Griouech- M’kherka -Chebbakia Tutorial: THE iconic Moroccan honeyed cookie for Ramadan
Today’s recipe might look complicated but I promise it’s not! I’m dedicating it to Griouech or M’kharka, It’s a must-have sweet in our Moroccan table during this blessed period.
Did you read my post about Ramadan in Morocco where I made a reference to this iconic Ramadan sweet? I would like to direct you to the previous post in case you haven’t done it it.
Be patient, it’s a long post but I wanted it to be very informative.
Griouech or Mkherrq’a (also commonly named Chebbakia although this one refers to a the Moroccan version of zelabia/jalebi) is a sort of fried and honeyed sweet that is hand-shaped most commonly as a flower..It can also be baked and sprinkled with icing sugar although this practice is limited to some areas in Morocco (* see notes).
|The Moroccan cousin to zelabia and jalebi: The real chebbakia
although the name is also used for griouech
Griouech is delicate to handle but it keeps well for a few week. In the last 15 years or so, Moroccans started freezing it to keep it even longer during the year, they actually get even better.
|Left, griouech. Right: Monidas, made of griouech dough with Moroccan almond paste filling|
When do we serve Griouech?
This is an iconing Ramadan sweet that is served with Harira soup or any other soup for that matter. Yes, you might find the combination weird but try it out. especially along with Harira: we eat a spoon of the soup and we bite into the sweet flower. One balances the other and the world looks perfect. People usually won’t eat more than 2.
Griouech is also served during weddings ceremonies when they last until next morning. We serve Harira soup (again) for breakfast and accompany it with those little honeyed flowers, with almond briouats or sbiaat..It’s a heavy breakfast but basically it’s served to people who hardly slept during the event. In the case the wedding ceremony wasn’t that long, then we invite the guests for a brunch the next day and the same formula is served.
There are many recipes to make griouech, they all depend on the texture one is looking for but also on the regions and the availability of the ingredients (Almonds, mastic gum, saffron threads can also by pricey so some people do not use them).
Here is what you may come accross:
– Old recipes call for an egg, however some people have dropped it because it creates a sort of foam while griouech is frying. Alternatively, egg yolk can be used by in my family, we still prefer to omit it. Although the foam is less but it’s still there.
|I find that using eggs creates bubbles while frying the cookies. It also alters the taste when they age beyong 3 weeks especially in during the hot season.|
– Old recipes call for yeast, but It’s better not to add it if you are making griouech in a hot day. I actually like mine without. Yeast calls for kneading the dough and I found out that the texture I was looking for (my preference) comes with the opposite, which is not to overwork the dough. However, baking powder is used to give the cookies some lift during frying.
– Depending on the regions, fennel seeds can be added along/instead of aniseed. In Fes, we just use aniseed. We also use more orange blossom water than normal water since Fassi people are known to distill this very frangrant water in the premises of their own houses or someone’s house. Orange blossom water is found there in abundance and it’s a must-have in every Fassi house.
– The shape of the griouch might differ from a house to another. However, you are more likely to come accross a flower with 5 strips.
|Heart-shaped griouech anyone?|
– Some spices are used in this recipe, which is why it tastes better with time as it ages. Some recipes call for mastic gum(not to confuse with Arabic gum), saffron threads (use yellow colouring or turmeric instead although saffron is preferred), cinnamon (in some regions of Morocco).
– Almonds are not a must in this recipe but can be used (fried and ground or as a fine paste). Honestly, I don’t think they add anything special and most of the store-bought griouech in Morocco do not add it because it’s cheaper that way gor hardly any difference in the taste..
|Griouech made with blanched and fried almonds then reduced to a powder|
– The amount of honey needed to soak these cookies could be quite important and this can be costy, so most of Moroccan families prefer to cook a homemade flavoured dark sugar syrup (not like the one used in the middle east to soak baklawa and bassboussa). Families of modest income will soak their griouech in a 50% sugar syrup -50% good honey. Actually, using a good-quality honey improves the texture of the griouech in the coming days to become pleasantly chewier.
|Homemade spiced dark sugar syrup, suitable for soaking Moroccan sweets calling for honey|
Fry vs bake
Yes you can bake them although it’s not a common practice. I found that this recipe does not absort an alarming amonth of oil unlike other versions. But if you are for baking, make sure the dough is between 2-3 mm thick when it’s rolled.
