The ma’mouls were an Easter tradition in our house established by my grandmother who made them by hand from start to finish. No wooden ma’moul molds for her or food processor. She used her fingers, knuckles and palms. To shape the cookies, she used malkat, those brass tweezers that I finally found in Beirut at a small shop down the street run by a 90-year young man.
Ma’mouls are basically a shortbread cookie filled with nuts (or dates or sweet cream). Except the flour used is semolina and farina (aka cream of wheat). They are now sold year-round in pastry shops in Beirut, but were usually made at home for holidays, as a family tradition.
Are they hard to make? No, they are easy: Just plan on some time to let the dough rest and invite someone to help shape them (more fun).
INGREDIENTS: Makes about 36, and up to 50 depending on the size of the mold used.
- 1 1/2 cup of semolina
- 1 1/2 cup of cream of wheat
- 2 sticks of unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup of rose water and orange blossom water (pour into a measuring cup 3 ounces of rose water first and the rest can be orange blossom water)
- 14 ounces of pistachios
- Sugar syrup: 2 cups of sugar, 1 cup of water, 1/2 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of rose water, 1 teaspoon of orange blossom water. OR use powdered sugar, as needed. (I favor syrup)
- Extra butter (2 or 3 tablespoons) as needed
- MAKE THE DOUGH: Place the semolina and cream of wheat in the bowl of a food processor (or a mixer). Run the machine for a few seconds to combine the two.
- Melt the sticks of butter over low heat, skimming as much of the foam as possible. Transfer the butter to a measuring jug with a spout and pour into the food processor with the machine running, using the feed tube. A dough will form and it will be sandy.
- Pour the rose and orange blossom water through the feed tube and run the machine for a couple of minutes to incorporate. When the dough leaves the sides of the bowl, it is ready. Transfer the dough to a ziploc bag (one quart should be enough) and seal the bag well. Let the dough rest in the bag for one hour or longer. (My grandmother let the dough rest overnight). The longer the better.
- MAKE THE FILLING: Place two cups of sugar and one cup of water in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer and add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice. Simmer gently for no more than 10 minutes. Add the last 30 seconds one teaspoon of rose water and one teaspoon of orange blossom water. Let the syrup cool.
- Place the pistachios in the bowl of a food processor; add about 4 tablespoons of syrup, 2 tablespoons of softened butter (optional) and pulse until the pistachios are the consistency you like. Some people like to get a paste, I prefer the nuts to be chopped medium-fine.
- MAKING THE MA’MOULS: Use cookie droppers if you have them to save time and form balls of dough and elongated balls of stuffing and line them up on a large piece of wax paper. Grab one ball and press it between the palms of your hand, in order to get a disk, about 3 inches long. Place the nuts in the middle and enclose the disk with your fingertips. Roll the ball between the palms of your hand until the seam is smooth and not visible.
- Grease and flour a ma’moul mold and insert the ball of stuffed dough; press with your palm a bit and with a decisive movement, flip the mold onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Bake the ma’mouls for 20 minutes in a 400F oven or until pale-golden. Do not let them brown! Serve either warm or cooled sprinkled with either some powdered sugar or dabbed in a little of the sugar syrup that you have made earlier. (I prefer the syrup, makes them more moist).
Ma’moul molds are found in all Middle-Eastern stores. Traditionally, ma’mouls were sprinkled with powdered sugar and distributed to friends and neighbors and relatives for religious holidays. I prefer to use a syrup which gives the dough extra moistness.
If you find that your dough is too dry, simply add more rose or orange blossom water to make the dough moist and pliable. Letting the dough rest for one hour or longer allows the semolina flours to soak up the butter and imbibe with the fragrance of the rose and orange blossom.
The sugar syrup can be made up to two weeks ahead and stored covered in the fridge till needed. Any extra syrup can be used to sweeten anything from smoothies to pancakes to muffins to salad dressings, puddings, etc.
If adding all the rose water and orange blossom sounds too much, you can substitute with water or milk.
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