Growing up in the Levant, mamool—a semolina shortbread cookie filled with dates or nuts, like pistachios or walnuts—were always tied to religious festivals. What I love about mamool is that they're not specific to any religion: Around Easter or Lent, you'd visit with Christian friends and they'd serve them dusted with powdered sugar alongside coffee or tea. You may visit with Muslim friends for Eid and they'd have mamool to celebrate the end of Ramadan or pilgrimage months. And if you visit with Arab-Jewish friends, they'll serve them filled with nuts for Purim. —Azhar Hashem
250 to 300 grams
butter or soft ghee; exact amount depends on the the how well the semolina absorbs it
mahlab (a spice that can be obtained from any Middle Eastern specialty shop)
Make the filling first: For the date filling, combine all ingredients until a homogenous paste. For the nut filling, mix the nuts with sugar and blossom water until it forms a cohesive dough. Cover and set aside.
In a bowl, place the semolina and the flour along with a pinch of salt, then add the warm butter or gee, and mix by running fingers through the semolina and making sure the butter is thoroughly mixed in. Avoid kneading. Cover and set aside for a few hours, allowing the butter to be absorbed by the flour.
Add the mastic, the mahlab, milk, and sugar to the semolina mixture and mix thoroughly. Adjust sugar to taste.
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water along with half a teaspoon of sugar and leave for 5 minutes, until bubbling.
Gradually add the active yeast to the semolina mixture, ensuring gentle mixing with fingers, and not kneading. The dough should be cohesive. The semolina may not need the whole water amount, so add it gradually. Cover the dough and leave aside for 3 hours.
To form the individual cookies, cut out a portion of the dough that is slightly smaller than the mamool mold. Spread the dough out in a thin layer in the palm of your hand and then place a small portion of the filling into the center of the dough. Wrap the dough around the filling and place in the mamool mold. Press the ball gently into the mold so that the dough fills it completely.
Turn the mold upside down and gently tap it so that the dough loosens and drops into the palm of your hand. Place the cookie onto a baking sheet that can be covered while the other cookies are being formed to avoid drying. Make sure to leave an inch of space between the cookies to avoid having them stick to each other.
Bake the cookies at 350° F and keep a close watch. As soon as the dough begins to turn reddish in color, then that’s an indication that they cookies are ready.
Allow for it to cool down completely before removing from the pan to avoid crumbling. Serve by sprinkling powdered sugar on top.