In both cases, griouech might look a bit hard in the first hours after it’s been cooked and honey-soaked. But as I said, it gets better day by day in flavour as well as texture.
This recipe is time consuming but just in case you get tired shaping and frying and no helping hands around, freeze the dough for another time. you may even shape griouech and freeze them, just fry them without thawing them then soak them in honey..
So here is a version of griouech which I’m happy with: I dropped the yeast, the egg and the almond. I didn’t overwork the dough, I left it to rest before binding it for hours. I worked it in layers like a puff pastry (we’ll see this bit later on).
|My mother’s griouech using yeast and almond paste..It tastes good and has a chewy-sandy bite|
Makes +70 griouech of 6 cm diameter
Prep: 45 min- Resting time: 4 hours minimum – Frying: 3-4 /batch- Soaking: 1-2 hours.
- 500 g of all purpose flour (not strong bread bread flour)
- 100 g of golden unhulled sesame seeds
- 7 g of baking powder
- 1 good pich of salt
- 1 tsp of ground cinnamon
- 1 good pinch of saffron threads, mixed with 2 tbsp of warm water for at least 10 min
- 1 tsp of ground aniseed
- 1/2 tsp of mastic gum (ground with about 1/2 tsp of caster sugar)
- 160 ml of fat mix (1/3 melted butter, 1/3 olive oil, 1/3 vegetable oil)
- 180 ml of orange blossom water
- 50- 80 ml of lukewarm water depending on flour absorption
- 1 tbps of white vinegar (neutral taste)
- 1.5 liter of vegetable oil (for a 22-25 cm pan)
For the honey
- 1.5 kg of honey ( I mixed clear honey + mountain honey + acacia honey)
- 3 tbsp of orange blossom water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Toasted sesame seeds for decoration
If you are buying unhulled sesame seeds “en vrac”, make sure you clean them from any stone or bad sesame seeds. You may need to wash them and dry them thouroughly. The last step will be to toast them for about 5 min while stirring until it smells “sesame seeds”. Grind them very finely.
|Even bought nicely packed, I spotted these unwanted bits in my golden unhulled sesame seeds|
Mix all dried ingredients (finely ground sesame seeds, finely ground aniseed, cinnamon, salt, flour, crushed mastic gum). Pass them through a fine sieve to make sure the mix is smooth and not grainy. You may repeat this twice.
Add the fat and the saffron water and work with your hands (or in a food processor) as if you are making a shortcrust dough: the idea is to make sure that every grain of flour absorbs the fat. So rub with fingers, give it some “fraisage”…Cover and set aside for at least 2 hours (or overnight).
|First step of making the dough, we give time to the flour to absorb fat and flavours|
Passed that time, mix in the baking powder (make sure there are no lumps), then the orange blossom water and finish with enough water to bind the dough. Make sure you do not overwork the dough: you want to get a soft pliable dough which is well combined but handled with care, just like a shortcrust dough (I know, I said it before). The dough should not be sticky.
Divide the dough into 4 and cover tight. Set aside for 30 min.
|I prefer to flatten the balls so it’s easy to roll them later|
Take 1 ball at a time while keeping the others covered.
Have a small bowl of flour on the side in case you need it to roll the dough.
Roll it maximum 2mm thick. Make sure you lift itto aerate beneath it before going further.
