With Ash Wednesday fast approaching, which also in case you didn't know also coincides with this year’s Hallmark sponsored love fest, we thought you might want to get a last treat in beforehand. Hint if you are bravely giving up chocolate or do not celebrate lent these cookies are a less than guilty pleasure that will still satisfy your sweet tooth.
Maamoul (Ma’amoul, or mamool) are small shortbread cookies traditionally filled with dates, pistachios or walnuts. They are popular in the Levantine cuisine (Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon). Traditionally they are made for Eid specifically Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim religious festival. Family and friends come together to make the cookies, socialize and spend time together. This can be compared to baking Christmas cookies, Weihnachtskekse, in Austria. They are traditionally served with Arabic coffee and chocolate when guests come over during the holiday. Extra points are given to hostesses who make their own and which hostesses makes the best ones is often subject to debate.
They are, however, not explicitly a muslim treat.
For Arab Christians it is a must for Easter. Just as maamoul is served after Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of dawn-to-sunset fasting, Christians enjoy the buttery cookies in the days before Lent, as a reward after the 40 days of fasting and on the feast of Epiphany.
Trivia: In southern Turkey maamoul goes by kombe and in Egypt as kahk.
There are several different recipes for making maamoul. The biggest debate seems to be whether or not to use flour or semolina. Semolina is the coars, purified wheat middlings of durum wheat also called pasta wheat or macaroni wheat. Semolina is known in some areas as cream of wheat and in Austria as Griß. A combination of the two seems to go against the purist opinion on the subject, but according to Sawsan, the Chef in Disguise, bit of flour when using semolina seems to insure that the cookie doesn’t crumble , at least not as much.
Our ladies seem to prefer the purist method and for our recipe we use only rough flour. Don’t be afraid to mix it up and see what taste best for you.
I hope you enjoy making and eating these little treats as much as I do. Let us know how you got on and how creative you got!
1 kg rough flour
½ kg butter (room temperature)
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon yeast
200 grams chopped dates
100 grams chopped pistachios
Preheat oven to 150 degrees
First melt sugar and yeast in water, set to the side. Blend flour and butter into a dough, adding then the water, sugar, and yeast mixture. Knead the dough until everything is evenly mixed. I have found that slowly adding the butter flour mixture to the wet mix works better for me. I can control the mixing more without over mixing/kneading the dough.
After kneading the mixture, place it in the refrigerator for 5 hours. I know 5 hours seems long… I think this is something you will have to test for yourselves. Some recipes say you can leave the dough for just an hour, while others call for it to rest overnight.
Cut the dough into small egg size pieces and press them into flat round slices
Fill each slice with nuts, pistachios or fruits (optional). Place the filling into the center of the slice and wrapped the dough around it to form a small ball. The cookies don’t need to be filled, the plain ones taste wonderful too. Remember for the filling you can get creative. I really like a mixture of nuts kardamon and a bit of cinnamon.
Use the special maamoul mold to give it an artistic shape A maamoul mold is great but if you don’t have one, no worries. You can leave the cookies as little balls, flatten them and decorate with a fork, or press them into any decorative form you have.
Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. enjoy.
Photographs by Ewa Podgórska