Short buttery pastries stuffed with two types of filling. You’ll find a spicy date filling and a walnut and honey one. Both are delicious, but you can choose just one if you prefer. Maamoul come from the Levant and they make great festive cookies.
What is Maamoul?
Maamoul, also spelt maamool or ma’amoul, are a delicious type of stuffed shortbread biscuit or cookie. They’re sort of a more refined Middle Eastern version of British fig rolls. Maamoul are not sugary sweet cookies, so are pretty healthy as far as biscuits go. They are a complete delight to eat though, with their crisp pastry and contrasting soft filling. They come in many shapes, including balls and flattened cookies such as the ones I’ve made. But they are often moulded too. Any self-respecting Levantine household is likely to have a wooden ma’amoul mould.
Although you can probably find these at any time of the year in the Middle East, they come into their own during religious festivals. Traditionally Muslims eat them during Eid, Christians at Easter and Jews at Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah.
The pastry is made with semolina, wheat flour or a combination of both. Some people use yeast and some don’t. It can be flavoured with rose or orange blossom water. It’s delicious all by itself. The filling is usually made of either dates, walnuts or pistachios. Sometimes you might get a combination. There are always spices. Cinnamon and/or cardamom are the main ones. But the key to maamoul pastry is mahlab.
What is Mahlab?
Mahlab is an aromatic Middle Eastern spice. It’s actually the ground kernels of a type of cherry tree, Prunus mahaleb. It has a lovely scent, a little like marzipan and it tastes similar to bitter almonds but with both floral and fruity notes.
It’s mostly used as a flavouring for sweet breads and pastries, including maamoul.
Do try and get some if you can. Any Middle Eastern shop should stock it or you can source it online. I bought mine online from Steenbergs.
If you can’t get hold of mahleb, ground apricot kernels are the next best thing. Alternatively use a drop of almond extract along with some ground cardamom or ground fennel.
It’s not nearly as difficult or as time consuming to make maamoul as you might think. The pastry is really quite easy. It’s also really good to eat. This is mostly because I’ve flavoured the dough with both mahleb and rose water. It also has a lovely texture, both crisp and crumbly at the same time.
I made my version with fine semolina and a little wholemeal flour. You need to rub chilled butter into the flour mix along with a little sugar and flavourings, then bring it all together with a little milk and rose water. The first time I made these, I went a little overboard with the rose water, so go easy on it. I now use only 1 tsp for this amount of dough.
As these maamoul are festive fair, I wanted to make them extra special. So I made two types of filling. One is date, cinnamon and orange blossom water, the other is a toasted walnut and honey. For the date filling I went traditional, for the walnut one not so much.
Stuffing the maamoul is a bit fiddly, but it doesn’t really take that long. I find the best way is to roll the dough into sixteen balls. Divide the date filling into sixteen and roll into little balls. Flatten each dough ball out with the palm of your hands. Place the date ball inside then gather the pastry around it and pinch to close. Roll it between your hands back into a ball, then use a cookie stamp to flatten and decorate. You could use the bottom of a glass to do this or alternatively, just leave as balls. I used a different stamp for each filling so that I knew which was which.
Repeat the process with the second lot of filling, but ensure the balls are no bigger than the date ones.
It’s then just a case of baking them in a fairly hot oven until lightly golden. You can see from the above photograph that I over baked mine by a couple of minutes. Not that it really matters as you can dust them in icing sugar once they’ve cooled down. And icing sugar covers a multitude of sins.
It’s sad but true, most people haven’t heard of medlars. They are indeed a mostly forgotten autumn fruit. This is a real shame as they can be quite delicious. They’re in the Rosaceae family so are related to both apples and roses. In French they are not so elegantly known as cul de chien. You may see why if you look at the picture below.
Normally when I come across them I make medlar jelly using the same process as my recipe for quince jelly. It has a much softer set, but a really beautiful flavour.
When we went down to Cornwall a couple of weeks ago, we picked a few medlars from a friend’s tree. When I went to make these maamoul, I noticed that a particularly large one had bletted and was ready to eat. Bletting is when the medlars are super ripe, brown and very soft. When they get to this stage they taste a bit like toffee. So for the toasted walnut filling, I added a medlar. It worked really well. However, medlars are quite hard to get hold of, so for the purposes of this recipe I’ve gone with raisins instead.
I was tempted to make the fillings in my new Froothie Evolve power blender. I’m so thrilled with this glass jugged power blender at the moment that I can’t stop using it. But I knew there was too little mixture for the blades to make an impact on. So I opted for my mini food processor instead.
If you’re interested in a power blender which is also a soup maker and has two sturdy glass jugs, I have a special reader offer for you. Just take a look at my review to find out how to get £100 off and an extra two years on the warranty.
Keep in Touch
Thanks for visiting Tin and Thyme. If you make these Middle Eastern maamoul biscuits, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. Do share photos on social media too and use the hashtag #tinandthyme, so I can spot them.
Maamoul Cookies. PIN IT.
Maamoul Pastries – The Recipe
Maamoul with Two Different Fillings
- 150 g fine semolina
- 50 g wholemeal flour
- 20 g golden caster sugar
- 1 tsp mahleb
- 100 g unsalted butter - chilled
- 1 tsp rose water
- 2-3 tbsp milk
- Icing sugar for dusting
- 6 medjool dates (about 80g) - stoned
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp orange blossom water
- 25 g walnuts - toasted
- 25 g raisin
- 2 tsp honey
- 4 cardamom pods or ⅛ tsp ready ground
- ¼ tsp mahleb
- Place the semolina, flour, sugar and mehleb into a large bowl. Dice the butter into small pieces - I do this once it's in the bowl. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until you have something resembling breadcrumbs.
- Add the rose water and 2 tbsp of the milk and mix with a knife. Gather the mixture together with your hands to form a dough. If it's too crumbly, add the extra tbsp of milk. Place in a plastic bag and leave in a cool place to rest for thirty minutes.
- Meanwhile get on with making the fillings.
- Set the oven to heat up at 190℃ (375℉, Gas 5).
- Divide the rested dough into 16 more or less equal size pieces. If you want to go for exact sizes the dough balls should weigh about 20g each.
- Flatten each piece on a work surface with the palm of your hand. Place a stuffing ball in the middle and bring the dough up around to enclose it. Roll into a smooth ball between the palms of your hands. Repeat the process.
- On a floured board, either use a cookie stamp to gently press the cookies into a flattish round or use the palms of your hands. If you have a maamoul mould, use that. You could even leave them as balls if you prefer that idea. It's a good idea to make two different shapes to reflect the different fillings inside. I used two different cookie stamps on mine.
- Place on a greased or lined baking tray and bake in the middle of the oven for fifteen minutes or until the pastry is lightly golden. Remove to a wire rack and leave to cool. Dust with icing sugar before serving if desired.
- Place all of the ingredients into a mini food processor and whizz until you get a paste. Transfer the paste onto a plate, but don't wash the processor up.
- Divide the paste into 16 and roll into little balls between the palms of your hands.
- Toast the walnuts in a hot pan for a few minutes, stirring all the time. Once you can smell them toasting, remove from the heat and allow to cool. Be careful not to let them burn.
- Remove the seeds from the cardamom pods and pound in a pestle and mortar until they're finely ground
- Place the walnuts and ground cardamom into the food processor along with the remaining ingredients. Blitz until you get a paste.
- Roll into 16 similar sized balls to the date ones.