Mahmoul for the holidays: a Lebanese family tradition

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The 2018 Holiday issue of Sift magazine includes a collection of cookies from all over the world, but one in particular has a special story to tell: Mahmoul.

This filled cookie is a staple throughout the Middle East, and is a must for many holiday celebrations. Filled with ground walnuts, pistachios, or dates, scented with orange or rose flower water and spices, they’re incredibly delicious and quite beautiful.

Meet the most beautiful holiday cookie you've never heard of: Mahmoul, a filled festive treat from the Middle East. Click To Tweet

Mahmoul’s distinctive shape comes from being filled and pressed into a hand-carved olivewood mold. Once tucked in, the mold is turned over and a quick tap releases the cookie onto a baking sheet.

We’re lucky to have an employee-owner here at King Arthur Flour who grew up with Mahmoul.

Mahmoul via @kingarthurflour

Meet Karen Ogrinc, who teaches at the King Arthur Flour Baking School in Norwich, Vermont. Her family is from Lebanon, and when she heard I was interested in Mahmoul recipes for Sift, she mentioned that she and her sisters all had their own Mahmoul molds. She shared her family’s Mahmoul dough recipe and their lovely wooden molds for us to use in our story.

“Mahmoul was always on our Christmas cookie platter, so it really meant Christmas was coming when Mom made them,” she says. “We were never allowed to eat them until Christmas though. The anticipation made them sweeter.”

We think you should get to know this amazing cookie. You don’t need an heirloom mold to make them, either: we’ll show you how.

Mahmoul

First, let’s make the dough.

2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup farina (e.g., Cream of Wheat)
4 3/4 cups (20 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

In a large bowl, mix together the butter, confectioners’ sugar, salt, and egg until combined. Add the vanilla, farina, and flour, and mix until a smooth dough comes together.

Mahmoul via @kingarthurflour

The dough is thick; it should hold together when you roll it into a ball and be easy to shape. Cover the dough so it doesn’t dry out while you make the filling.

Next, let’s make the filling.

1/4 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons water
3 cups chopped dates
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon orange zest or orange blossom water 

In a small saucepan, combine the granulated sugar and water and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat.

Place the dates, butter, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, and orange zest (or orange blossom water) in the bowl of a food processor.

Mahmoul via @kingarthurflour

With the machine running, pour in the hot sugar/water mixture and process until the mixture is smooth. It will look like this; it should be stiff enough to roll into a small ball without being too sticky.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Mahmoul via @kingarthurflour

Clockwise from left: Mahmoul mold, tartlet tin, wavy-edge cutter, and 1-ounce ramekin

Shaping the cookie

If you don’t have a Mahmoud mold, there are a number of options. For freehand shaping, reach for a small ramekin and a cutter with a wavy edge to use for decorating.

Mahmoul via @kingarthurflour

Scoop the dough by the tablespoon and roll into balls. Scoop the filling by the teaspoon and roll into balls.

Mahmoul via @kingarthurflour

Press the portioned dough into a 3″ diameter disk with your fingers. Leave the center a little thicker than the outside edges, so the top ends up as thick as the bottom once the seams are closed.

Mahmoul via @kingarthurflour

Place the filling inside the disk and bring the edges up to enclose it. Use the small ramekin as a third hand to hold the dough in place if that’s easier for you. Pinch the edges closed and turn the ramekin over to place the filled cookie seam-side down. Gently pat it into a disk shape.

Mahmoul via @kingarthurflour

Transfer to a baking sheet and use the wavy edge of your cutter to lightly mark the top in a decorative pattern.

Mahmoul via @kingarthurflour

Another way to shape Mahmoul is to use the design of a tartlet tin (or a 1 1/2″ barquette mold). Pat the cookies’ bottom to set the pattern on the surface, then tip over and tap the cookie out of the mold.

Mahmoul via @kingarthurflour

Finally, here’s how things go if you have a traditional wooden mold.

Once the cookies are shaped, bake them for 18 to 20 minutes, just until the edges begin to brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.

