Moroccan pastries are a favorite memory of Essaouira, and a special part of Moroccan culture. It took me a while to discover them, because I gravitated toward tarts, croissants, and other more familiar-looking confections. Glad I found this perfect complement for mint tea.
Ingredients like orange blossom and rose water, almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, local honey, and dates give each pastry a unique appearance and taste. The treats are served any time, but especially during Ramadan and special occasions.
I first discovered them while enjoying tea at my favorite Medina café. When I visit, a fluffy white cat jumps on my lap, curls up, and snoozes away. I’ve been grateful for the warmth of that little cat the last few days. It’s snowing in the Atlas Mountains, and bone-chilling cold in Essaouira.
Baghrir (Thousand-Hole Pancake)
Baghrir, aka thousand-hole pancakes, are Moroccan crêpes, “dotted and rippled with tiny little craters”. The more holes there are, the better. The light and spongy treats are made of semolina or flour mixed with yeast and baking powder. The tiny holes absorb sweet toppings like honey, Nutella, or jam.
Basbousa (Moroccan Orange Cake)
Basbousa is a soft, rich orange cake soaked in syrup and sweetened with orange blossom water. To a semolina base, baking powder, vanilla extract, sugar, eggs, and milk are added and mixed creating a firm dough. After baking, the cake is covered with sweet syrup to moisten the texture and then sprinkled with shredded coconut.
Cornes de Gazelle (Gazelle Horns)
Popular cornes de gazelle cookies, aka gazelle horns, are crescent-shaped like a horn. They’re stuffed with almonds and cinnamon and wrapped in a soft pastry. The biscuit is crumbly with a “subtle after taste from orange blossom water”. The cookies are found throughout Algeria and Tunisia in different forms and under various names. They can be coated in crushed nuts or dusted with sugar.
Sweet chebakia is a popular Ramadan treat that “graces every ftour table after a day of fasting”. The fried pastry is also a “popular side to a bowl of harira soup (lentil soup)”. It’s covered in honey and rose water and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
The Moroccan version of biscotti, fekkas, are twice baked and include almonds, sesame seeds, and vanilla. The main difference between fekkas and biscotti is that they’re “cut thinner than their Italian equivalent, making them exceptionally crunchy”.
Ghoriba Bahla are small round plain-looking biscuits made from almonds. They’re soft and chewy and best served with mint tea.
M’hanncha Almond Snake Cake
Flaky and sweet, m’hanncha, aka almond snake cake, is a coiled filo pastry stuffed with almond frangipane. M’hanncha is a traditional Moroccan dessert in which warqa pastry is filled with an almond paste and shaped into a snake-like form. It’s typically prepared with sugar, almonds, cinnamon, mastic powder (mastiha), butter, and orange flower or rose water. The pastry is dusted with powdered sugar or brushed with warm honey.
Ma’amul Date-Filled Semolina Cookies
Ma’amul is a shortbread pastry filled with dates and sweetened with orange blossom water, cinnamon, and sugar.
A popular Ramadan pastry, almond briouats are a small, triangular, deep-fried pastry, filled with almonds and sweetened with honey. The bite-sized Moroccan pastries are often served as an appetizer and can be stuffed with a variety of ingredients, including chicken, lamb, cheese, or lemon. The crispy pastry is either fried or baked, and sprinkled with herbs and spices.
Jawhara or Ktefa is a layered Moroccan dessert that’s assembled with paper-thin sheets of filo-dough-like warqa pastry. The filling between five to six crispy layers is made with a combination of toasted ground or roughly-chopped almonds and sugar. Jawhara is served doused in a custard cream that’s flavored with orange blossom water. Jawhara is garnished with almond slivers, cinnamon, powdered sugar, mint, or fresh fruit. The pastry is also popular in France, where it’s known as pastilla au lait.
Sfenj (Moroccan Doughnuts)
Sfenj are popular Moroccan doughnut-like fritters made with sticky unleavened batter. The dough is traditionally shaped into rings and deep-fried until it develops a golden, crispy exterior. The interior should be fluffy, tender, and chewy. The fritters are usually served hot when sold by street vendors. They can be eaten plain or dusted with sugar.