It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. My grandfather passed away last month and that took a lot of my blogging energy away from me. I knew I wanted to dedicate a post to him as he was as much a foodie as I am, but my words escaped me. In my failed attempts to write, I would stare blankly at my computer screen as memories of him streamed through my thoughts.
When I slept over my grandparent’s house as a kid, I would often hear my grandfather poke around in the kitchen, usually around dawn, well aware that my grandmother could sleep through anything. I, of course, would get up from bed to find him alone in the kitchen, happily stirring a hefty pot of homemade jam (his specialty) or preparing some sort of sweet treat without my grandmother there to convince him against it. When he noticed me watching he would let out big a smile, and allow me to stay and help so long as I didn’t wake up anyone else.
Since I haven’t yet perfected my grandfather’s rose petal jam (مربة الورد), his claim to fame, I decided to make one of my favorite cookies I grew up eating called ma’moul (معمول). If you’re Arabic, these cookies need no introduction as they’re popular all around the Middle East, where they’re stuffed with either walnuts, pistachios, or pureed dates.
The cookie itself tastes a lot like butter cookies, but these also have more of a crumbly, shortbread texture because of their semolina base.
The secret ingredient that makes these cookies so special is called mahlab, which is an aromatic spice obtained by extracting the seed kernels from inside the cherry stone of the St. Lucie Cherry. It’s very popular in countries like Greece, Turkey and all around the Middle East.
note: Since I won’t be able to host this month’s A Taste of the Mediterranean, I want to give away some mahlab to three randomly chosen commenters on this post (by May 1st). If you’d like to share, I’d love to know how family plays a roll in your cooking since it is something I have given a lot of thought to this month. Thank you for your support and understanding.
The mahlab gives these cookies a subtle nutty flavor that you won’t pick up on immediately, but you’ll certainly notice if it’s missing. Mahlab is also very popular in Turkey and Greece for flavoring egg-rich breads similar to challah in Jewish cuisine.
As with most Middle Eastern dishes, these cookies take some patience. If you don’t have Middle Eastern cookie molds laying around, you could use any circular molds, or you could even free-hand them like Kate from Aaplemint did. Anyway you form them, they’ll look beautiful and taste amazing.
Funnily enough, I wish I had a pair of pantyhose when I ventured to make these cookies. While visiting the Middle East last winter I learned that some women have a pair of clean pantyhose set aside that they use especially for removing these cookies from their mold. That way you don’t spray the mold with anti-stick spray or bruise your hand in the process, like I did.
yields approx 50-60 small cookies
- 300 g fine semolina
- 100 g coarse semolina
- 350 g pitted dates
- 175 g unsalted butter + 1 tsp
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp + 3 tsp orange blossom water
- 1 tbsp mahlab, ground
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- powdered sugar, for garnish
Putting them all together
- Combine the semolina, ground mahlab, and sugar. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and pour over the semolina mixture while hot. Rub the grains of semolina against your hands so that each grain is well coated with butter. Repeat this for 5-7 minutes. Cover and let sit over night.
- To make the filling, process the pitted dates with the remaining tbsp of melted butter and 1 tsp of orange blossom water in your food processor until it becomes a smooth paste.
- Mix the remaining orange blossom water with the semolina mixture and knead until it becomes a dough.
- Form each cookie with a mold or freehand as shown in the photo above (by hiding a ball of the date filling inside the dough).
- Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in a 325 degree F oven for 25-30 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown.
- Cool the cookies on a cookie sheet and sprinkle with powdered sugar for garnish.
notes: Cream of Wheat (aka Farina) should be available at all major supermarkets. For these cookies I use the red box that says 2 1/2 minutes.
62 thoughts on “Ma’moul Cookies”
hi tony great to see you back. i’ve already sent you my deepest condolences per email but once again – if i could i would give you the hugest hug as i know how it feels when one looses the grandparent. you’ll have to make do with a virtual hug and then come to doha to get the real ones LOL! then we’ll indulge in cookies like these fresh from the lebanese bakeries!
My condolences to you for the loss of your Grandfather.
I love ma’mouls! The best ma”mouls ever I ate in the el Arabito restaurant in Caracas, boy were they yummy! We would buy them home sometimes and really enjoy them. I even have a ma’moul mould but have never used it yet:but maybe I will now that I have your really clear recipe, thanks for it 🙂
I am so sorry to hear about your grandfather, Tony. It must have been very nice to grow up around someone who fostered your love of food so much. Your cookies look delicious! Be sure you take all the time you need, we’ll be here when you get back.
