1 ¼cupsall-purpose flour,plus more as needed to finish the dough and coat the molds, if using
2teaspoonsmahleb,optional; replace with flour if not using
1-3tablespoonsmilk,any fat content level, at room temperature
¼cupconfectioners’ sugar,for finishing
10ozdate paste,or 20 pureed pitted Medjool dates
Preheat the oven: Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.
Whisk clarified butter (or ghee), sugar, eggs and blossom water together: In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or using a hand-held mixer, beat the butter first on medium, then on high speed in a large bowl until creamy and light, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the sugar, egg, and orange blossom water or vanilla extract. Beat until the mixture is thick, pale, and creamy, another 2-3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice during beating..
Add the flours and mahleb: If using a stand mixer, remove the bowl from the stand. Add the semolina, all-purpose flour. If using mahleb, add that here too. Use a spoon or rubber spatula to combine the ingredients together until you have a crumbly dough that will hold together when squeezed.
Check the dough: If the dough stays on your fingertips when squeezed, it is too wet. Add all-purpose flour 1 tablespoon at a time, stir and squeeze. If the dough feels dry (you’ll see cracking), add milk 1 tablespoon at a time, stir and squeeze. Squeeze the dough as you work, until the dough is smooth, pliable, and soft.
Let the dough rest: Set the dough aside to rest for about 15 minutes, so the flour can absorb the moisture. Test the dough after resting to be sure it is soft and pliable, adding more flour or milk if needed (another rest after this is not necessary).
To shape and bake the dough: Take a 1 ounce piece of dough about the size of a walnut or 1 tablespoon, shape into a ball by rolling the dough between the palms of your hands.
To shape maamoul using a mold: Coat the interior of the mold with flour and knock out the excess. Do this before molding each cookie to help release the molded dough. Place the dough ball into the mold and press into the center of the ball to create a hollow space in the center. This will push the dough up above the edges around the perimeter of the mold. Roughly shape about a tablespoon of date paste into a ball and drop it into the hollowed space. Use the displaced dough from around the edges of the mold cavity to enclose the date ball, covering it completely. Smooth the dough flat.
Turn the mold face down and tap the top corner of the mold head firmly on the work surface (whack!) once or twice to release the cookie. Carefully transfer the cookie to the prepared baking sheet and place them 1-inch apart.
To shape maamoul by hand: Dust your work surface with flour. Use your hand or a rolling pin dusted with flour to flatten the dough ball to about ¼-inch thick in an oblong shape, about 2 ½-inches long by 1 ½-inches wide. Shape a tablespoon of date paste into a log similar in shape but smaller than the flattened dough. Lay the log of date paste in the center of the dough and cover the date filling by enclosing it in the dough and sealing the edges together up over the date paste log. Turn the log over, continuing to smooth and shape the dough by hand into a log, ensuring there are no cracks. Use a fork to press or a strawberry huller to pinch the top of the dough in a deep, decorative pattern, piercing all the way to the date filling. Carefully transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheets and place them 1 inch apart.
Shape the cookies: Repeat the shaping process with a mold or by hand with the rest of the dough and date filling.
Bake the cookies: Bake the cookies, one sheet pan at a time, in the center of the oven, for 15-17 minutes, or until the cookies are a pale golden brown. Check the cookies frequently in the last 5 minutes of cook time to check for cracking. If the tops begin to crack, immediately remove the cookies from the oven.
Cool and serve the cookies: Allow the cookies to cool completely, undisturbed, on the pan, at least one hour. Sift confectioners’ sugar over the cookies and give them a fresh dusting again just before serving.
To store the cookies: Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to two weeks at room temperature, or for two months frozen.
Maamoul dough must be pliable enough that it doesn’t crack when shaped. But if the dough is too soft, it will not hold its shape and can be difficult to release from a mold. Hands will be the guide, squeezing the dough after ingredients are incorporated and adding a touch of milk if too dry, a touch of flour if too soft, until pliability is reached.
The way the flour is measured matters. Be sure to measure using the spoon-in-cup method rather than scooping the flour up with the measuring cup.
Watch for cracking. Keep an eye on the cookies as they bake to monitor if they are beginning to crack at the top. If the tops begin to crack, immediately remove the cookies from the oven. Place the hot sheet pan on a cooling rack and leave the cookies undisturbed until they are completely cooled.