Date and Walnut Thumbprints: An Intersection of Cultures in a Cookie

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When is a cookie more than a simple sweet to nibble with your tea?

Date and Walnut Thumbprints

As Sarene Wallace and I were developing our menu for our cooking workshop, A Taste of Jerusalem: Beyond Hummus and Pita, we landed on a cookie in Louisa Shafia’s book “The New Persian Kitchen” called date and walnut filled cookies or in Persian: koloocheh. They seemed very similar to a cookie in “Jerusalem: A Cookbook” called ma’amul. When I wrote to Louisa to ask if indeed they were related, she told me about an article she wrote on exactly this subject.

Turns out koloocheh and ma’amul are culturally connected and also akin to a Jewish cookie eaten for Purim, called hamantaschen.

Date and Walnut Thumbprints

photo courtesy of Ron Wallace, publisher of Edible Ojai/Ventura County

Date and Walnut ThumbprintsAfter studying the different cookie recipes, Sarene and I added our own functional and cultural spins to this already historically rich baked good. In the interest of minimizing prep time since we were baking for a crowd, I suggested to Sarene that we form the cookies thumbprint-style (filling on top), bypassing the extra step of stuffing and re-rolling the cookies. This sped up the production line without sacrificing taste or texture. We ran the idea by Louisa who encouraged us to give date and walnut thumbprints a try.

After reviewing the “Jerusalem” version of the cookie (ma’amul), I suggested we also add some rose water and orange blossom water to the dough. Sarene and I experimented with varying amounts and came upon the measurements in the recipe below as a nice complement to the cardamom. If you enjoy a stronger essence of rose or orange, don’t hesitate to up the amounts a bit more. But remember too much rose water can become soapy-tasting.

What began as a menu planning exercise for our workshop became a food history lesson about how a cookie’s recipe adapts to different cultures, regions, and ethnicities. In this case, Louisa argues in her Zester Daily article, we might even be eating proof of the secret origins of Christianity. Whether you buy this line of reasoning or not, one bite and you will agree the cookies are a mouthful of flavor, texture, and ethnically distinct ingredients.

And that’s how a cookie becomes more than just a yummy sidekick to your afternoon cup of tea.

Here is a link to Louisa’s original recipe and below is our adaptation of Louisa’s date and walnut filled cookie.

Celebrating Purim this weekend? Try this recipe by Marcy Goldman printed in the Washington Post or better yet, buy her book called A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking.

Date and Walnut Thumbprints

And for a ma’amul recipe that closely resembles the koloocheh – try this recipe from Food Network  and notice how similar the filling ingredients are to the date and walnut filled cookies.

Do you have a family cookie recipe that’s been handed down through the generations or you know has roots in your family’s ethnic history?

Date and Walnut Thumbprints
5 from 2 votes

Date and Walnut Thumbprints

Our version of Louisa Shafia's Date and Walnut Filled Cookies uses Louisa's filling recipe as is but modifies the method of producing the cookies to speed up the process by making it a thumbprint style cookie instead of a stuffed cookie. In addition, we added the Middle Eastern flavors of rose water and orange blossom water to the dough to complement the cardamom and bring out the orange from the filling. This recipe will double easily but we found that the filling, when doubled, was far more than we needed. However, it could easily be eaten by the spoonful or used in another filled cookie like a hamantaschen.
Course Dessert
Cuisine Persian
Prep Time 50 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings 24 servings
Calories 152 kcal
Author Beth Lee


For the dough

  • 1 cup unsalted butter or refined coconut oil at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp orange blossom water
  • 1 tsp rose water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour or if gluten free: 3/4 cup fava bean flour, 3/4 cup coconut flour, 1/2 cup tapioca flour
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar for dusting the cookies after they are baked

For the filling

  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts used for filling and sprinkling
  • 1/2 cup Medjool dates pitted and chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • Pinch of sea salt