I’m sorry for your loss. It is amazing how comforting and powerfull a particular memory (especially those centered around food) can be. I grew up in a family that loved to cook and I’m very thankful for that. I have letters my grandfather wrote to my mother that included many recipes written in a very conversational manner – “roll them into a ball, how big you ask?, you’ll know, bigger than a golf ball, smaller than a tennis ball…”. I try to keep that food alive with my children and love to watch their excitement as they see me go into the kitchen and run to get their aprons so they can come and help.
Allah Yerhamou Ya rab, hopefully you will continue with his memory and food passion…
your grandfather has risen with Jesus on Sunday…
Happy Easter…. Al Masih Kam … Hakan Kam
glad to see you back…
I was wondering where you were. My condoleances. It’s nice to read about your grandfather. Beautiful cookies.
My condolences about your grandfather. It’s hard to lose someone that you have such positive memories with and about.
The cookies look delicious, and the mold is very cool-looking. I actually thought in the picture it was a butter mold, until you explained it further down.
Pasta sauce is the thing in my family. We all have some similar version of meat sauce we make. Also, we used to do a lot of canning when I was a kid. As an adult, I swore I’d never can again, because I hated doing tomatoes and peaches every year as a kid. Now, of course, I’ve gone back to the canning and I’m thankful I had the opportunity to learn to do it w/ my family.
Bonjour Tony, d’abord et avant tout je te présente mes sincères condoléance pour ton cher grand pére.
Je viens de découvrir ton blog à l’instant à travers Walima, c’est un blog fascinant, riche et créatif.Félicitation et bonne continuation.
Merci pour la recette معمول, on a presque la meme recette au Maroc.
Tony – my sincere condolences for your loss. My grandfather is terminally ill at the moment, so I, too, have been thinking a lot about family (though not so much in the context of food – my gong-gong has always been much better at cracking funny jokes about food than at preparing it!). It’s good to see you back and posting. 🙂
Im so sorry to hear about your grandfather..I can only imagine how you must be feeling..I believe it to be very healing to continue a connection through the preparation of the traditional food,as you will also be honoring him in continuing the amazing work youve been doing so far!Im sure he will also be very proud!
My Greek Grandmother past away when I was quite young unfortunately,and yet it seems she has taught me all I know in mediterranean cuisine..although physically she hasnt..I continue to be pushed from inside or from above to continue to learn things that do not always exist in my immediate environment..
Oddly enough,it seems that even my inclination to traditional handwork is something I inherited from her,as she probably continues to guide me in my work since no one else has taught me what I know!
I am confident your Grandfather will continue to be there for you aswell..just tune in..!
As for the Maamoul,you just tapped into my favorite cookie!I am crazy about Maamoul,I used to love making them,though since I turned vegan I am working on an equally awesome vegan version! 🙂
I am delighted to see you make them with Mahlab!Thats new to me,and I will definitely give it a try,as I just happened to bring some back from Jordan!
Shukran awi for the inspiration! Continue your beautiful work as you have a gift of preserving and continuing tradition while adding your personal point of view!
Hang in there,take care
Tony, these are charming. I’m so sorry to hear about your grandfather; I wondered what had become of you after you spoke so enthusiastically about your blog at Molly’s book reading.
Your mold is beautiful – I assume you picked it up when in the Middle East. What’s your source for orange blossom water though?
my sincere condolences..
as to your question, food wasn’t ‘big’ when i was a kid; i remember my mother’s pancakes straight out of the pan – she would bake them as i was eating them. and her potato pancakes which i didn’t eat – truth be told, i was a picky eater (chicken kiyv? yes please! meat that’s been ground? no way.) but have always, always loved sweets (mom said that she used to eat lots of sweetened condensed milk when she was pregnant with me. hm! that explains a lot). my mom didn’t use to make them, but those times when granny came to town, we’d bake her sugar cookies and cinnamon rolls. now, i carry on both of the recipes, still baking them from time to time and then phoning her to say how it all went.
i believe that family plays a major role when it comes to one’s understanding of food (and life in general, of course). that is why i try to preserve even the tiniest of those memories.
