Lebanese Walnut Ma’moul Recipe, a holiday stress reliever

 

I used to kick-box. A lot. And I loved to brag about it.

What’d you do today? Oh, not much, just worked. And kick-boxed…

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and there was a point when all of the runs up and down Chicago’s lakeshore just didn’t cut it. Seems I had plenty of pent-up punches to get out of me, and better the open air take the hits.

Most of the time my inner kick-boxer is tame, but I know that she comes straight out of the Abood genetic cocktail. We are wired for action, and even more so for reaction. It’s a high blood pressure sort of a thing (but mine is low, at least for now; hurray for Mom’s genes), a high-intensity, stress-inclined personality that has its benefits and drawbacks. It’s an Abood hallmark (is that not true, cousins?).

Aunt Hilda, like her siblings, did not escape the tumult either. I couldn’t help thinking about that when I was making my way through her and Sitto’s ma’moul recipes recently.

Aunt Hilda always said she wasn’t a baker, yet she got after baklawa and ma’moul—beautifully molded, meltaway butter cookies stuffed with nuts or dates—like nobody’s business (not to mention her strawberry-whipped cream cake, one I’d kickbox my way to dip a fork into once again). Those aren’t exactly rookie pastries to master, and the ma’moul in particular takes some doing.

I’m surprised that the finer points of stuffing the heaven-soft ma’moul butter dough, shaping the cookies and then molding them in their special wooden forms held interest for Hilda, for not being a baker. But then perhaps the most crucial aspect of making ma’moul—releasing the cookies from the molds—was a real attraction: Dust the mold with flour, fill it with a nut-stuffed ball of dough to make the impression, then slam the mold face down against the (sturdy) table two or three times, until the cookie comes out.

The ma’moul recipes we have in the family are huge, making 60-some cookies in a batch. My sense is that Hilda didn’t mind a bit the quantity, both for the beautifully wrapped trays she used to give along with her baklawi every Christmas, and, now I know, for all of the whacking she could get out of every big batch she made. I’ve been whacking away myself, wondering why I didn’t ma’moul my troubles away long ago.

Walnut Ma’moul
The family recipes for ma’moul call for ingredients like a shot of whiskey and the juice of one orange. I’ve opted here for another recipe for ma’moul that I love. Clarify the butter using this method, or melt the butter, let it rest in the pot until the solids fall to the bottom, then strain through a fine strainer. Read about ma’moul molds here; to clean them just rinse, without soap. Makes 36 cookies, more or less depending on the size of your mold.

1 cup clarified unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
2 cups plus a few tablespoons all-purpose, unbleached four, sifted
1 tablespoon milk
2 cups walnuts
2 teaspoons orange blossom water
1 cup confectioner’s sugar

Using a hand-held or stand mixer, beat the butter until it is light, fluffy, and holding peaks like whipped cream, about 15 minutes. Enjoy the beauty. Add the vanilla and 3 tablespoons of the sugar and beat for another minute.

Sift in the flour and gently incorporate it into the butter with a wooden spoon. Add the milk, and then add more flour by the tablespoon until, as Sitto says, “the dough is ready to shape.” That means you should be able to make a ball that will flatten in your floured palm without melting into your hand or without cracking. Get your hands into the dough and knead it for a minute or two. Chill the dough for 30 minutes.

Make the filling by processing the nuts until they are nearly-finely ground. Don’t take them too far or they will become paste. The nuts can also be finely chopped by hand. In a small bowl, combine the nuts with 3 tablespoons of sugar and the orange blossom water, using your fingers to evenly distribute everything.

Line two heavy baking sheets with parchment or Silpats. Pre-heat the oven to 325⁰F.

To form the ma’moul, pinch off about a tablespoon, walnut-sized piece of the chilled dough. Flour the palm of your hand to prevent the dough from sticking, and flatten the dough in your palm to make a small (about 2-inch) round. Place about a teaspoon of the walnut filling in the center of the dough, then fold it over like a crescent and seal the edges. Stretch the dough a little to get the dough over the nuts to seal.

