Sunday, February 6, 2011

Mamool (Middle Eastern Butter Cookies)

For those who have been wondering, my brother Colin finally left Egypt this past Wednesday and is now back in the US.  I know he's bummed about having to leave his program, but given the way the last few days have unfolded it seems as though he picked a very good time to go.  It's also amazing how being in the right (wrong? no, I think right) place at the right time has resulted in a network news appearance (on ABC, in D.C.), a letter to the Atlantic, a mention on NPR, and a quote in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  He has also written a new post on his blog (seriously, check it out) about his experiences living five minutes' walk from Tahrir Square, from which he has allowed me to quote:

"while walking through Tahrir on Tuesday, a Muslim Brotherhood guy gave me a cookie. I tried to politely refuse, but when he insisted, I qualified, even though I'm American? He smiled and replied, especially because you're an American. Ad infinitum, this is the anecdote I will tell about the Brotherhood."

I use this anecdote in an admittedly rather tenuous connection to the rest of this blog post, as mamool is apparently more Lebanese than anything.  We can nevertheless celebrate the power of cookies--to welcome people into one's home, to seduce their hearts and souls, and perhaps to further international understanding.  In any case, it's a pretty great story.

I think I found this recipe a while ago when I was looking for new ways to use mazaher (orange blossom water).  And Oh. My. Goodness.  These are good cookies.  Buttery and flaky but not overly sweet, they're like a shortbread cookie with a decadent and aromatic filling.  The flavor of the orange blossom water is strong without being overwhelming, and I added some almond extract to the outside dough as a counterpoint to that flavor.  I wouldn't change anything about the recipe, but I definitely could improve on my method.  For one, a google image search has informed me that mamool are usually way prettier, thanks to the help of an elegant cookie-mold-thing.  Since that was out of the question, I experimented with different methods and shapes (samosa? turnover?) before realizing that the easiest and best looking way to do it was to flatten out small portions of the dough as much as possible (see below), then put a small amount of filling in the middle of the circle, pull up the sides of the circle around the filling, pinch it closed, and then roll it as if there were nothing inside at all.

A little bit fussy, but once I got the hang of it, it was alright.  The dough was too dry, however, and I had to add a few tablespoons more liquid (soymilk and/or water) in order to get a dough that could handle all this manipulation.  I'm guessing that the tradeoff was a slightly tougher cookie, but I'm not complaining.

No eggs were called for, but I did add some cornstarch, not only as a binder, but also because the original recipe called for farina, which appears to be a more processed wheat flour product.  And again, I also added almond extract, which is one of my favorite things in the world (exhibit b: amazing almond cookies).

I also discovered a new method for melting larger amounts of butter: less fussy and more energy-efficient than using a double boiler or the toaster oven, I put the butter in a metal bowl on a cookie sheet into the oven that was preheating anyway (see photo at right)!  I guess if you have a microwave this is less of a revelation, but I don't.

Mamool (Middle Eastern Butter Cookies)

4 c white all-purpose flour
1 c sugar
1 TB orange blossom water (the original recipe suggests using rose water as a variation; I'd like to try this too)
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 c melted butter (I used Earth Balance)
1 TB soymilk, plus more as needed
2 c ground walnuts
1/4 c sugar
1 TB orange blossom water
2 TB butter, melted

1. Combine filling ingredients and set aside.
2. To make the dough, combine flour, sugar, and butter; add milk and flavoring. Knead well. Form into small patties, flatten in palm of hand; fill with 1 teaspoon filling and close tightly (see above notes for more information about how I did this).  Poke each one with a fork (is this necessary?  I'm not sure, but I thought better safe than sorry).
3. Bake in 350* oven until lightly browned on the bottom (about 10 min), then broil until tops are lightly browned.  Watch them very closely under the broiler!  I burnt about six of them because I stepped away for a minute.  If desired, sprinkle with confectioners' sugar when cool.  Makes 2-3 dozen.


janet said...

I am so glad to hear you loved these cookies. I was going to make mahmool for the holidays, even got all the ingredients, but then ran out of time. :( It is still on my hitlist - thanks for the tips on forming the cookies, because I don't have a mold either.

victoryfarm said...

I often see Mamool molds on eBay, and have been tempted, but didn't have a recipe. Thanks for locating one and sharing it! Next time, I won't hesitate. I'll definitely have to use the Orange Blossom Water, as I've learned that Rose Water aggravates my allergies (phooey - it smells and tastes so wonderful!).

In the meantime, I'll be sharing your blog with my followers on Facebook - I'm sure they'll find it interesting, too!

Tehmeena said...

this is truly a wonderful idea with walnuts in date.. mine is too simple do have a look Mamoul cookies lovely space you have

Julia said...

Thanks! Yours look beautiful using the mold.