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Ma'amoul are Middle Eastern cookies which are traditionally served at festivals and on holidays. They make popular Ramadan treats, although they can also be served at Easter and various Jewish festivals. The dough used to make ma'amoul is like a shortbread, and the cookies are filled with sweetened mixtures of fruit and or nuts. Traditionally, the cookies are made in decorative molds which stamp distinctive patterns onto the finished products; certain patterns and shapes are used to indicate specific fillings.
These light golden crumbly sweets are very popular in the Middle East, and although they are particularly associated with festivals, it is not uncommon to find ma'amoul around the house at other times as well. The cookies are often offered to visitors and honored guests along with tea, coffee, and other beverages, depending on the region. Many bakeries carry ma'amoul and they can also be found packaged at various markets. The cookies can also be made at home; molds are helpful, although not required.
To make ma'amoul at home, start by mixing the dough. Dissolve one teaspoon of yeast in one tablespoon of water and allow the yeast to foam. Combine two cups of semolina flour with one half cup all purpose flour, mixing in one and one half cups of melted butter or ghee, if it is available. Add the yeast to the flour mixture, along with one tablespoon of orange, lemon, or rose water, a pinch of salt, and one half cup powdered sugar. Knead the dough well and allow it to rest for three hours while you work on the filling.
Traditional ma'amoul filling is made by grinding nuts and or dried fruit with a modest amount of brown sugar, and orange, lavender, or rose water. You should end up with around three cups of filling, which can include ingredients like dates, figs, almonds, pistachios, and walnuts. You may also want to play around with additional spices like cinnamon, cardamom, mace, and nutmeg.
After the dough has rested, divide it into small balls and hollow out the balls with your thumb. Scoop in a spoonful of filling and seal the balls. If you have ma'amoul molds, use them to press the cookies into shape. Otherwise, shape the balls into even spheres, domes, or slightly flattened, circular cookies. You can stamp or decorate the cookies if desired before baking at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius) until they are golden brown. For extra sweetness, roll the ma'amoul in powdered sugar after they are baked.
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