Use a cutting wheel to cut long strips of dough of 10 cm width.
|The one on the left is a tradional Moroccan cutting wheel fit for
the job, but you could use another dented wheel
Follow the directions in the pictures to see where you should cut the smaller strips to form the flower and how to define the square or rectangle for each flower. Today I’ll give you the heart form and the traditional 5 strands griouech.
Heart form: You need 4 strands, each 2 will go together, then one corner will come towards the middle to form the heart. Make sure you pinch both corners separately.
5 strands griouech:
Roll the dough thin then fold it in three on itself (picture 1). Roll it again (picture 2) maximun 2mm thin. Release the dough from the work surface.
Cut long dough strips of 10-11 cm large. Then pass the cutting wheel from top bottom to top, leaving about 8 mm between each strip as well as the edges (picture 3).
|How to make a 5 strands griouech|
Lift one strand and drop the other, you will have 2 versus 3 (pictures 4 to 6).
Bring together the two corners of the rectangle located at the bottom. Pinch to stick them together (picture 7).
Use the other hand and try to delicately open the griouech from its middle (picture 8), push the pinched corners towards the top (picture 9). The previous bottom part will now be popping out of the middle of griouech.
Place the flower/griouech in a tray and pinch the 2 corners.
Cover all these creations with a cling film or another kitchen towel.
Mix all ingredients and warm it for about 5 to 7 min. slightly warm it, Set aside. It shouldn’t it be used cold while we dip the griouech in.
Frying and honeying griouech
These cookies are usually deep-fried (see introduction with note about baking). So you need a deep pot. For 1 liter of oil, I use a 22-25 cm large pot. You need to fry these cookies and bare in mind you need space to turn them. They also tend to expand a bit.
Once the oil is medium hot (not too hot), start dropping the flowers one by one. They usually land at the bottom but will float in the process. Fry from each side until nicely golden brown from both side. Each batch usually takes up to 3 minutes.
|You know the oil is hot enough when you drop the uncooked griouech and it
makes these air bubbles which will disappear in a few seconds
Use a spider to fish the flowers carefully. Place them in the honey which shouldn’t be hot at this stage. Delicately push each one and make sure it’s fully soaked. Keep them in the honey for about 1 hour until they are completely cooled and they have soaked enough honey.
Note: the reason why we have folded the dough is to allow these bubbles from forming within the dough layers, which will trap some honey, resulting in an improved texture day after day..It’s like pockets where honey is trapped to keep feeding the griouech.
The one in bottom right was rolled only once and hence seems “thinner” than the one on the right. It’s just a matter of preference. They all taste good.
|Can’t make a traditional 5 strands griouech? make this flower by twisting
and rolling then pinching the dough at the bottom to seal it
Decoration and storage
Once the griouech had time to get coated with honey, use a slotted spoon to fish them and place them in a strainer to get rid of excess honey.
1- store the cookies at room temperature but they’re at their best only within 2 to 3 weeks depending on the weather.
2- freeze them and thaw them about 20 min before you serve them.
In both cases, griouech should be stored in an airtight containers with layers or plastic or cling-film between each layer of the honeyed cookies. This will keep them intact and easy to pick without breakage.
Well I hope you give them a try, they could daunting in the beginning but usually you get the hang of it after the first 3 or 4 mis-shaped flowers. They’re worth the effort.
|What you see trapped inside is not the frying oil, it’s good honey
to improve the texture of griouech as it ages day after day.
1- My mother was telling me about the day she moved to Casablanca when she was a teenager. She said she saw the locals sending big trays of grouech to the public oven for baking. They’re then either soaked in honey or just sprinkled with icing sugar. I haven’t seen this myself in real life but I’ve seen the sprinkle version of griouech in a Moroccan recipe magazine.
2- About the oil: this is how clear the used oil was after the frying process: hardly any residues, just about colours compared with the original colour. By the look of it, all what’s been fried (about 70 pieces) hardly absorbed 80 ml out of the 1 liter used.