Semolina Date Cookies

Mamoul bi Tamer (maa-mool bee tum-mer)

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Traditionally these cookies are offered around the holidays and on special occasions, although we never needed a special occasion to enjoy these treats. They are made of buttery semolina dough stuffed with a variety of fillings, then pressed into decoratively carved wooden molds of varying shapes and sizes. The different shapes include shallow, circular cookies filled with dates, as shown on the next page; circular dome-shaped ones filled with walnuts and dusted with powdered sugar; and long, tapered ones filled with pistachios also dusted with powdered sugar. The cookies remain a golden-blond color once baked.

Ingredients

Specialty Ingredients

  • Clarified butter. Semolina can found at specialty markets or online. Deglet Noor are dates that are chewy and a bit drier, used in baked goods.

For the Filling

  • ½ pound finely chopped pitted dates (Deglet Noor)
  • 3 tablespoons boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon melted clarified butter (unsalted butter will do)

For the Dough

  • cups semolina
  • ½ cup Wondra flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • cup melted clarified butter, slightly warm (unsalted butter will do)
  • cup lukewarm water
  • teaspoon yeast with a pinch of sugar

Special equipment

Mamoul cookie molds, round, shallow decorative molds carved out of wood, found at specialty markets or online. (The size of the cookie mold used in this recipe is about 2¼ inches in diameter and about ½ inch deep.)

Method

Prepare Ahead

You can prepare these in advance and store them in an airtight container. Store the cookies at room temperature for several days or refrigerate for several weeks. Serve at room temperature.

To Prepare the Filling

Cut the dates in half widthwise to ensure that no pits remain. Finely chop them by hand (or in a food processor for larger quantities). In a medium saucepan, combine the dates, boiling water, and butter. Place the pan over medium-low heat, cover, and simmer 10 minutes, stirring a couple of times. Remove from the heat and transfer the cooked dates to a buttered dish. Flatten them in the dish and refrigerate uncovered for 1 hour.

Measure the cooled date filling into 1-tablespoon portions. Cut the portions in half. Between your palms, roll each half into a ball. If the dates seem sticky, lightly butter your palms. Set the date balls aside.

To Prepare the Dough

Combine the semolina, Wondra flour, and sugar in a bowl. Pour the melted butter (melted butter that is slightly warm, not hot) over the flour mixture. Use the back of a spoon to mix and press the butter into the flour mixture until it is evenly blended. Flatten the mixture into the bottom of the bowl, using the back of the spoon. Cover and set aside at room temperature for 1 hour.

After 1 hour, mix the warm water and yeast with a pinch of sugar; cover and set aside.

Use your hand to loosen and break apart the soaked semolina, which may have hardened. Work the mixture loose until you have broken down any lumps. Pour the yeast mixture over the semolina. Use massage-like strokes to combine the ingredients with your hand (for about 1 minute), forming a ball of dough. Sprinkle a little bit of water over the dough if it seems dry and granular.

Measure the dough into ¼-cup portions. Roll each portion with your hands into a 3-inch cylinder, then cut each cylinder into 3 equal pieces. Drape plastic wrap over the pieces to prevent drying while you work.

To form and bake the cookies

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with foil and set it within reach.

Place a piece of dough in the palm of one hand and with the forefinger of your other hand, pierce the dough with your fingertip and hollow a cavity that is about inches deep and inches wide. Place a date ball in and close the dough, securing the filling inside. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Place the date-filled dough ball into the cookie mold, seam side facing you. Press it firmly into the mold with your palm. Flip the mold, then tap the tip on a hard surface. Be prepared to catch the cookie with the other hand as it pops out. Repeat with the rest of the cookies, placing them on the foil-lined baking sheet ¼ inch apart. (If the filled dough balls begin to stick in the mold, dip them in a bit of Wondra flour before pressing them into the mold.)

Place the tray in the center of the oven and bake 18 to 22 minutes or until they are golden and the bottom edges begin to brown. Remove them from the oven and cool completely before serving. Serve at room temperature.