So Sorry to hear about your grandfather.
Certain recipes remind me of my grandparents (and great grandparents) as well. My favorite recipe is my great grandmothers orange cookies. I am lucky that I was able to locate a similar recipe and make them.
These cookies look amazing. TFS!
Tony, I’m sorry for your loss. In this painful period, I wish you and your family strength to get thru’ this tough time.
I believe many of our preferences for food stems from what we were fed as a child. When I was young, I love to have dinners at my maternal grandmother’s house (and I still do!). But my siblings and I sulk at having to have dinner at our paternal grandmother’s place. I guess this is because we have familiarized ourselves with our mum’s cooking which is greatly influenced, if not exactly the same as her mother’s cooking. Naturally, we are already ‘used to’ my maternal grandmother’s cooking thru’ my mum’s. Even now that I’m a grown-up, I still prefer my maternal grandmother’s place!
I am sorry for your grandfather. I am from Greece and I have great memories of my mother’s mother, my grandmother, who was Greek but from Asia minor. These people combined the eastern and western way of cooking. As a kid I remember her making dolmades and tsoureki with mahlepi as we call it and so many other things. My favorite dish was something very simple but really tasteful, spaghetti with a sauce of yogurt aromatised with garlic. When I make this dish I always remember my grandmother and my childhood. I think this is the best way to honor someone who has left.
So sorry to read that…
I always remember my italian grandma “la mia nonna” and how she influenced my love for food. Great memories, I try to stick to them every day.
Take care, and a hug from Argentina.
bythway..I just loved the idea of the pantyhose!!Got to try that one day..Hahahaha great!
I’m so sorry for your loss… My heart goes out to you and your family.
Take as much time as you need to gather your thoughts and resume blogging, we won’t be going any where. 🙂
I am really sorry for your loss, Alaah yerhamoh ya rab.
Your maamoul looks sooo yummy, great job as usual !!
If you showed love to your grandfather, you should have no regrets but I do sympathize with your missing him.
My mother was a “don’t bother me now” cook. So I entered marriage without any knowledge of the kitchen.
Cooking is for family. As a mother of nine, number one rule: if you don’t like what I cook tonight, there is always peanut butter sandwiches. Occasionally on Sunday after church, announced that it was restaurant breakfast and everyone got to choose what they wanted to eat. Big Yayyyy!!New Year’s Eve was pizza from scratch and so on. All my nine children are able to cook and are creating traditions in the kitchen with their families.
I have my Grandma’s mahmoul mold and a recipe with walnuts but I KNEW I had had them made with dates. Thank you so much for the post.
Hola Tony. Siento mucho lo de tu Abuelo. Those thoughts of him are precious… he will always be there by your side in the kitchen :D.
Un beso muy fuerte!
I never get tired to watch and tell you how beautiful your pictures are!!! Soooo neat :D. Estas galletitas han de estar deliciosas.
So sorry to hear about your grandfather…my condolences to you and your family. These cookies are a lovely tribute to him and to cooking and family.
Antonio I a so sorry at the loss of you grandfather. I too have a middle Eastern Background and I remember grinding Mahlab for many occasions and for bread and my favourite aaroon. My fondest memories have always been in the kitchen with my family from the time I can remember for holidays and get togethers especially where Kibbe was involved it was always a family affair.
Everyone pictched in and we all laughed and cried and bonded as a family young and old. Both sets of Grandparents would come and the whole family would get together. Well its been many years and both of my Grandfathers are gone now but I look back with a great joy in my life that I had the opportunity to be around such a loving family and food
My heart goes out to you. My Nana was the strength of my life, and the person I credit with my passion and soul for food. Thank you for sharing this post. Food is indeed a powerful arbiter of memory. You have expressed my sentiments, as I can’t eat certain cakes without thinking of my Nana (http://read-n-eat.com/?p=514), or artichokes without thinking of my father (http://read-n-eat.com/?p=351). Your grandfather will live on in each cookie, each kitchen moment.
Bless you and your family during this time.
I am so sorry to hear about your grandfather. This is my first visit to your blog. I was looking for comments and uses for rose petal jam as I plan on making some this week. My father in law is from the middle east and has been asking me to make him ma’mouls. I had yet to find a recipe that I thought might be authentic. The ones I’ve tried so far are “okay”. Thank you for posting this. I’m sure my father in law will enjoy these.
