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?
Sometimes I get the question if I have a good recipe for Moroccan tagine. But what do we mean by tagine, the pot or the dish? I usually use the word when I talk about the pot. Nowadays the word tagine is used for both the terracotta conical pot as well as the food that’s served in it. Historically the nomads in North Africa used the tagine pot as a “portable cooking vessel”, allowing them to prepare food on a charcoal fire while moving around.
The traditional tagine consists of two parts: a round bottom unit that is flat with low sides and a cone- or dome-shaped top that serves as a lid during cooking. The lid is designed to return all condensation to the dish. That way less liquid is needed and food cooks slowly until completely tender. Tagine is traditionally cooked over hot large bricks of charcoal. More convenient methods of cooking with a tagine nowadays are in an oven or on a gas or electric stove top. Make sure you use the lowest setting when using the stove, just enough to keep it simmering gently. Resist the urge to increase the heat or you may damage your tagine or scorch the food. I always cook my tagine on my gas stove and use a heat diffuser to evenly distribute the heat. A heat diffuser is a round utensil placed between the tagine and the flame.
Be careful as many ceramic tagines are purely meant as decorative serving dishes. You will need to make sure you can also use yours for cooking. Also, there are people who advise you to soak your it overnight before using it. The soaking is supposed to make it less susceptible to thermal shock. I never soak my tagine before using it simply because I was never taught to do so. My tagines are glazed so I think water would not penetrate the terra cotta anyway. One thing I do know is that you always hand wash your tagine and never put it in the dishwasher.
So, if I had to choose a favourite tagine recipe, it would most definitely be my mums Moroccan chicken tagine with dried prunes. Believe me………..nothing beats homecooked Berber tagine. My mum used to make us all kinds of tagine dishes (lamb, beef, kofta, vegetables), but her Moroccan chicken tagine with dried prunes was our favourite.
I remember we would gather around the dining table with my parents and my siblings with one tagine in the middle. Everyone got a piece of khobz (Moroccan bread) to eat the tagine, no cutlery needed. We used the bread for scooping out bites using just our fingers. The trick is to only use your first three fingers cupped together. Use these fingers in a scooping up motion, helping to get the food onto the bread. Then you can use your thumb for putting the food into your mouth and to avoid licking your fingers.
Licking your fingers is very impolite because everybody is eating from the same serving dish (the tagine). Another no go is to reach for a bite on the other side of the tagine, you only eat from the part closest to you (the Berber word for that part is ‘lili’). If you want the last prune and it’s not in your ‘lili’ you can always ask the ‘owner’, but you never reach for it yourself. As long as we are talking rules, don’t use your left hand when eating tagine as that is the hand you (should) use in the bathroom for wiping certain body parts.
Maybe you want to stop reading after the previous paragraph: there are many people who can’t imagine themselves eating with their hands. Don’t worry, you can always use cutlery if you are not comfortable eating with your hands. I remember people coming over to our house and my mum would just fix them a plate and give them a fork and a knife if they did not want to eat with their hands. I also remember that lots of those people eventually wanted to try to use the bread instead of the fork and knife, just because they were curious if they could manage.
I hope you enjoy it 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!
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 6 chicken thighs
- 1 large red onions, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- ½ tsp salt, or more to taste
- ½ tsp ground pepper
- 1 tsp raz-el-hanout
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 300 ml water (approximately)
- 250 gr little potatoes
- 1 small carrot, sliced in circles
- 150 gr dried prunes
- 1 red bell pepper, cut in stripes
- 1 large tomato, sliced in rings
- 1 large red onion, sliced in rings
- One hand full of peas (fresh or frozen)
- Chopped coriander for garnish
Put the tagine on the stove on medium heat. I like to use a diffuser to evenly distribute the heat over the bottom of the tagine. A diffuser is a round utensil placed between the tagine and the flame (see above). Coat the bottom of the tagine with the 2 tbsp of olive oil. Add the finely chopped onion to the tagine and fry until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Arrange the chicken in the tagine and cook it for 8 minutes turning the meat occasionally to lightly brown it.
Add the spices, salt, and tomato puree and keep turning the meat until it’s completely coated. Arrange the chicken flat on the bottom of the tagine, leaving the rim free. Add enough of the water so it doesn’t overflow and keep the rest for later. Let the water come to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with salt if necessary. If at any point throughout cooking it looks like there is not enough liquid in the saucepan, add in a few tablespoons of water.
Now you add the vegetables carefully on top of the meat, fully concealing the meat. I always use the same order. First I add the potatoes and the carrots as close to the liquid as possible. Then I put the dried prunes in between the potatoes. The stripes of bell peppers go on top of them and then you carefully add the tomato rings and onion rings. It will look like a lot of vegetables, but it will be fine. The peas go last and they go everywhere they want to go. There is no way of orchestrating them. I finish with a sprinkling of salt and pepper because the vegetables are not touching the water enough to be seasoned by it.
Cover with the tagine lid and leave the heat low. Leave to simmer gently for 2 hours. Try not to disturb the tagine other than checking the level of the liquids occasionally and adding a little water when necessary.
After 2 hours take the tagine of the heat and let it cool down for 10 minutes. When you are ready to serve, remove the lid and garnish with cilantro (or parsley if you prefer) and serve with bread.
If you don’t have a tagine you can also make this recipe in a large deep-sided pan with a lid.