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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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!
Source: ‘Jerusalem’ – Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
- 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
- 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
Mix the fine semolina and the flour, along with the sugar, salt and mahlab in a big bowl.
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.
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.
Preheat the oven to 190C (170C fan).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
See, that wasn't that difficult right?