These traveler’s date cookies are Lebanon’s answer to shortbread. Rich, buttery, and utterly irresistible.
Like shortbread in Scotland, these cookies, called mamoul, are found everywhere in Lebanon and Syria. They’re rich semolina cookies shaped around a date paste perfumed with orange flower water and rose water. They’re a beautiful pale yellow, easy to bite into.–Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
What are mamoul molds and where can I get them?
If you’re lucky enough to have a special mold for these cookies, recipe authors Jeffrey and Naomi have some words of wisdom for you: “We give instructions here for round <mamoul decorated only by pricking with a fork. In Syria and Lebanon, and in some specialty grocery stores in North America, you can find elaborately carved mamoul molds. If you have a mold, oil it with olive oil and then oil again lightly every 3 or 4 mamoul. Fill the mold almost full of dough and use your thumb to press down in the center. This will make a hollow in the center and will also give you thin walls of dough around the edges. You may need less filling, say 1 teaspoon each. Place the filling in the center, then fold the thin walls over and pinch off any excess dough. Pull the shaped mamoul gently from the mold and transfer to the baking sheet, decorative side up. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.”
For the cookies
- 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup lukewarm water
- 1 tablespoon orange flower water
- 1 large egg
- 1 stick unsalted butter melted and cooled to lukewarm
- 1 1/2 cups coarse semolina (a coarse grind, like polenta, not fine semolina flour)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- Milk for brushing
For the filling
- 3/4 cup honey dates
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons orange flower water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons rose water
- In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water. Stir in the orange flower water, egg, and melted butter. Add the semolina and stir in, then sprinkle on the sugar and salt and stir. Add the flour and stir and turn to combine until crumbly but holds together when squeezed. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 1 hour.
- Place all the ingredients in a food processor and process to a paste. Transfer to a bowl and set aside, covered.
- Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Set out an 18-by-12-inch baking sheet near your work surface.
- To shape the mamoul (see LC Note), use a tablespoon to scoop up a full level tablespoon of dough. Place it in the palm of one hand and use the thumb and fingers of the other hand to flatten it into a nearly 3-inch-diameter round. Scoop up 1 1/2 teaspoons of the filling and place it on the center of the round. Pull the edges up to cover the filling, then roll the cookie lightly between your palms to make a ball. Place seam side down on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling, placing the cookies about 1/2-inch apart. Prick each cookie decoratively with a fork. Brush the tops with a little milk.
- Bake until touched at the edges with golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer immediately to a wire rack to cool.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
Okay, I confess. I faithfully shaped the first two dozen cookies as described in the recipe—something I found time consuming. The second two dozen were rolled out on waxed paper and cut with a cookie cutter, the filling dabbed in the centre, and voila! Done! Other than the fiddly process, these cookies tasted like a trip to the Middle East and smelled heavenly in the oven. A little heavier in texture than I had imagined but tasty nonetheless. A cup of mint tea or a Turkish coffee would be perfect.
I picked the traveler’s date cookies recipe to test for one reason: It reminded me of home. My grandmother still makes these delicacies and stuffs them with either a date or a nut filling. This recipe was a perfect example of what mamoul should be like. The baked pastry was not overly sweet, it held together wonderfully but at the same time it had a nice crunchy/crumbly texture. The filling was also perfect—sweet and fragrant with rose water and orange blossom water. I loved these addictive little cookies and the recipe has been safely tucked away in my recipe folder.
Originally published April 23, 2003