I was introduced to ma’amoul many years ago in Manhattan and have loved them ever since. Many recipes call for semolina in the dough but I prefer a shortbread base made with flour and butter because it produces a more tender cookie. They can be filled with a date paste or nuts. My favorite filling is pistachio with orange flower water. Years ago, I was in Boston with a friend and we stopped at a Middle Eastern market for some spices. We saw a basket full of fun looking wooden molds but we had no idea what they were for. We each bought one anyway because we liked to collect kitchen gadgets. Some time later, I discovered that the mold was for making ma’amoul and I was very glad I had purchased one. If you do not have a Middle Eastern grocer near you, Amazon.com sells the molds. You can also form the cookies by hand and avoid the mold all together. I’ve given instructions for both methods below. The dough is easy to work with and does not require chilling. The last time we made these cookies we made several batches at once and ran out of pistachio filling but still had dough. We decided to try filling the remaining dough with Nutella. Ma’amoul with Nutella filling is probably a bit unconventional but surprisingly complementary with the orange flower water. I began thinking of other possible fillings such as custard, lemon curd, caramel, or thick jams. This recipe is adapted from Claudia Roden’s wonderful tome The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York.
2-3/4 cups flour (or a little more if you live in a humid place)
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter, diced
4 tablespoons whole milk
2 tablespoons orange flower water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups raw unsalted shelled pistachios
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of fine salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
2-1/2 teaspoons orange flower water
To make the dough combine flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor bowl. Pulse to mix. Add diced butter and pulse to get a crumbly mixture. Add orange flower water and milk, then pulse until the dough comes together. You do not want a crumbly dough; it should come together and not be sticky. Turn dough out onto the counter and knead lightly to make it smooth. Clean and dry the food processor bowl so you can use it to make the filling. Combine pistachios and 1/3 cup of sugar in the food processor bowl. Pulse to grind the pistachios somewhat fine but not into a powder. Add salt and spices. Pulse again to mix. Add orange flower water and pulse to mix. The nuts should be fine ground and the mixture moist. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment. To form the cookies by hand: Take a walnut size piece of dough (1 oz.) and roll it into a ball. Make a well in the center of the dough and fill it with roughly two teaspoons of the pistachio filling. Spread the filling and flatten slightly. Bring the dough around the filling to seal up the dough completely around the pistachios. You want a dome-shaped cookie. Place cookie on baking sheet, flatten the top slightly, then poke the top of the cookie with the tines of a fork for a design. To form the cookies with a ma’amoul mold: Use a pastry brush dipped in canola oil and brush the mold to keep the dough from sticking. You should brush the mold lightly with oil after every three cookies or so. Take a walnut size piece of dough (1 oz.) and pat it into the mold. You want the dough to come up to the top of the carved edge. Place two teaspoons of pistachio filling into the center and flatten the filling slightly to spread it towards the edges. Fold the dough over the filling so it is completely covered. Tap the mold rather forcefully on the counter with your hand beneath it to catch the cookie as it releases from the mold. (If some of the dough sticks into the grooves of the mold, use a toothpick to remove the dough and brush the mold with oil.) Place on cookie sheet, about 15 cookies per sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. The cookie should be fairly firm to the touch, pale on top, and golden on the bottom. Do not brown the cookies. Remove from oven and cool ma’amoul on a rack. Store in an airtight container or freeze. It is optional to dust the cookies with confectioners sugar before serving. Makes 25-30 cookies.