“We didn’t have a very big kitchen growing up, so Mom would make them when we were at school,” says Karen. “I can remember coming home to the smell of whatever she was cooking or baking being the first thing that hit me when I came through the door and trying to guess what she’d been up to while I was at school. When I smelled Mahmoul, it was heaven.  She’d put them in the dining room to cool and it was torture not sneaking one.”

When Karen got older, she helped her mom make them. “We’d set up an assembly line and work together. My favorite part was smacking the spoon on the table to get them out. I loved the thrill of seeing the beautiful pattern as they popped out.”

Mahmoul via @kingarthurflour

This buttery cookie with its rich spiced filling freezes well, ships well, and keeps for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container at cool room temperature. It’s an international treat that’s worth importing for your holiday cookie table.

Try your hand at making Mahmoul, and let us know what you think in the comments below.

Susan Reid
About

Chef Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently the Food Editor of Sift magazine. She does demos, appearances, and answers food (and baking) questions from all quarters.

comments

  1. Elaine

    I’m planning to try these lovely cookies this weekend. The farina is used uncooked straight from the Cream of Wheat box. Is that correct? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Yes, Elaine, that’s exactly right. They’re great fun and very rewarding to make! Let us know how they turn out! Susan

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      I don’t think it would, Sarah. I use the one minute when I make them, but for the purposes of this dough I think you’d be fine either way. Susan

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Vicky. I was looking at some UK websites, and if you have a store near you that carries Bob’s Red Mill products, they sell a bag of whole wheat farina which is the same thing as Cream of Wheat. Semolina (finely ground) is the next best substitute I can recommend. Susan

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Carol. Figs could work (use dried, not fresh). I think either raisins or dried apricots would be worth trying, too, and should be able to stand in using equal amounts (by weight). Susan

  2. Carmen

    Thank you so much for featuring this recipe! I discovered mamoul at a middle eastern market years ago, and I have been obsessed ever since. I’d love to see more Lebanese and Persian inspired recipes, recipes featuring rose water, semolina, pomegranate molasses and such-type ingredients, on your blog. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Linda. I am working on getting my hands on Karen’s family’s nut filling recipe; I don’t recommend a substitution from the date-based one. As soon as I have the nut filling I will add it to the online recipe in our archive. Susan

  3. Geeta

    I love Mahmoul but have never tried making them. Thanks for the wonderful recipe, will definitely try to make them. Have a question though, my family is very sugar sensitive so I tend to add a bit of protein (nuts and such) to my baked goods. Has anyone tried to add some ground up nuts to the filling mixture? if so, what was the quantity? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We haven’t tried that, Geeta, but we think your ground up nuts might be more at home in the dough. You could try replacing up to 25% of the all-purpose flour with almond flour for additional protein and a delightful buttery, nutty flavor. Enjoy! Kye@KAF

    2. Roxanne

      Geeta – it is very common for Lebanese people to make maamoul with ground up pistachios, sugar, melted rendered butter and orange blossom water for the filling. You can also use walnuts. Just made some today!

    3. Emmanuelle

      In fact you will be glad to learn that maamoul can also be filled with pistachios, which are my favorite kind of maamoul.
      I don’t know the recipe, but I saw some while doing a quick search.

      Regardons sugar sensitivity, I fear that any middle easter treat will not suit any sugar sensitive person, as the tend to be very sugary, except maybe mouhalabieh.

    4. Susan Reid, post author

      You’re right on both counts, Emmanuelle. I am working on getting Karen’s nut filling recipe to share with everyone. Susan

  4. Yvette

    Can you substitute semolina? If so would it be a 1:1 substitution? My friend’s grandmother was Lebanese and her recipe uses semolina. Thanks and I can’t wait to try this recipe!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Yvette, we usually recommend starting off by replacing some of the all-purpose flour in a recipe with semolina before making a full 1:1 swap. Try making the dough with half all-purpose flour and half semolina and see how you like the results. If you like what you taste and the cookies seem to be holding their shape well, feel free to increase the amount with the next batch. Kye@KAF

  5. C. J.

    Some of the Mamoul molds offered on line are crudely carved and the dough can be difficult to remove without distorting the design. You can put a clean, fine-meshed stocking inside the mold before putting in the dough to make it easier to remove the Mamoul. I haven’t tried the plastic molds.

