What's better than ma'amoul cookies? Ma'amoul mad bars, of course! Made with a rich date layer flavored with hints of cardamom and rose and sandwiched between crumbly layers of semolina and ghee, these date ma'amoul mad bars are oh so delicious, and will leave everyone coming back for seconds and thirds. My favorite part is that they're also super quick and easy, so you won't be spending hours shaping and stuffing individual ma'amoul cookies.
One of my favorite cookies when I was a kid were ma'amoul cookies, especially when they're made with semolina. They just bring such a nostalgic feeling with all they're classic Palestinian flavors and aromas, so this recipe really has a special place in my heart. You're going to love this simpler version of these classic cookies, which are usually made for special events like Eid. I make these date ma'amoul mad bars all the time, and my whole family just loves them.
Ingredients You'll Need
- Semolina: You'll need coarse semolina for this recipe. To get that crumbly texture that really makes these date squares special, don't use finely ground semolina.
- Date Paste: Ready-made date paste might be at your local supermarket, which is super easy to work with by hand because it has a firmer texture. Or you can make your own as I did by blending around 2 ½ cups of pitted dates with around 3-4 tablespoons of hot water. This will give you a stickier and easier to spread date paste. The best type of dates to use for this method is softer varieties like medjool or safawy dates because they'll blend easily without you needing to add too much water.
- Ghee: You can use butter instead, but ghee really adds a special flavor to these squares of goodness.
- Flour: I use all-purpose flour for this recipe, but you can use wholewheat instead.
- Olive Oil: Use a good quality extra virgin olive oil. Since this is a Palestinian-inspired recipe, I always use my mom's stash of pure Palestinian olive oil.
- Instant Yeast: This yeast is different from active dry yeast. Its particles are smaller, which means you don't need to dissolve it in warm water and can just mix it straight into the dry ingredients. It also has a longer shelf-life. You can buy it in individually-packed packets or more commonly in larger tins.
- Milk: You can use any kind of milk you like, it doesn't really matter.
- Sugar: The dates already sweeten the bars enough, so you'll only need a little bit of white sugar. You can also use coarse brown sugar.
- Cardamom: Use ground cardamom to add to the date paste.
- Mahlab: Optional, but this is a spice that's usually added to Palestinian date cookies. It comes from the seed of a specific kind of cherry and adds an aromatic and fruity flavor.
- Sesame and Nigella Seeds: This is also optional, but I love to add a tablespoon of each into the dough for the top layer.
How To Make Ma'amoul Dough
Add the melted ghee and olive oil to the dry ingredients (coarse semolina, flour, sugar, and mahlab). Mix well. The texture should feel like sand.
In a separate bowl, add warm milk and yeast. Let the milk and yeast mixture sit for about 5 to 10 minutes, then add it to the flour mixture. Allow ma'amoul dough to rest for about 30 minutes. Split the dough in half.
Mix sesame and nigella seeds (if using), into the top layer ma'amoul dough.
Tips and Tricks
- Press the semolina layer into the pan firmly. You want to make sure the date layer doesn't seep through, so use your hands to really press the base layer in.
- Assemble the top layer carefully. Work slowly and by doing a bit of dough at a time, and avoid pressing too hard on the top layer or you'll squish the date paste and end up with a mess.
- Cover the dates with the top layer completely. You don't want the dates to burn, so make sure you cover it as much as you can with the semolina dough.
- If you aren't using date paste, use soft dates. The middle layer should be really smooth, and you don't want bits of pieces of dates in there, so use a type of dates that's more soft and squishy.
- Wait for it to cool completely before slicing. The date layer will be gooey while hot, so don't try to cut into it before it cools completely.
Can You Freeze Ma'amoul Bars?
Yes, you can make a big batch and freeze the date ma'amoul mad bars individually wrapped in baking paper and in an airtight freezer bag or container. The date layer becomes deliciously chewy when frozen. Then just defrost and enjoy. They'll keep in the freezer for up to six months.
Can You Make Them Gluten-Free?
Use corn semolina and a 1:1 gluten-free flour mix to make these date squares 100% gluten-free.