Flour the ma’moul mold generously so that all grooves are coated. Gently nestle the stuffed dough, seam-side up (facing you), into the mold cavity. Using a light touch, press the dough into the mold—it doesn’t take much for the dough to assume the form of the mold. Flatten the exposed dough and wipe away any access with your fingers, making sure that the edge of the molded shape is clear of dough, for a defined cookie edge. You will get a feel for how much dough your mold takes, and how much filling you need, as you make a few of the cookies.

Turn the mold over and slam it against the work surface until the cookie falls out. If you need to keep slamming to work out any stress in your life, have at it.

Repeat this process with the remaining dough and cookies, moving the cookies to the sheet pans.

Bake one pan of cookies at a time, until they are still mostly white and barely golden on the bottom. Check them by lifting one with a flat metal spatula after 10 minutes, and then again every minute or so for about 12-15 minutes, depending on the size of your cookies. Ma’moul is a more of a white cookie than it is golden brown.

Sift confectioner’s sugar over the cookies lightly while they are still warm, and then again when they are room temperature. Store them in an airtight container, where they will stay nice for at least one week.

Print this recipe here.

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13 Responses to Lebanese Walnut Ma’moul Recipe, a holiday stress reliever

  1. Tootsie says:

    These look more than wonderful. I have never had these. Can’t wait to try them

  2. Jen Farhat says:

    Thanks to you, I now know the wooden tool I found in my recently-passed Gram’s kitchen (that I was sure was a strange looking juicer) is actually the mold for my favorite cookies! Can’t wait to make some using it to honor her memory. Merry Christmas!

  3. Jim Albert says:

    Thank you Maureen. They look delicious!

    I love the beat-up recipe written out on paper. I’ve got lots of those.

    Advent Blessings,
    Jim

  4. MO!!!!!!! i LOVE these cookies! my mother’s side of our family hails from scandinavia & i have sooooo many cookie recipies using the molds! i only wish i had some of my great gramma severina’s wooden ones ;) she only brought her recipes & her baking gadgets & a small bag of clothes when she & my great grampa came through ellis island from etne, norway ;) and as always i LOVE your words, your passion, & your photos <3 tammy

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Tammy, how neat. I would love to try the Scandanavian molded cookies.Your grandmother was smart to bring the recipes!! A treasure. Thank you, as always, for your kind kind words!

  5. ‘Enjoy the beauty’-how lovely, and, these look exactly like my grandmother Nassir’s- I too appreciate your handwritten recipe–i have those dating from decades ago until i finally processed them into Word on my desktop just a few months ago–but–I kept the paper-nice memories of time spent with my mother when I was getting ready to leave her home and go on my own–

  6. Sara says:

    Hi Maureen. Really nice recipe, thank you!

    For those that do not have a cookie mold, my (Lebanese) grandmother made a similar cookie around Christmas every year, except they were called “half moon cookies” to us. She made them by flattening out a small disk of dough – maybe about palm-sized – placing the filling on one half of the disk and then folding the other half over and crimping down with a fork. You can see where the cookie name came from.

    Hope that helps a reader who may not have the required tool!

    • Teresa Sawaya says:

      My Lebanese grandmother did the same thing. She stuffed hers with chopped dates. I would be curious if anyone else had these cookies with dates instead of nuts. Might be a locale thing. Happy New Year to all!

  7. Michael Ganz says:

    Have a Merry Christmas Maureen!

  8. Roger Toomey says:

    You could at least give us those old family recipes. We could choose between the orange juice and the shot of whiskey..

  9. Sam Saad says:

    Don’t forget to leave the powder sugar off the Ma’moul you stuff with dates! It’s the only way to tell the difference…

    I have purchased some new molds for the Ma ‘moul, but none are better than the one my mom used, the same one you show in the pictures!

  10. jamila says:

    Hello Maureen,
    Thank you for the stress relief tip :-)
    I am looking forward to my holidays to practice.
    I’ll try your recipe – I am sure it will be a success if I bake them right.
    I will only use “mahlab” instead of vanilla.
    Thank you very very much for your words. They are good for the soul and for the stomach.
    J.

 

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