    Reply
  6. Anne

    I was gifted a set of these beautiful molds a few years ago and they make such a stunning cookie. In the past I’ve made my dough with semolina instead of the farina, but will try this recipe this week for sure.

    Reply
  7. Allison

    I have a Mamol mold from my Filipina grandmother who used to make dozens of these cookies at Christmas time. she made hers with a half a date in the middle. Apparently the tradition migrated from the middle east to the southern islands of the Phillipines where my family is from. We had the mold for years but no recipe until we stumbled upon a basket of the molds in a middle eastern market one day. Eureka!

    Reply
  8. Charlene

    I am SO happy to find this recipe! I used to enjoy these cookies as a college student; they were made by a long ago boyfriend’s Lebanese family. I had no idea what they were called or how to make them. They were wonderful and so very special. This is heaven: Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

    Reply
  9. Kathy

    Hi, just to say I want to move to Vermont and spend my days with all of you! I found KAF looking for malted milk powder so we could make vanilla malts at home- your malt was delish! And your catalogs are highlights of a day! Thank you KAF and may Our Savior’s birthday be a special and blessed day for all of you

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for your kind words and for sharing your enthusiasm with us. We wish you’d come spend your days baking with us in Vermont! Kye@KAF

  10. Rose Isaksen

    These are wonderful cookies that I make from a family recipe. I would love to get my hands on another wooden mold. Can you tell me where I can find one or two?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Rose, while we don’t sell any of these pretty molds at this time, it looks like they’re available from other online retailers, like Amazon. You can also keep your eyes out at specialty stores or international markets. Good luck! Kye@KAF

  11. Eveline Corey

    The Mahmoul recipe handed down to me from the Lebanese family that I married into contains a good 2 shots of whisky ( for preservation ) will keep for weeks in a large tin cookie tin) and calls for the Middle Eastern spice “Mahleb”. About the whisky—-maybe it just gave the cook a chance for a little “nip”!! However it surely smells yummy when mixing the dough!E

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Carmen. I just got Karen’s family’s recipe for nut filling; here it is:
      mix together 1 1/2 cups of ground nuts (walnuts or pistachios), 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar, and 1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or rose water.
      That’s it! I am going to put this information on the online recipe, as well, so they’ll both be handy. Susan

  12. J.L. de Grasse

    I have loved Mahmoul for years! Sadly, I have developed a wheat allergy in the last couple of years (not coeliac disease, an actual allergy). Has anyone tried this recipe with a gluten free alternative? I see the suggestion to sub in part almond flour (yum!), would a finely ground rice flour work for the farina or commercially available ‘cream of rice’ cereal in a box? Thank you!

    Reply
  13. Tom

    I discovered Mamoul 40 years ago when we lived in Saudi Arabia and have molds including some purchased in a Tulsa Arab grocery store. The recipe I use has no added sugar (the dates are sweet enough on their own) and the pastry is only farina and butter mixed and allowed to sit overnight. A little water added will make it doughy. The filling is about the same without the sugar and olive oil instead of butter. I’ve never used cardamom, but I will next time. Hint: I halve the pastry and halve again and again until I have 32 equal portions. I do the same with the filling to make everything come out even.

    Reply
  14. Sarah

    My Syrian MIL made a cookie she called mamoul but they were not fancy, just round balls, very buttery with some ground nuts in the dough and rolled in powdered sugar.
    She also made a baklava type cookie with the fillo & nut filling rolled into about 4 inch long sticks that she called bride’s fingers.

    Reply
  15. Laurie Koochesfahani

    Loved mahmoul when I was not GF. Now I have to be GF. Subbing KAF 1:1 flour is a start, but how to sub for the Cream of Wheat? Almond flour? Thx.

