Maamoul is a traditional cookie enjoyed throughout the Middle East come Ramadan, Eid, Spring time, Easter, and basically year round. But it is especially imperative during the holidays! Maamoul is a scrumptious butter cookie made with butter, flour, semolina and some rose extract and filled with a delicious and gooey sweet cinnamon spice date filling, or crunchy sweet cinnamon and nut filling.
Truthfully, I never bothered to learn this cookie until I had the delicate and buttery cookie made by an Algerian woman who is a skilled French pastry chef. It is especially smooth and buttery like the pastries dreams are made of. They are truly addictive! She shared the method with me and I have been making it on repeat during this quarantine. The best thing is, these little cookies are not nearly as difficult as I had imagined. I have perfected this recipe using a kitchen scale, to ensure consistent results. So say good-bye to dry, crumbly cookies and get ready for this delicious treat!
Kahk and Maamoul
For a long time, I thought the maamoul I see everywhere is KAHK. My mom always makes kahk for Eid and special occasions and it’s a very special treat that my siblings and I are all nostalgic for during this time of year. The recipe is extra special because it comes from my grandmother, in my mama’s special red recipe book. Growing up in an Egyptian household, which is the minority amongst Arabs in my community I thought, “yea we make maamoul, we just call it kahk”. I was wrong. Kahk is a bit different. Kahk is an Egyptian butter cookie so similar to Maamoul that I simply use this cookie dough until I am ready to venture into the ancient kahk cookie, which dates back to Pharaonic origins! Kahk cookies are a bit more crumbly, very similar to Mexican wedding cookies and include the use of yeast and a spice mixture in the cookie dough that includes a handful of aromatic and sweet spices including: cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, anise, fennel AND nutmeg, all ground finely. The biggest difference between maamoul and kahk- the Egyptian Kahk has a nutty caramel toffee filling called agameyya that is TO DIE FOR.
The recipe is quite basic. To make the actual cookie, I use all purpose flour, fine semolina wheat (do not use coarse!), powdered sugar and good butter. I recommend using a golden yellow natural butter from grass fed cows, such as Kerrygold. I also recommend a high quality floral extract (try orange blossom or lavender extracts as well!) and vanilla powder because these delicate flavors really do come out in this scrumptious cookie. You could always make these smooth buttery cookies empty and enjoy them as is. They are traditionally stuffed with dates as the most common filling, with pistachios being an extra special delicacy.
For the filling I use either a prepared date paste from the Middle Eastern grocery store, pictured below. Or if I happen to have a lot dates on hand, I soak them in boiling water for 2 minutes and then puree them in my food processor. Needless to say the freshly made paste has a more pronounced fragrance and flavor that is oh so sweet like toffee or caramel.
Agameyya is a purely Egyptian filling found only in kahk cookies. If I want to make a more kahk resembling cookie, I toss in some of the kahk spices into the maamoul cookie dough and use this agameyya filling. Agameyya is basically the BEST thing about kahk, and you really ought to try it. It is a homemade caramel-toffee meet Middle Eastern nuts mixture. Sesame, walnuts, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and anise spice combine with butter and honey for a heavenly and gooey filling for these cookies. It is OMG delicious.
Shaping the Cookies
There are many ways to shape maamoul. The most basic way is to roll the ball, flatten it a bit, and then create an indentation on top with a fork or a special pinching tool my grandma had from Egypt:)
The best tip I can offer (especially if you will make these with a group or kids) is to roll all the balls of dough and all the balls of filling. I weigh the first few to make sure I have the right size and then I eyeball it and continue making them in the same size.
To make the cookie with a filling you will use one ball of dough and form an indentation in the center and place the smaller ball of filling inside. Then you tuck in the filling, wrapping it and rolling it completely in the cookie dough. I prepare my workspace by rolling out all the balls of dough and all the balls of filling first. I use about 40 grams of dough for larger shaped cookies and 25-30 grams fro the smaller cookies.
