Today I’m happy to share one of my all time favorite Arabic treats: maamoul. Beautifully patterned, crumbly semolina cookies filled with sweet dates. They’re quite often served as part of a traditional Easter meal… so why am I including them in this month’s feature of my favorite Ramadan foods? Because maamoul are an absolutely signature dessert/teatime snack throughout the Middle East, and though we were lucky to snack on them throughout the year, they always remind me of the sweet ending to iftar with family. So… not only are they delicious, they’re equal opportunity. What’s not to love?
My cousin Mona has earned the crown of Homemade Maamoul Queen in our family. She and her husband have, in my not-so-humble opinion, perfected the recipe. But I was on a mission to make these ASAP, and since Mona is a busy lady and 14 hours behind, I did a quick search online and landed on Fouad’s recipe at The Food Blog. He’s Lebanese and based in Sydney, and has a blog full of fantastic Middle Eastern delights and photos to match.
Well, his recipe did not disappoint. It’s a labor of love (30 minutes of kneading a rough dough by hand!) but totally worth the effort. I’ve filled mine with date paste, which you can buy at most Middle Eastern stores (or, says Fouad, make at home by blitzing 2c dates with 1/2c butter in the food processor). Alternatively, maamoul are filled with ground pistachios or walnuts, always mixed with orange blossom and rose waters, cinnamon and butter. They can also be molded into a variety of shapes and sizes — the molds can be purchased at Middle Eastern stores as well, and I recommend the wooden ones over plastic, as they’re far more durable.
I encourage you to try this unique Arabic cookie. Few things come close to the nostalgia and delight that comes from eating them, crispy on the outside, melty and floral inside, just out of the oven. Look out for round 2 of these with walnuts and my dear Mona’s recipe, coming soon.
MAAMOUL: DATE AND SEMOLINA COOKIES
From Fouad’s (@thefoodblog) maamoul recipe. Originally makes 30 – I halved this recipe.
900g coarse semolina
250g fine semolina
450g good quality butter at room temperature
125ml rosewater (maward)
30ml orange blossom water (mazaher)
1/2 cup milk
Date paste (or alternative fillings listed above)
Using your hands, knead the coarse and fine semolinas together with the butter until combined. Gradually add the rosewater, then the orange blossom water, kneading until well incorporated. Knead for 30 minutes (I did this by hand, as the dough was too crumby to come together in my mixer). Wrap in plastic wrap, and rest 12 hours or overnight.
After resting, knead the dough one more time, this time wetting your fingertips with the milk and kneading through to moisten the dough until all the milk has been added. Preheat oven to 220C / 425 F.
Now, prepare a mise-en-place to assemble the cookies. Create small teaspoon-sized balls of date paste, and an equal number of balls of dough. Fold a tea towel in half, then half again (to absorb the impact of removing the cookie from the mold).
Hold the dough in your palm, and make a hole in the center, pressing the “sides” out to even thickness. Place the date paste in the center and close the dough around it. Continue until all dough is used.
Press the maamoul into the cookie mold, enough to take shape of the cutout. Invert the mold and strike the tip against the tea towel to release the maamoul. Continue until all cookies are formed, then place on a lined baking sheet, and bake 15-20 minutes until very light golden brown (too brown and they’ll dry out). Perfect served alongside a strong Arabic coffee.
Audio pairing: Nima Gorji, “Arabic Groove”