13 December 2009


It is time, my friends, for that time of year. The time for cookie baking. There are currently boxes for 3 pounds of butter and 2 pounds of powdered sugar sitting in my recycling bin. The time for powdered sugar to fly and to use butter as a moisturizer, hand salve, packing material, and maybe for all those baked goods.

I've got bourbon balls and of course my mom's sugar cookies, and currently sitting on my counter are a lovely batch of ma'amoul. Ma'amoul are one of the most traditional of Middle Eastern cookies, made of a buttery semolina exterior and a date filling, they are shaped by pressing them into decorative molds. They are traditional for both Ramadan and Easter, and great for Christmas too.

The recipe comes together very quickly, with a dough with those whiffs of rose water and spices. The problem, at least in my case, was the molds. The first four or five cookies came out perfectly, and then they started to stick. I mean really stick, and fall apart, and there was a lot of damning and cursing and things that should not be said in the spirit of baking. Eventually I figured out that forming a ball of dough, filling it with the stuffing mixture, and then pressing it into the mold was the best technique. And if you don't have molds, you can always just use mini-muffin cups or simply do without.

So in addition to the family traditions, the requisite doses of chocolate and alcohol, my cookie assortment with have a little Middle Eastern flair this year.

While dates are traditional, you can experiment with different dried fruits. In this particular batch I used a mix of dates, dried figs, and hazelnuts for some added texture.

1/2 cup solid shortening (preferably a non-hydrogenated variety)
8 tablespoons or 4 ounces butter
1 cup flour, all purpose
2 cups semolina
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking power
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon rose flower water and
1 teaspoon orange flower water
7 tablespoons water

1 1/2 cups chopped dates (or other mixed dried fruit)
4 tablespoons butter

1. Prepare crust: Melt the shortening and butter in the microwave in a large bowl. Add the flour, semolina, salt baking powder and sugar and stir to combine. Add the rose and orange flower waters and gradually add the water, stirring to make a crumbly dough. Put the dough in the fridge to rest while you make the filling.
2. Place dates and butter in a saucepan and cook over low heat, mashing the dates with a fork. Cook about ten minuted, until dates are soft and mashed together. If the pan gets dry then add a splash of water.
3. Preheat oven to 325 F. Flatten a tablespoon of the semolina dough in the palm of your hand. Add a small amount of date filling. Fold up the semolina around the filling, adding a little more dough to enclose the ball. Roll into a ball and press into a mold, or simply place on a greased baking sheet and decorate the top with the tines of a fork.
4. Bake 12-15 minutes until solid but not darkened in color. Let cool, then shift powdered sugar over top.


Brittany (He Cooks She Cooks) said...

It is definitely time for baking. I made cookies from 2 until 8 p.m. today!

These sound great!

Lakshmi said...

Is shortening necessary? Can't we use additional butter? I don't have shortening at home...and want to make this ASAP... :)

Mercedes said...

Lakshmi- Sure you can definitely use all butter. I've done it before with good results. I think the reason the recipe calls for shortening is because it prevents the balls from spreading too much and imitates the traditional Arabic clarified butter. But by all means make these now!

Barbara said...

Beautiful! Dates would be perfect.

rachelino said...

To avoid using shortening (I was going to ask about that too!) but still prevent the cookies from spreading, you can just stick the cokie sheet in the freezer for 5-10 minutes (or the fridge for a bit longer). This will help them hold their shape.

Anonymous said...

I have a mold like your picture! Now I know what to use it for and have the RECIPE, I'll have to go borrow my son's oven, but I may just make these for our Christmas. Chrisq

Allie said...

Despite making ma'amoul with only samneh, mine always stick in the mold too. So now I always spray my mold with a little Pam at the beginning, and after every few cookies are molded. I find it makes the process much, much faster!

Sophicita said...

Mercedes, I just wanted to say I really enjoy your blog - my parents used to live in Rabat so I grew up with lots ok North African dishes and in particular Baklava! Rose Water, Orange Blossom Water and Cinnamon are staples in my pantry and Orange Blossom Water is certainly a key ingredient in my mum's fruit salad! Good luck with the Christmas cookie baking (I am currently doing the same!). Sophia

Anonymous said...

I LOVE the addition of hazelnuts! So smart. I have the exact same mold! Just posted my boring. basic recipe about amonth ago, but now I want to make some with hazelnuts! YUM!

Anonymous said...

You have a wonderful site. Thanks for sharing these recipes with us. My family are Jews from the Middle East, and many of these recipes make me think of my grandmother. She made the best Ma'amoul. :)

Cynthia said...

Nearly 35 years ago, as a student, I bought cookie molds like the one in your photo in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem. I was told they were cookie molds but had wondered what kinds of cookies you'd make in a deep, wooden paddle. Now I know -- and now, at last, I'll be able to use them. Thank you.

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