I had pretty much convinced myself after Thanksgiving that it was the end of baking season for me, and I would return my oven to its secondary job as a store house for some of the baking pans. This cookie season was simply going to be about admiring all the treats that would flash across my computer screen, or dominate my social media, or entice me when walking along the magazine aisle at the store. But it was only a matter of time before I succumbed to their lure. And very conveniently for me, I had a small holiday gathering at home and hence a perfect excuse to bake.
Since there was a good representation of several nationalities among our guests, I wanted the cookie tray to have a bit of an international flair. Plus I really, really wanted to use that special cookie mold that is a cherished gift sent by one of our friends in Lebanon.
These filled cookies, Ma’amoul, are very popular in middle eastern cuisine and are a must during Eid and Easter. The covering is like a shortbread, made of semolina or a mix of semolina and all-purpose flour with gives it a wonderfully crumbly texture, and the filling is typically made either from dates, pistachios or walnuts. And I love that the shape of the cookie gives a clue to the filling; pistachio being oval in shape, walnut like a half-sphere and dates shaped like a disc.
I took a bit of a non-traditional route with the filling, choosing to use dried orange segments that I found at the store along with some almonds and pistachios. I would imagine one could get pretty creative with the dried fruit and nut combinations. The addition of ghee which is also very common in Indian cuisine gives the cookies a wonderful flavor and a melt-in-mouth texture.
The recipe does require some planning, mainly in terms of soaking the semolina overnight in ghee so that the semolina soaks in the liquid and fluffs up and loses that gritty texture. I also added a little bit of mahlab, which is the seed kernel of a St. Lucy’s cherry and is a typical spice in many Mediterranean desserts. Since it was my first time using it, I added a very tiny amount but plan on upping the quantity the next time. It is optional though and don’t let it absence stop you from making it.
And as pretty as a mold is, you can easily make patterns with a fork or a stamp. Also, semolina tends to soak up a lot of liquid and you might find the dough getting crumbly. In that case, add some more water and ghee and make sure to keep the dough covered. I also found it was easier to make a small disc of the dough between two sheets of saran wrap and then bring the sides up the ball of stuffing.
These cookies are wonderful with a cup of coffee, on a cookie tray or to give as gifts. And I bet Santa would love to bite into one of these too 🙂
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
orange, almond and pistachio ma'amoulPrint Recipe
- For the covering:
- 2 cups fine semolina
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp ghee, warm
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup plus 1tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- a pinch of salt
- 3 tbsp butter, room temperature
- 1/2 tsp yeast
- 1/8 cup water
- 1/8 cup rose water
- 2 tbsp orange blosssom water (or water)
- 1/4 tsp mahlab powder (optional)
- For the filling:
- 1 1/4 cup blanched or whole raw almonds
- 1 1/4 cup dried orange segments
- 1/2 cup raw pistachios
- 1-2 tbsp honey
- 1/2 tsp orange blossom water
For the covering:
Mix the semolina and warm ghee, cover and leave overnight or at least 6 hours.
The next day, add the all-purpose flour, sugar, salt and baking powder and mix well.
Add 1 tsp sugar to 1/8 cup warm water and then sprinkle yeast. Keep aside for 10 minutes until it turns bubbly.
Make a well in the center and add the milk, vanilla, mahlab, water, rose water, orange blossom water, butter and yeast mixture. Mix well and knead lightly to make a dough. Do not knead too much or the ma'amoul will become tough.
Cover and keep aside for one hour.
For the filling:
While the dough is resting, make a coarse powder of the almonds and pistachios in the food processor. Then add the dried orange segments and pulse until it forms a crumbly mixture. Add the honey and orange blossom water and mix just until it comes together.
Remove onto a plate and knead to a dough. Make 24 portions and roll them into balls.
Preheat the oven to 400 F
After one hour, knead the dough lightly and divide into 24 balls.
Flatten each to approx 3-inch disc, add a ball fo the filling and bring the sides up. You can also make an indent with your index finger in the ball of dough and open it a bit to make a cavity. Add the filling and close the ball.
Put it in a lightly floured mold if using, and press in. Gently whack it on the counter to remove the cookie. Collect them all on a parchment-lined tray.
Bake for 10-15 mins until the edges turn golden brown.
Remove and cool on tray for about 10 minutes and then transfer with a spatula to a cooling rack to cool completely.
Dust lightly with powdered sugar and serve.