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. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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
  4. 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.

    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

  5. 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

  6. 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! 😊

  7. 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

  8. 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

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