies. The savoury twist on this cookies is the use of lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and some spices. Because they are sliced with a knife before baking you don’t even need cookie cutter. They are great for entertaining as most the dough can be made in advance, rolled into logs and left in the freezer until needed. When frozen take the log out of the freezer a couple of hours before you want to bake them and just slice and bake when your guests arrive. They are the perfect companion to your favourite appetizer bites and a refreshing drink.

Parmesan Cookies Ottolenghi

Parmesan Cookies Ottolenghi

By the way, there is one exception to my ‘not-so-sweet-tooth’ and that is homemade cakes or pies. You can safely leave a bag of candy or chocolates in front of me and find it untouched when you come back. However, leave a deliciously smelling homemade cake or pie with me and there won’t be a crumb left when you come back. Forced to choose though I will always go for the savoury option. I once read that people who prefer savoury snacks over chocolate and other sweets are called ‘supertasters’  This means that the flavours they taste are stronger than how most people perceive them. I have no idea what the pros and cons are of being a ‘supertaster, but I just love the thought of being a super anything…… 😉

I did not try it yet, but I can image you can get creative and customize your own savoury cookies with different spices and cheeses. Maybe add a pinch of smoked paprika or some fresh chopped rosemary. How about using some spicy cheddar or aged Gouda?

The amount of Parmesan in the recipe is perfect. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you’re putting too much Parmesan in your cookies. If that ever happens: stop talking to them. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life. I don’t always make jokes, but when I do they are pretty cheesy.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. If you try it, please let me know! Leave a comment, telling me if you liked it. You can also tag your photo on Instagram with @culyzaar or post it on my Facebook page so I can see it. I love seeing your takes on the recipes on my blog!

Parmesan Cookies Ottolenghi

Parmesan Cookies Ottolenghi

Parmesan Cookies

Source: “The Cookbook” – Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Servings: 35 cookies
  • 210 gr plain flour plus plenty extra for dusting
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • a pinch of salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 165 g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 165 g Parmesan cheese freshly grated
  • 80 g poppy seeds
  • 1 free-range egg beaten
  1. Sift the flour, baking powder, paprika and cayenne into a bowl and add the salt and pepper.

  2. Mix the softened butter with the freshly grated Parmesan until they are well combined (by the way, don’t even consider using the so-called Parmesan cheese you find in the pasta aisle of your supermarket) . You can do this either by hand, using a spatula, or in a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the dry ingredients and continue mixing until a soft dough is formed.

  3. Put the dough on a well-floured work surface and divide it in two equal parts.

  4. Use plenty of flour, both on your hands and on the work surface, to roll each piece into a long log, 3–4cm in diameter. Wrap each log in cling film and place in the fridge for about 1 hour to firm up.

  5. Scatter the poppy seeds over a flat plate or tray. Brush the logs with the beaten egg and then roll them in the poppy seeds until covered.

  6. Refrigerate again for 1 hour (at this stage you can also wrap the logs and freeze them).

  7. Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Cut the logs into slices 5–8mm thick and arrange them on the tray, spaced 3cm apart. Bake for 12 minutes. The biscuits should be dark golden and smell amazing!

  8. To ensure their crunchiness, leave to cool completely before serving, or store in a tightly sealed container.