There are many wooden or plastic maamoul molds in most Middle Eastern markets, because it’s a basic necessity I guess. I prefer the wooden molds as the cookie pops out much more easily. With the right flick of the wrist and a hard bang against the baking sheet, the cookie pops out perfectly. Here is one available on Amazon, similar to the one I have.
I also use silicone molds to shape larger rose shaped cookies and my kids love using this one. It is fool proof and easy to pop out. This is a larger mold that holds about 40 grams of cookie dough, so you will also get done sooner, than later!
There are also pressing devices that are so easy to use, even toddlers can participate in the shaping process. Simply place the rolled cookie dough. ball and then this device fits over it and you stamp your cookie!
FOR THE COOKIE
- 85 g fine semolina 3/4 cups
- 315 g all purpose flour about 2 1/4 cups
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla powder
- 65 g powdered sugar 3/4 cup
- 1 cup melted unsalted butter
- 1/4 c sunflower or vegetable oil
- 3 tbsp whole milk
- 1 tbsp rose water OPTIONAL
FOR THE DATE FILLING
- 13 oz date paste or pureed dates
- 1 tsp oil
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp rose water (optional)
For the nut filling
- 250 g pistachios or walnut, pulsed fine
- 4 tbsp sugar
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tbsp rose water
For the Agameyya Filling
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp flour
- 1 tbsp sesame
- 1/4 tsp each: cinnamon, ginger, cloves, anise, cardamom toasted then finely ground
- 1 c honey
- 1/2 c chopped walnut (OPTIONAL)
For the cookie dough
- Combine the dry ingredients (flour, semolina, powdered sugar, vanilla powder) and whisk. If you will use a vanilla bean paste or liquid, add this to the milk mixture in step 3 instead.
- After melting the butter, skim off the white solids and place them into a separate bowl or cup. Add the oil to the butter and slowly pour it over the dry ingredients, stirring constantly. Begin forming the dough with your hands for the best results. A golden ball of crumbly dough will begin to form.
- Mix the milk solids from the butter with rose water and milk. Slowly add this mixture to the dough. Continue to form the dough with your hands. You should have a golden ball of dough that is no longer crumbly, and not sticky. If it is still slightly dry due to your weather or altitude, add 1 teaspoon of milk at a time, not exceeding 3 teaspoons.
- Break off small pieces of dough (45 grams for large cookies and 30 grams for smaller cookies) and roll them into balls. Set the dough balls aside and cover with a towel so they do not dry out.
For the date filling
- If using whole dates, remove the pit, soak them in boiling water, and then drain.
- Pulse the dates in a food processor. Add 1 tablespoon of oil, along with the spices. Puree for 2-3 minutes until an smooth velvety paste is achieved. Do not overprocess.
- Add the rose water and remaining oil and work it into the paste with gloved hands. The oil and rose water will help you manage the sticky paste.
- Roll the date paste mixture into balls about 12-15 grams, or half the size of the dough balls you made.
For the nut filling
- After pulsing the nuts, add the rose water and spices.
- Using gloved hands, you should be able to form the nut mixture into balls.
For the Agameyya Filling
- Melt the butter over low heat. Stir in the flour and whisk to a golden paste.
- Stir in the sesame, spices, and walnuts if using.
- Add the honey, stir until thickened and remove from heat.
- Allow the mixture to cool and then shape into small balls the size of a marble and set on a tray. Refrigerate the tray until you are ready to fill.
Shaping the cookie
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (F).
- Take one dough ball and one ball of filling to make each cooke. Flatten out the dough ball slightly, with an indentation in the center for the filling. Fold over the dough to cover the filling completely. Roll the dough back into a ball and set it onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silicone sheet. Press it down to flatten slightly. Indent the top with a fork. Alternatively, if you have a cookie shaper for maamoul, or any round and flat silicone mold, simply press the rolled ball of dough into the mold and press it out onto the pan.
- Bake the cookies for 20-22 minutes. Do not overbake or wait for it to become golden; the cookies stay light in color.
- Once cooled, optionally sprinkle on some powdered sugar. Store in an airtight container.