Date-Filled Cookies ~ Savory Simple

Today I’m joining several other bloggers to take part a virtual potluck hosted by Kitchen Play.  We’re all preparing recipes from An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair by Faith Gorsky.  I was tasked with making date-filled cookies, a recipe that I’ll admit was a bit outside of my comfort zone.  Up until now I’ve had zero experience with preparing Middle Eastern cuisine.

Dated-Filled Cookies ~ Savory Simple

I do love dates, though.  They’re one of my favorite dried fruits and I always jump at the chance to use them in a recipe.  I did tweak Faith’s recipe slightly; I added about a tablespoon of orange blossom water to the dough.  Rose water would have also been really good. It makes such a fragrant, lovely cookie! These are very unlike the cookies I typically make; they’re a bit dense and not overly sweet. We loved them and I’m looking forward to trying more recipes from the book.

This recipe calls for a few unique ingredients and tools.  These cookies are typically made using a decorative ma’amoul cookie mold.  I didn’t have one so I shaped them by hand and have included instructions on how to make the cookies with or without the ma’amoul. The recipe also calls for a spice called ground mahlab or sour black cherry pits.  You can find this at any Middle Eastern market or online.  However, the cookies will still taste good even if you omit that spice altogether.

Here’s what Faith has to say about these cookies:

My mother-in-law always makes these beautiful date-filled cookies for the Eid (“Festival”) at the end of Ramadan. They can also be stuffed with orange blossom-scented pistachios or cinnamon-spiced walnuts, but date filling is particularly delicious and is traditional for holidays.

The date filling is uniquely spiced with the flavors of mahlab (a spice that comes from the seed kernel from the center of St Lucie Cherry pits), anise, and fennel, along with more commonly used warm spices like cinnamon and ginger. In my cookbook I show step-by-step photos for how to use a Ma’amoul mold to fill these cookies, and I also give directions on how to shape and fill these cookies by hand without a mold…it’s easier than you might think!

Paired with a fresh pot of steaming hot Turkish coffee that’s scented of cardamom, these cookies make for a lovely afternoon.

An Edible Mosaic

You can purchase the book online here: An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair.  Here’s Faith’s post about the her book.

Be sure to check out the other posts from today’s virtual potluck (more links will be added throughout the day):

Date-Filled Cookies
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 4 dozen cookies
Date Filling:
  • ¾ pound (350 g) pitted dates, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1½ teaspoons Cake Spice Mix
  • 1 cup (225 g) sugar
  • ¾ cup (1 80 ml) water
  • ¼ cup (65 ml) oil
  • ¾ cup (175 g) clarifed butter
  • 4 cups (500 g) all-purpose flour, plus up to 4 tablespoons more for kneading
  • ½ teaspoon instant yeast
  • ¼ cup (30 g) powdered sugar (optional, for dusting on top)
Cake Spice Mix:
  • ½ teaspoon ground mahlab (Sour Black Cherry Pits)
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground fennel
  • ¼ teaspoon ground anise
  • ½ tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1¼ teaspoons ground allspice
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  1. Mix together the spices for the Cake Spice Mix. You will only need 1 ½ teaspoons of the spice mix for recipe; store the remaining spice mix in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 6 months.
  2. To make the date filling, grind the dates and oil in a stand mixer fitted with a food grinding attachment (fine grind) or in a heavy-duty food processor. If using a stand mixer, alternate between adding the dates and oil. If you’re using a food processor, before you add any dates, rub oil on the blade and inside of the bowl. Once processed, oil your hands and knead the Cake Spice Mix into the dates.
  3. To make the dough, combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat; bring to a full, rolling boil (occasionally giving the pan a swirl), boil 1 minute, and then turn off the heat. Cool 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Combine oil and clarified butter in a separate small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the butter is just melted, about 2 minutes; cool slightly.
  5. Put the flour in a large bowl and whisk in the yeast. Use a wooden spoon to gradually incorporate the oil mixture, then gradually incorporate the sugar syrup. Knead the dough until it comes together nicely, adding up to 4 tablespoons more flour as needed (when done, the dough will be soft and should look smooth, shiny, and slightly oily). Cover the dough, put it in the freezer to stiffen slightly, about 5 to 10 minutes, and then knead it again for a couple minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C); line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat liners.
  7. To shape the cookies with a ma'amoul mold, measure 1 slightly scant tablespoon of dough and roll it into a ball; slightly flatten it with your hands, then press it into the bottom and up the sides of the mold. Measure 1 teaspoon of the date mixture and roll it into a ball; slightly flatten it and gently press it into the dough in the mold. Measure 1 slightly scant teaspoon of dough, roll it into a ball, slightly flatten it, then put it on top of the date mixture in the mold; use your fingers to press the dough on the top into the dough on the sides. To remove the cookie from the mold, hold the mold by the handle and tap the flat rim on a secure surface; the cookie will drop right out.
  8. To shape cookies by hand (as seen in the photo), take a small handful of dough (about 1½ tablespoons) and roll it into an egg shape. Gently insert your finger into one end (don't go through to the other side), rotating the dough as you do so; you will end up with a little well. Fill this well with about 1 teaspoon of filling and pinch the end to seal. Use your hands to gently shape it into a circle and then slightly flatten the circle into a disc. Use a fork to make a decorative crosshatch pattern on top.
  9. Arrange the cookies on the baking sheets about ½ to 1 inch (1.25 to 2.5 cm) apart (if you use 2 half-sheet pans, the cookies should all fit on 2 pans; if you use smaller pans you will need to cook them in 2 batches); bake until light golden brown on the bottom, about 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the trays once.
  10. Cool completely, and then dust with the powdered sugar. To store the cookies, package them layered between parchment paper in an airtight container.
Recipe courtesy of An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair by Faith Gorsky (Tuttle Publishing; Nov. 2012); reprinted with permission.

