I had a variety of jobs when I was a college student, including a stint as an abalone cleaner. The shift leader was a Lebanese woman named Yvette, who taught me to make an entire Lebanese meal including ma'mul, cookies made with clarified butter and shaped in a wooden hand-carved mold called a "tabi" (also called taabeh or tamreah) which we bought at a Middle Eastern store.** Here's my collection.
Traditionally, ma'mul are filled with pistachios, walnuts or dates and scented with orange or rose water. Different molds indicate the type of filling. I've included online sources below if you're interested in finding a tabi. Some folks don't use molds, so don't let this stop you from making ma'mul. Just flatten the cookie ball a bit and score with a fork.
Spelling variations include mamool, mamoul, maamoul, ma'amoul, in case you're interested in googling to find other versions. This video shows how the cookies are traditionally shaped, filled, and molded or decorated.
I modified Yvette's family recipe to reflect my family's preferences, using locally grown walnuts and Mexican vanilla.
Roxanne's Walnut-filled Mexican Vanilla Ma'mulIngredients for dough
- 2 c. clarified butter
- 1/2 c. sugar
- 6 c. flour (if possible, use some semolina to help hold the shape)
- 1 c. lukewarm milk
- 3 c. ground nuts
- 1 c. sugar
- 1 T. Mexican vanilla**
Make the filling
- Toss the nuts in your food processor and give then a whirl. You're making finely chopped nuts, not nut flour, so don't go crazy.
- Mix the ground nuts with sugar and vanilla, cover, and set aside.
- Clarify the butter.*** As a rule of thumb, five sticks of unsalted butter yield 2 cups of clarified butter.
- Cream the butter and sugar.
- Add flour and milk to the butter mixture, and gently knead until smooth.
Prep the molds
Make the cookies
- If you're using a wooden mold, brush it with lightly with melted butter, making sure to get into those little crevices. This keeps the first cookies from sticking when you tap them out. The butter in the cookie dough itself will season the mold, so this step is only necessary to do once per baking session.
- I used to have only one mold and as you can imagine, it took quite some time to make 4 dozen cookies. Since then, I've collected few and if I bake alone, I set up an assembly line: chunk out the dough, make the disks, fill the disks, fill the molds, tap tap tap tap, and bake when the cookie sheet is full.
- Pinch out walnut-sized chunks of dough before starting to fill. Keep this all covered so the dough doesn't dry out.
- Shape a chunk of dough into a disk about 1/4 inch thick and about 3 inches in diameter.
- Put about 1 heaping teaspoon of filling in the middle of the disk, fold the edges over and pinch closed.
- Put the "package" in the mold, folded side facing out, and press gently so the design imprints on the top of the cookie and the bottom of the cookie is flattish.
- Tap the ma'mul out and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. These cookies don't spread, so they can be placed fairly close together.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until the bottoms are lightly brown. Don't turn your back on the oven! A burned batch will break your heart.
- When the cookies have cooled, sprinkle with confectioner's sugar if you'd like.
- Store in an airtight container.
** Mexican vanilla: Mexican vanilla has gotten a bad rap, so be careful to buy from a reputable vendor. There are many online sources for Mexican vanilla without coumarin. Check Amazon or Williams Sonoma. Yeah, yeah, you can always substitute another high quality vanilla, but imho, nothing compares with pure Mexican vanilla extract. In the words of David Liebovitz, "Real Mexican vanilla is perhaps the best in the world." Oh, and avoid vanilla blends. You want pure extract which is coumarin free & FDA registered.
***A special word about Ma'mul molds: Mine have been procured from various sources, including the now defunct Dayna's Market.
- If you'd like a traditional shape, try Hashems, DedeMed, Eid Molds, or search eBay for "maamoul mold."
- Or use a Chinese mooncake mold like these. You can also find mooncake molds on Amazon and Ali Express. This pattern would work beautifully.
*** Clarified butter is also known as drawn butter or ghee. Some Indian and specialty markets sell ghee. If you clarify the butter yourself, use only unsalted butter. What to do with the milk fats you skim off? I spread it on toast.