Maamoul (Stuffed shortbread cookies)

Maamoul or mamool are small shortbread cookies traditionally filled with dates, pistachios or walnuts. They are popular in Levantine cuisine(Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon).

I have fond memories of making cookies with my mum for Eid.  Making maamoul is usually an event for family and friends to come together, all helping and participating in making the dough, filling the cookies, forming them and baking them. All this happens in a cosy atmosphere filling with chats about the blessings of Ramadan, the experience of fasting, Eid preparations and plans.  Kids talk about the new cloths and toys they bought for Eid, all the places they plan on going, helping deform a few maamoul cookies here and there in the process. As soon as the first baking sheet goes into the oven, a cloud of spice and heavenly smells fills the house and it suddenly feels like Eid is indeed a couple of days away :)

Biting into one of these cookies, you will first get the slightly crumbly crust with a hint of mastic and mahlab. Next comes the chewy and sweet filling.Be it the nutty pistachios or walnuts or my favorite, the dates with hints of cinnamon and cardamom. The whole thing melts in your mouth playing a melody of textures and flavors. One thing I know for sure about Maamoul, you can never stop at just one!

Maamool cookies are usually formed into unique shapes using hand carved wooden molds that not only make the cookies look special but they help you tell what type of filling is in each cookie. The flat round ones are filled with dates, the elongated oval ones and the oval ones are for the nut fillings: pistachios and walnuts. Another way of forming the cookies would be using special decorating tweezers you see in the pictures. The tweezers are used to pinch the dough to form different patterns

Maamoul Recipe

Recipe can be doubled or halved

Maamoul dough recipe

200 gm butter (room temperature)

200 gm margarine (room temperature) or ghee (melted)

1 cup (250 ml) vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 cup powdered sugar

1 cup powder milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon yeast

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon ground mahlab

1/4 teaspoon mastic, ground finely

1 kilogram flour.

Filling recipe

Ingredients – Fillings

If you decide to make the whole amount with a single type of filling then use the amounts below, if you want to use more than one filling then use these ratios as a guideline, and make less/more depending on how much you want to make

  • 1 kg date puree and 1/2 cup butter kneaded with 1 tablespoon of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • 500 gm chopped walnuts and 1/2 cup sugar with 2 tablespoons orange blossom water, 2 tablespoons butter or ghee and 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 500 gm coarsely ground pistachios and 1/2 cup sugar with 2 tablespoons orange blossom water and 2 tablespoons melted butter or ghee
  • Orange blossom water, cardamom and cinnamon are added for flavor and are entirely optional
  • You can replace half of the sugar with 1/4 cup of simple syrup. I find that the addition of the syrup keeps the filling from drying out while baking and makes it more flavorful

Making the crust dough

Beat the butter margarine and oil in the food processor, stand mixer or in a bowl with a whisk

Add the eggs and vanilla and beat till the mix is pale in color.

Add the sugar and powdered milk and beat till the mix is creamy and homogenous

Add the yeast, baking powder, mastic, mahlab and ground fennel

Add the flour slowly, one cup at a time and knead the dough (keeping in mind that you do not want to over work it) till you get a smooth and soft dough. You may not need the whole amount of flour, stop when you get a smooth dough that you can roll into a ball or rope without it crumbling

Allow the dough to rest for one hour

Cut the dough into egg sized balls.

If making date maamoul:

Form the kneaded date puree into small balls about half the size of the dough balls

Flaten the dough ball , place the date ball inside and seal the dough around the stuffing making sure the filling is completely enclosed by the dough and shape it into a ball.

Maamoul using the molds

Place the dough in a mold, press firmly but do not over do it or the maamoul will stick to the mold (see the notes for a trick that will help you get the cookies out of the molds whole every time)

Place a kitchen towel on a cutting board or your kitchen table

Then invert the mold and tap the end of the mold  on the kitchen towel and the formed cookie will fall out.

Free form maamoul

With your thumb, press gently in the center of the cookie to make a circular depression.

Add your desired pattern using the decorating tweezers or forks.

If making pistachio or walnut maamoul

Create a little ball of dough and make a hole in it, making the sides even

Fill with your desired filling.

Close the dough by pinching the open dough rim together making sure that the filling is totally covered by dough

Follow the steps of forming the maamool using a mold or tweezer

Baking Maamoul

I bake maamoul on the middle rack of a preheated oven (230 C) till the edges are golden brown (5-12 minutes) and then place them under the broiler till the tops are golden brown (2-5 minutes)

Take the cookies out of the oven and allow them to cool on the baking sheet for 10- 15 minutes then move them to a cooling rack because they are proun to crumble if you move them when they are still hot

Important notes about making maamoul:

  • Add the flour slowly because different types of flour absorb fat differently, you may not need the whole kilogram. If you happen to add too much flour and your dough becomes a little dry and crumbly, add 1/2 to 1 stick of softened butter and knead it into the dough and it should go back to being smooth and easy to handle.
  • You can bake maamoul without shaping it, just form the stuffed cookies into balls and arrange them on a baking sheet and bake them, they will be just as tasty without the molds or decorations
  • You can stuff these cookies with apples that you sautéed with a little butter and cinnamon or with chopped dried figs or dried apricots that you have soaked in rosewater. The traditional stuffings are dates, walnuts and pistachios but that does not mean that you cannot be creative.
  • To make it easier to get the cookies out of the molds, I line the molds with a little piece of plastic wrap
  • Maamoul bakes really quickly, don’t walk away from the oven while the cookies are baking they can go from white to black in a couple of minutes.
  • Kept in an airtight container these cookies will last for 3 weeks