  • Laura (Tutti Dolci)

    Beautiful cookies, I love the orange blossom water addition!

  • Roger Stowell

    I’ve become a real fan of medjool dates. I’ve even checked out a Jamie Oliver version of cooking brussel sprouts with them.

  • Kathryn

    These are so beautiful and I love how exotic they sound, full of some of my favourite flavours!

  • Kate Pietschman

    Sounds delightful and now to search for the spice mahlab – fascinating idea. Thanks! The quest begins!

  • little kitchie

    I’ve been dying to read this cookbook, and these cookies are making it even worse! Going to have to get me a copy!

  • Valerie

    Jen, these cookies look (and sound) spectacular-refreshingly different from anything else! Bookmarked and Pinned!

  • Grubarazzi (@Grubarazzi)

    I really love these cookies. I have seen this lovely book often on the web, and it is just beautiful. I know i would really love the recipes in this.

  • Erin | The Law Student’s Wife

    I positively ADORE dates!!! Just put them in a quick bread I posted yesterday, in fact. These cookies look so pretty, and I’m sure they taste even better!

  • Joanne @ Fifteen Spatulas

    Oh how I love dates! They definitely deserve more attention. These cookies look great!

  • Katie @ Blonde Ambition

    Mmm, that cake spice mix sounds so unique and delicious, perfect for this time of year!

  • Averie @ Averie Cooks

    I have Faith’s book and love dates – will have to give these a whirl!

  • Michelle

    I adore dates, and those look so very interesting. In a really good way!

  • foodwanderings

    I need to add dates to my desserts more often. After all it is so Mediterranean but yet I rarely do. These cookies look super yum!

  • Laura Dembowski

    These cookies sound great! I love dates now too after trying them only a couple months ago.

  • Carolyn Chan

    These look amazing ! There would such a wonderful sweet treat inside the treat !

  • Parsley Sage

    This has become one of my favorite blogosphere events. Everyone’s dishes just look stunning! Yours is no exception :)

  • amy @ fearless homemaker

    YUM, i looooove dates so these cookies look + sound just wonderful to me! Coincidentally, I won a copy of An Edible Mosaic from a blogger giveaway a few weeks back + am so excited to cook something from it! I read it cover-to-cover when it first arrived + I’m just waiting for the perfect night (+ a bit of free time) to make my first dish from it. =)

  • Sommer@ASpicyPerspective

    Ooo, those sound like heaven!

  • Patty

    Lovely photos Jen, can’t wait to try this recipe;-)

  • Jackie @ Domestic Fits

    I always forget how much I love dates until I see them in the markets. I love them in Empanadas, and in cookies. And your photos are beautiful!

    • Jennifer Farley

      Thanks, Jackie! That means a lot coming from you, you’re one of my favorite bloggers!

  • Liz @ The Lemon Bowl

    I have a huge jar of clarified butter in my cabinet – these look incredible!

  • Heather of Kitchen Concoctions

    Beautiful photos and perfectly shaped cookies!

  • Paula @ Vintage Kitchen

    These are one of my favorite middle eastern sweets. I love the filling and also the grainy texture. You don´t really need a mold. Great recipe Jen, thanks for sharing!

  • Chung-Ah | Damn Delicious

    Love this! I can’t remember the last time I had dates but you’re totally wanting me to try this out for the holiday season!

  • Amanda

    I’m glad these turned out so well for you! I like to mix them up and use figs instead of dates and change the nuts that are used for the filling. While they turn out differently I think they are always delicious!