My condolences, Allah yerhamou <3
Simply Awesome Work! I just want to take a bite, Yum!
Im from Panama, but my grandmother was from Smir, Turkey.
Eventhoug she passed when I was still very young, I still remember her fabulous cooking, specially her mamouls and another pastry and haven´t been able to find the recipe for. It was like a mamoul but it did not have the power sugar, instead she used either honey or syrup. I remember she stored them in very big glass jars, and the pastries used to stick to the jar.
If you or anyone have any idea of the kind of pastries Im talking about and have the recepy I will highly appreciate if you will let me know, because since I dont know the name of the pastry it´s been very hard to find the recipe for it.
I have forwarded your comment to Cenk from Cafe Fernando. He lives in Turkey and is an extremely knowledgeable food blogger. He would probably know about the cookies you are referring to, and if not, he would know someone that can help you in your search. Best of luck and please keep me posted – I’m interested in learning more about these cookies.
Tony – I’m very sorry for your loss. This is such a nice post to dedicate. The cookies look wonderful.
Ruthy – Tony forwarded your comment about your grandmother’s cookies. I’ve read your comment over and over again but I can’t seem to remember a Turkish cookie recipe that is similar to that. Let me ask around friends, but before that can you please clarify the city she’s from (that might narrow down the options). You’ve written Smir but there’s no city by that name. Might it be İzmir (ease-meer)?
Thank you Tony and Cenk for your answer.
Sorry about the misunderstanding about my grandma´s city.
As Cenk said she was from Izmir which in Spanish is Esmirna and I guest I just did not know how to spell it.
She was a great lady and a great cook, it is a pitty that she passed when I was still so young, but I can assure you that our love ones stay with us as long as we remember them.
I am so sorry about your grandfather. My grandfather is Lebanese and I grew up hearing him putz around the kitchen in the morning as well. I would awaken to the smell of Syrian (pita) bread baking or to my joy a fresh batch of what we always called farina cookies.
My grandfather now has Alzheimer’s and even though he could make pita bread in his sleep still, has forgotten his recipe for farina cookies. His were huge cookies and filled with a walnut, sugar, cinnamon mixture.
We’re going to try your recipe in hopes it is more similar to his than others we’ve tried. Thank you for sharing it!!
Sorry for your loss Tony, I lost my father a couple of years back and it never gets easier.
Tony please tell me if I am using your recipe in the the Middle East what can I use for farina and semolina? Semolina is smeed, while farina is flour?
I, too, would like to pass along my condolences.
Ma-moul’s were a staple at my home during Christmas. My parents (both from Lebanon)came to Canada in the late 60’s, but my mother has continued to make the most wonderful dishes from her home country. In the past, I have tried to describe to friends the flavors from the Ma’moul (including the mahlab), but I wasn’t very successful. Regardless, they all looked forward to my mom’s Christmas sweets every year.
Being a mother myself of 2, I want to start learning how to prepare these truly extraordinary dishes (and I hope my Ma’moul’s taste as great as my mother’s).
Thank you for sharing your recipe.
Ma’moul hold special memories for me, so this was a pleasure to read. Also, your pictures are wonderful. Thank you for sharing!
Tony, Meeta recommended your ma’mouls recipe and let me tell you it was love at first sight! your ma’mouls look absolutely superb! one of my favorite cookie of all time! You have inspired me to actually try and bake these little wonders full of goodness! I will be a regular visitor to your blog from now on!
condolences.May he rest in peace
so in love with ur blog!
Your story is very touching! I too lost someone very near to my heart, my mother when I was 16 passed away. She use to make me ma’moul’s all the time! Cheers to you and this recipe!
Great blog, I enjoyed it. Could you please tell me if I can purchase mamoul mold for date online.
Isabelle: thank you for the compliment on my blog. You can find mamoul molds online at Dayna’s Market. Here is the link to the page that has the different molds: http://www.daynasmarket.com/kitchenware.html
Delicious.. just love Maamoul ~ i have made some too 🙂 do visit my place when time permits Maamoul ~ date cookies that’s a recipe by my mom 🙂
Hi.Thank you for the lovely post.I live in Dubai,do you know where I can get Mahlab,and cream of wheat? thanks