  1. Make the dough first as it will need to chill and you can prepare the filling while it does.
  2. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, orange blossom water, rose water, and egg and mix until just combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour(s), salt, cardamom, and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in two batches (three or four if you double the recipe), stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. If it doesn't all come together, use your hands for the last bit of kneading to incorporate all of the flour. Turn the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and press it into a disk. Wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours, until firm but still flexible.
  3. To make the filling, combine 1/4 cup of the walnuts with the dates, cinnamon, orange juice, honey, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer uncovered, stirring often, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the mixture forms a thick paste. Transfer to a plate and let cool to room temperature.
  4. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  5. To make each cookie, wet your hands and break off a walnut-sized piece of the dough. Roll into a ball and then flatten between the palms of your hand to about 1/4 inch thick and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet 2 inches apart. Make a hollow in the center of each with your thumb; fill with about 1/2 tsp of the date mixture and then sprinkle some nuts on top. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.
  6. Refrigerate the cookies for 45 minutes, until firm. While the cookies chill, preheat the oven to 350°F.
  7. Bake the cookies for 25 minutes (20 minutes convection), until the undersides are golden. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely. Dust the cookies with the powdered sugar if you desire and serve. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Recipe Notes

Adapted from The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. with help from Sarene Wallace.


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14 Responses to Date and Walnut Thumbprints: An Intersection of Cultures in a Cookie

  1. Couscous & Consciousness March 29, 2014 at 12:55 am #

    Love the fascinating insight into the origins of these cookies, and I love the way that you and Sarene interpreted the various recipes to come up with your own unique version. This to me is so totally what cooking is all about.

    • Beth Lee March 29, 2014 at 8:23 am #

      And nobody exemplifies that idea better than you in your always inventive and smart adaptations. I love following along with your cooking Sue!

  2. gretchen preville March 28, 2014 at 11:14 am #

    5 stars

    The workshop at Shir Hadash was great fun, imformative and OMG Yummy! I loved these cookies and am considering a version with dried mission figs as I have lots of them. I will try them next week and we’ll just ss how they work out! Keep inspiring us!



    • Beth Lee March 29, 2014 at 8:21 am #

      Loved having you there Gretchen. Let me know about the dried mission fig version. I think it could be delicious – and they will soften and create a great filling just as the fresh dates did.

      • Gretchen Preville April 11, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

        5 stars
        Hi Beth- Thakns for yet another great recipe!!! I made the cookies yesterday with dried black misson figs instead of dates. So yummy! Try them! I’ll be taking them to Shir Hadash tonight for a special dinner in suipport of Kiev.

        Shabbat Shalom,


  3. Kathy March 22, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

    Beth, I really enjoyed your information on these cookies. It seems that much of the middle eastern and Jewish culture share similar foods. I am Lebanese descent and make ma’amul quite often. It’s a cookie my grandmother always made and now I make them for my grandchildren.

  4. Hannah March 19, 2014 at 6:55 am #

    Food history is fascinating (and delicious when doing hands on research!). Love your thumbprint version and this date filling sounds just divine. I wish I could have come to your workshop! Great photo. 🙂

    • Beth Lee March 29, 2014 at 8:15 am #

      Maybe we will fly up to Seattle and do a version of the workshop in your new store!!! I am so excited to see photos!

      • Hannah April 11, 2014 at 8:01 am #

        Beth, you are very welcome anytime! I’d be thrilled to have you and Sarene teach. What a treat that would be! xx

  5. Deb March 16, 2014 at 8:20 am #

    My family would be happy if cookies were the only sweet I ever baked! LOL Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter, Oatmeal Raisin, all would be just dandy! But we bakers need to grow and try new recipes. I adore the Date and Walnut Thumbprints and the melding of classic recipes that capture the sublime buttery flavors! I like Sandy’s idea, send a few of those cookies my way!

    • Beth Lee March 16, 2014 at 3:46 pm #

      You make me apple hand pies and I’ll send you a batch of these! Last night we were in Santa Cruz for a concert and stopped off in the Pacific Cookie Company for a quick treat before the show – you can’t imagine how one good cookie can make 4 people so happy. We gobbled them up. Nothing quite like a good cookie. Perfection in a small package!

  6. sandy Corman March 15, 2014 at 10:24 am #

    The cookies were indeed delicious. If you ever have any extra think of me. Want you to know I bought the book Jerusalem the Cookbook. Beautiful pictures and great stories along with some great recipes.

    • Beth Lee March 16, 2014 at 3:43 pm #

      Wow — I can’t believe you bought the book – I’m so proud of you. I thought you would enjoy it, regardless of how much you cook, for the stories and history behind the dishes and region. Great!

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