29 March 2012

A dash of orange blossom water

Around Easter-time is usually the time where Lebanese homes break out their Maamoul skills.  Maamoul is a traditional dome-shaped shortbread pastry cookie filled with dates, walnuts or pistachios and dusted with powdered sugar.  (See any downside yet?  I thought so.)  Not being one to relish last-minute rushing, I decided to get an early start.

I am loathe to share recipe I used.  Why, you ask?  Because of the myriad of Lebanese baking experts who a) could easily serve me a generous portion of humble pie, and b) likely have much better renditions to offer.  That being said, in the spirit of good sportsmanship, I am determined to post it nonetheless.  Just consider yourselves warned.  (Oh, and if you be Lebanese and likely a gourmet chef in your own right, both of which I am not, I crave your indulgence.)

Now that I've sufficiently covered my back, I will say that I found this recipe to be a melt-in-your-mouth explosion of buttery goodness.  Positively epicurean!  As you can see, my son M was recruited to help bang the mold.  Initially he was helping form the whole cookie (can you tell which ones he made?), but the banging just got too exciting and he left his post to be crowned "official maamoul banger".  

One of the coolest things about this project for me was finding out about some of the traditions surrounding maamoul.  Here are a few tidbits, courtesy of Fouad Kassab:
  • The wooden mold (oops, I used plastic!) symbolizes the cross of Jesus
  • The patterned mold represent the sponge used to give Christ vinegar
  • The inside is an explosion of sweetness to symbolize the Resurrection... also kind of paralleling Christ lying in the tomb (outside cookie) but rising on the third day (inside filling).  :o)
So, without further ado, though still quite reluctantly, here's the piece de resistance... aka: my recipe.


2 cups fresh unsalted butter, melted (but cooled afterwards)
3 cups flour
4 cups fine semolina
1 pinch salt
1 pinch baking soda
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp orange blossom water
~1 cup water 

2 cups finely chopped walnuts (or pistachios)
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp orange blossom water (or plain water)

Mix semolina, flour, salt, baking powder and sugar together.  Rub in butter with fingers until mixture is homogeneous and resembles fine meal.  Cover dough with plastic wrap and let it rest for about 1-2 hours.  (This softens the semolina.)  Sprinkle orange water over the dough and then drizzle a little more than 3/4 a cup of water uniformly on the dough.  Mix lightly with a fork until just combined - like pie dough.  Don't overwork dough or cookies will end up chewy... take it from me and my first round failure experience!  Perhaps knead it 10 times maximum?  (If necessary add a little more water.)  Dough might be a little crumbly and that's fine.  It worked out for me on round 2.  Anyhow, if you're a pastry chef, you probably get this better than I.  Think pie pastry not cookie.

Take all filling ingredients and mix together until combined.  Set aside.  

Pinch off about a walnut-sized ball of dough.  Flatten or indent it slightly with your finger.  Try not to overwork dough here either.  (In the pictures above - obviously my first round - I've rolled it out thinly, and my final product didn't work out as well - it's better to keep it thicker.)  Place the dough in a lightly floured maamoul mold (I didn't need flour with my plastic one!) and fill the cavity with a spoon of nut filling.  Join the edges to seal and if necessary add a little more dough to fill the mold.  Press dough well into the mold to achieve good pattern indentation.  (If you don't have a mold, you can form the dough into a dome shape, or flatten the top gently and then decorate with a fork.)  NB: make sure you carve off excess dough once you've pressed it into the mold, or else you'll get a cookie with a rounded bottom that will develop cracks on top once it bakes.

Knock mold firmly on the table (can't imagine a kid not loving this part) or your palm to release the cookie.  

Arrange maamoul on a baking sheet and cook at 400 degrees F (around 200 degrees C), for about 12 minutes.  They will be a sort of golden-blond.  Do not let them brown.  Remove from the oven and let cool.  When cool (I actually do this step when the cookies are still a little warm so the sugar will stick better...), sprinkle powder sugar on top.  Serve to family and friends during the Paschal season.

Keeps well for up to 10 days in an airtight container.  Can also be kept airtight in the fridge or freezer for longer periods.  


  1. Hey Alexa, it is Jordan... I was trying to make the Maamoul, but was wondering if it is baking powder or soda that you used??? as well, do I put the cup of water into the dough mix with the orange blossom water? Thanks, It looks really tasty!

    1. Hi Jordan! It's baking powder not baking soda. You can mix the orange blossom water with the plain water before adding them to the dough, but just remember that you don't want to add too much water. Just enough so the dough will hold together. And I can't stress it enough: don't overwork the dough. You want it to be a little crumbly even when you're stuffing it with nuts.

      Hope that helps. Let me know how they turn out!

  2. hello girls i'm also in the maamoul 2 weeks of maamoul making ... my recipe is quite different but i think there are manu ways to do it.... good luck to you
    big hug

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I'd actually be interested to see your recipe. I'm always looking for ways to improve. :o) I know some people don't use flour - only course and fine semolina. How do yours turn out?

      Have fun baking!