Maamoul, ma’amoul or maamul, is a typical Middle Eastern dessert, very like a cookie filled with nuts, and scented with orange blossom or rose water. The Maamoul is usually made with a mold, designed for it, that's why they have such beautiful shapes. However, it is possible to find many different presentations and flavors. Even in most countries in the Middle East, you can find packaged Maamoul, in the same style as cookies in the West.
This dessert is linked to the religious festivals of the Middle East. Muslims eat these cookies, in the evenings during Ramadan and at the Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha celebrations. Christians of Arab origin consume them at Easter. Jews eat them on Purim, and ma’amoul stuffed with dates are eaten on Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah.
It is not known for sure, how Maamoul was associated with religious festivals. But there is a popular legend that tells that Maamoul is meant to remind people that fasting is hard, but it has a sweet filling inside. So, these cookies full of butter and nuts are usually a pleasant reward during the nights, in Ramadan.
How to make Maamoul?
Although there may be many recipes and variants of Maamoul, almost all keep some common characteristics. They look like light-colored dough buns, with a little powdered sugar or sesame seeds on top. In general, they are very aromatic desserts, thanks to the orange blossom water. The fillings are equally varied, the most common being dates, pistachios, or almonds.
The traditional way of making Maamoul is by making the dough out of semolina, wheat flour, or a mixture of both. This mass is then compacted with the help of a press for designs. It is important to note that the Maamoul dough is very like the sable dough, it does not need much kneading. If you knead too much, the gluten in the wheat may be activated and the cookies will become very hard. You only knead what is necessary to integrate the ingredients well.
If you do not have a press, you can buy it in Arabic products stores, or use chocolate molds. You can also make the Maamoul in the shape of a roll or as a cupcake. There is even a very special version of Maamoul called Karabij, which are mamaul served in blocks in the shape of pyramids, covered with naatiffe. Naatiffe is powdered sugar and egg white glaze scented with saponaria.
These bites are then baked, and when cold they are covered in powdered sugar. These snacks can keep for up to a week, soft and crunchy. In case you are not going to consume the Maamoul immediately, you can keep them frozen, uncooked for up to a month in the fridge.