Around the world in 80 bakes, no.32: Ma’amoul – semolina cookies from Lebanon

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.32: Ma’amoul – semolina cookies from Lebanon

The biscuit tin (Americans: read “cookie jar”) was empty. So it was time to head back to the Middle East to refill it, in the shape of ma’amoul, filled cookies made from a shortbread dough rich in semolina. The filling is usually made of dates and/or nuts (usually pistachios, almonds or walnuts): for this first attempt, I used a date and walnut mix.

I’ve gone for a very simple, easy version of ma’amoul, using baking powder rather than yeast and eschewing any overnight resting. Even allowing for an hour’s resting, this takes not much over 90 minutes start to finish. The result was a crumbly, tasty biscuit that wasn’t excessively sweet and that I would definitely make again.

I used good quality soft medjool dates, which are easy to purée to paste with good consistency; various Middle East recipes consider that making your own date paste is tedious, preferring commercially made product.

Once ma’amoul have been filled and formed into their balls, they are often pressed into a patterned wooden mould, because (a) it makes them look pretty and (b) if you’re making more than one different filling, you can use a different pattern for each one. Strangely enough, I don’t own a ma’amoul mould, and if I bought the approved piece of specialist equipment for every item I fancy baking, my house would be filled several times over with baking junk, so I improvised the desired dome shape using a gravy ladle and a coffee tamper. It’s not like I expect everyone to have a gravy ladle, but you get the idea. If you’re doing more than one filling but you don’t have multiple moulds, you can try doing your own decorating by punching indents with a fork or skewer.

This recipe made 16 generously sized ma’amoul. Photo warning: these are more cracked and crumbly than I’d like. I should have added a bit more water to the dough.

The dough

  • 110 g butter
  • 40g icing sugar
  • 240g semolina flour
  • 160g plain flour
  • 4g baking powder
  • 30g milk
  • 30g orange blossom or rose water
  1. Pour everything into the bowl of your stand mixer and mix the whole lot for one or two minutes until thoroughly smoothly combined. The dough should be wet enough to be able to pick up stray bits of flour from the side of the bowl, but no more than that. If it’s sticky, add a bit more flour. If it’s really crumbly, add a bit more milk.
  2. Form the dough into a ball, and leave to stand at room temperature for around an hour.

Filling and baking

The quantities given are what I made as shown in the photos. The next time I make ma’amoul, I’m planning to use 200g dates and no walnuts – I’m not convinced they complement each other and I’d prefer a bit more filling. I would do a walnut filling as an alternative, chopping some 100g of walnuts very finely, adding a couple of teaspoons of syrup and making them into a paste.

  • 40g walnuts
  • 125g medjool or other soft dates
  • Icing sugar for dusting
  1. Preheat oven to 180℃ fan
  2. Chop the walnuts coarsely and toast them in a dry pan for a minute or two until fragrant.
  3. If your dates aren’t pitted, take the stones out now.
  4. Blitz the dates to a soft puree. Add a tiny amount of water if you need to, or more if your dates were quite hard. You could add sugar syrup rather than water if you want a sweeter filling.
  5. Have a 40x30cm baking sheet ready.
  6. Divide your dough into 16 parts, form each part into a ball
  7. Divide your filling into 16 parts, form each part into a ball
  8. Roll out a ball of dough flat and wide enough that you’ll be able to wrap it round your ball of filling
  9. Place a ball of filling in the middle of your dough, then stretch it over to cover.
  10. Press the whole ball into your mould (or, in my case, gravy ladle)
  11. Take the cookie out of the mould and place on your baking sheet
  12. When you’ve done all 16 ma’amoul, put the baking sheet into the oven and bake them for 15 minutes. They should be a pale brown colour: don’t bake them as far as the more usual “golden brown”.
  13. On removal from the oven, dust with icing sugar to taste.

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