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Laurie. It might we worth trying cream of rice, particularly if there’s an instant version; other than that I would use Measure 4 Measure in a volume that matches the combined amount of flour and Cream of Wheat. Susan

  16. LINDA

    Hello KAF staff! I just ordered myself one of each (filling) ma’amoul cookie molds…date, walnut and the pistachio! The nice man who took my order said that if you wanted to sell them at your company, he’d give you guys a “great deal” on them…He said they are direct from the middle east, authentic…he also has the mastic, orange blossom flower water and mahleb spice for these specialty shortbread cookies. ..please let me know in the comments if you’re interested so that I can give you good folks his name and number…he’s very kind and wants to help…thanks for this recipe.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You’re very welcome, Linda, and thank you for offering to make the connection. Purchasing decisions are made by our Merchandising Team, so if he’d like to share details with us, he’s more than welcome to do so using the “contact us” form on our website. Happy baking to you in the meantime! Mollie@KAF

    2. LINDA

      Ok, Wonderful! Never knew that! I will surely pass this information on to him. He is a very nice man and the ma’amoul cookie molds are beautiful! Enjoy a very Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year my good friends at KAF! And thanks a bunch for all the great and delicious recipes this year! 😊

  17. Christine J Lentz

    Besides Cream of Wheat, what other forms of farina can be used? I have seen a recipe for part semolina flour, and part regular flour.
    Any substitutes for gluten free? Rice flour can be so brittle and I find cookies fall apart.

    I bought some lovely molds, and can hardly wait to try them!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Christine. As we’ve been suggesting, finely ground semolina will also suffice for this recipe. And if you’re going to make a gluten-free version, you’re much better off with a gluten-free blend than with straight rice flour; I would recommend our Measure for Measure, which has just a hint of xanthan gum in it to keep your cookies from crumbling. Cream of Rice could stand in for a wheat flour in that version. Susan

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You certainly can, Gisella. It would likely be in place of or in addition to the vanilla extract. They can be rather strong so starting with maybe 1/4 tsp of each,
      and then seeing if you’d like it to have a stronger orange or rose flavor. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  18. Joe Plude

    This recipe appealed to me strongly, and here I am on Christmas Eve Day, baking a last minute cookie. The recipes for both dough, and fillings were easy to follow, and came out so well. Both passed the taste test with flying colors. LOL – I think that’s where my success may have ended. I struggled with the assembly, but didn’t sweat it. The components of short bread and filling are winners, and I can practice the assembly and become proficient. The first batch is out of the oven, and rather like snow flakes, there are no two alike. Thank you for such a great recipe. There was mention of a pistachio filling, and I would like to try that as well. One question: I’m guessing you could split the dough in half, apply the first layer in a baking pan, ad the filling and then the second half of the dough as a topper. Do you think this might work as a filled bar? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Joe

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      That sounds like it would be one tasty bar cookie, Joe! We don’t see why that wouldn’t work, it will just take a bit of oven door-watching to see how long they’ll take to bake. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

    2. Jas

      Ma’moul is actually made that way in some parts of the Middle East, it’s called “ma’moul mudd”. I would suggest adding a tiny amount of baking powder to the dough so it is lighter and easier to cut and serve later. Let it cool slightly before cutting.

  19. Feby

    I love mahmoul!! I’m from South East Asia, and every time any member of the family went to Saudi Arabia, this is the gift to bring home.
    I never thought to make it myself. Will definitely try this.
    Thank you for the recipe.

    Reply
  20. Margy

    Would you ever consider selling these molds on your site? It’s hard to know what you’re getting just ordering off a website, and I know I can trust any product sold by KAF.
    In the meantime, I do own a set of your walnut cookie molds. Do you think one of these would work as a mold for these cookies?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Margy. Thank you for your interest in KAF carrying Mahmoul molds. I’ve passed your feedback along to our Merchandising Team to consider for the future. As for your walnut molds, they would absolutely work beautifully for this recipe. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  21. samcherie

    Gluten free and dairy free usually needs to go hand in hand. Most folks I know seem to have an allergy to both. So you have solved the gluten free problem with measure for measure, but what do I do about the butter required in this wonderfully sounding recipe?
    Mom used KA flour and so do I, and I’m 79, so many generations in my family are loyal to your products, recipes and suggestions. With every g f recipe, could you mention an alternate for dairy?
    Thanks for your attention.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We often resort to using Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks when we need to replace butter in a recipe. It has a lovely, creamy flavor and behaves similarly in baking. You can find them in most grocery stores. We realize that more and more people need to bake dairy-free, so we’re putting together a full series of blog articles about dairy-free baking. The first is already available to read on our blog here; there will be more to come! Kye@KAF

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