One of the things I’m most proud of is my family heritage — and we celebrate my Lebanese side every Christmas. My father is half Lebanese, and my family and I can trace his heritage back to a very specific place, that has a very specific culture, with an ancient language, and I’m very lucky to have gotten to grow up with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and a dad that’s really embraced that connection, mainly through food.
One of a few things that my dad has made a couple times a year for my entire life, and always around Christmas, was a Lebanese cookie that we call mamouls. It brings me back to holidays when I was really little with my aunts and uncles, particularly when I was eight or nine to my grandparents house in Olean, New York during Christmas. I remember all of the Lebanese food with mamouls and baklava being the star of the show.
Mamouls are a filled cookie with a sweet dough and inside: pecans, walnuts, and sugar. The filling varies from person to person and in Lebanon even from region to region.
To make the shape of the cookie, we use molds called mamouls, which is where the name of the cookie comes from. Traditionally, the different molds are used to designate different kinds of fillings in the cookies. In our family, the molds obviously are used to make the cookies but are mainly for decoration since we use the same filling in all of them.
While the molds are helpful, these would be entirely feasible to make without – they would be more similar to handpies and could be sealed with a little bit of egg wash, they just wouldn’t have the design on top.
Overall, I would highly recommend giving these a shot. They have a soft exterior of sweet and crumbly dough that’s sweet and crunchy on the inside and can’t be beat. It’s our family tradition that I hope inspires others as much as my family and me.
5 cups flour
2 sticks of butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 package of yeast
Water, as needed
2 cups walnuts
2 cups pecans
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
To make the dough, in a food processor, combine flour, butter, nutmeg, salt and water. Blend until fully combined. Add last 1/2 package of yeast.
To make the filling, in a good processor, combine walnuts, pecans, sugar, and vanilla.
Roll the dough into ping-pong sized balls. Using a rolling pin, roll out each dough ball into discs. Using the mamoul, press in the dough disc, fill with a spoon full of the nut and sugar filling, and then pull the dough across to seal the cookie. Using a towel on the counter, firmly smack the top of the mold onto the towel until the cookie pops out. Repeat until all of the dough balls are gone.
Place the mamouls on a parchment-lined tray. Using a toothpick, prick the top of each cookie twice to allow the steam to come out. Bake 10-12 minutes and let cool for five minutes. Enjoy.
Yield: 55 cookies