A small slice of date cake dotted with chopped dates and candied clementines

Moorish Moroccan shortbread: Ghrieba Msseoussa

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Unlike many Moroccan ghriebas (sort of macaroons) which come on the chewy and soft side of the baked good, today’s traditional ghrieba from the North of Morocco is more on the shortbread-like category with an indulging melt-in-your-mouth texture.

Butter, oil along with nuts gives a delicate texture to ghrieba.

Some definitions

Before going further with the recipe, I must explain the meaning of “msseouess”. It’s actually the state of something damaged by worms and therefore reaching a weak crumbly state.  Do not let this rather unappealing description put you off. This remains  one of the best shortbread recipes you may come across.

Moroccan ghrieba msseoussa or ghriebat el khalit (khalit in Arabic refers to mixture) is a rich mix of leftover nuts. Its other name is halwat laqita (bastard sweet) due to the use of leftover nuts hanging around with no major “rule”. However, to make it easy on you, I’ve put equivalent weight to all the nut components.

Ghrieba msseoussa is a  nutty shortbread with Moroccan flavours perfect for Eid and other festive days

It’s worth mentioning that apart from raisins and sesame seeds, the rest of the nuts listed in the ingredients are interchangeable and replaceable. Again, the idea behind this recipe is to use leftover nuts from Achoura/Ashura (a Muslim version of Christmas in Morocco).

Having said that, nothing stops you from making it anytime you fancy a treat.

Handling ghrieba

I find these ghriebas very delicate as they break while still warm. So I urge you to handle them with care.

You may need to wait until they cool completely although the icing sugar may not stick very well in this instance.

I tend to wait for 10 minutes after they are out of the oven and give them a good layer of icing sugar, sifted above them while they are still in the baking tray. When they’re cool I move them to the icing sugar plate so they also get covered from the bottom.

Just find a way to have them all covered, whichever way you go.

Storing ghrieba msseoussa

Although they are usually kept for a few weeks in an airtight container at room temperature, I found that keeping them in the fridge is not a bad idea and they even freeze and last longer. This also help with their texture as they hold a bit before melting in the mouth.

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Moroccan shortbread with nuts: Ghrieba msseouessa

Ghrieba msseoussa, a nutty shortbread with Moroccan flavours perfect for Eid and other festive days such as Christmas,

Apart from raisins and sesame seeds, the rest of the nuts listed in the ingredients are interchangeable and replaceable as the idea behind this recipe is to use leftover nuts from Achoura/Ashura or, as we are approaching christmas, the loads of nuts left after this occasion. However, nothing stops you from making it even before and gift it to your beloved ones. We all love a treat made with love.

  • 75 gram almonds (fried or oven-roasted and cooled)
  • 75 gram raisins or sultanas (rinsed with hot water)
  • 75 gram sesame seeds (unhulled )
  • 75 gram walnuts kernels (ideally oven-roasted for a few minutes and cooled)
  • 75 ml vegetable oil
  • 125 gram butter (soft at room temperature)
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 4 gram baking powder
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp icing sugar
  • 3 tbsp orange blossom water
  • 300 gram flour (sifted)

For decoration

  • 300 gram icing sugar

Make-ahead

  1. Toast the sesame seeds and set aside.

  2. Mix raisins with orange blossom water and set aside for 30 min, covered.

  3. Blend or chop them to a rough texture. Set aside.

  4. Crush the fried or oven-baked almonds to a rough texture, not too fine but not big either. You could use peanuts instead

  5. Do the same for the rest of the nuts.

Make the ghrieba mix

  1. Mix butter with sugar to a creamy texture. You could use a whisk or your hands

  2. Add the rest of the ingredients leaving the flour last.

  3. Do not overwork the dough, you just need to bring it together and combine it homogeneously.

Shaping and baking ghrieba msseoussa

  1. Preheat the oven at 170 C. Line baking sheets with baking paper.

  2. Shape ghriebas: roll small dough balls and flatten them no less than 1.5 cm thick. Ghrieba should be between 5 to 7 cm in diameter.

  3. Line ghriebas slightly far from each other.

  4. Use a cookie press and slightly press on top. If you do not have it, use the forks or those pastry tweezers to pinch the top of each ghrieba. Use the end of a manual whisk to get that rose-shape.

  5. Place the baking tray in the middle of the oven. Bake for 15 to 18 min until slightly golden.

  6. Let cool.

  7. Meanwhile, fill a deep plate with half of the icing sugar, delicately place a few ghriebas and sift some icing sugar on top. Do the same for the rest of the batch.

Almonds and walnuts can be replaced with oven-roasted and skinned (or not) peanuts, crushed.


Gluten-free Moroccan ghrieba (macaroon) with almond and peanuts

I was looking for an old set of family recipes I gathered when I was still living in Morocco and I stumbled upon this irresistible and chewy ghrieba/ghrouiba.

Ghrieba with almond and peanuts is very easy to make and I won’t even ask you to blanch the nuts yourself as long as you buy them whole and skinned. But if you want to do it all by yourself, it’s rewarding from a taste level and you know that for sure.

The logic of this ghrieba is just like the class ghrieba with almond but we just replace half the weight of homemade almond paste with peanuts.

I’ll leave you with the recipe to make one of the chewiest macaroons or ghriebas known to mankind.

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Ingredients
For about 20 ghriebas depending on the size
Prep : 20 min/ Baking : 18 min by batch
  • 250g almonds blanched
  • 250 g peanuts, blanched
  • 165 g of sugar (can go to 200 g)
  • 1 egg + 1 yolk
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp of jam, sifted (apricot is preferred)
  • 1 tbsp of butter, melted
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder.
  • Zest of 1 large lemon
  • A good pinch of mastic gum or Meska
  • Essence of Almond (3 to 4 drops if you suspect that the almonds do not have a strong taste)
Finishing and decoration with icing
  • 200 g icing sugar

Preparation

Make-ahead nut task

If you are opting for a traditional way to do everything from scratch. Separately blanch the almonds and the peanuts for 2 minutes in boiling water. Drain and instantly start peeling the skin. Wash about 3 times and drain. Spread each nut in one layer over a kitchen towel and rub to dry them further.
My family usually leaves the trays in a balcony or the garden in sunny days but I place the nuts in a very hot oven which I knock off before they go in. They stay a good 10 minutes and they’re ready.

Next, use a good food processor to turn these nuts to a paste, each one respectively.
Use 1/3 of the sugar for the almonds and 1/3 for the peanuts. Make sure you get a paste or at least a fine powder.

The fact of having a paste helps with the chewiness of the ghriebas, but if you are unlucky with the food processor, double the quantity for apricot jam.

Making ghrieba

Mix mastic gum with 1 teaspoon of caster sugar and crush it with the bottom of a glass or use a pestle and mortar to do the job. It will take you 5 seconds.

Preheat the oven at 170 degrees C and cover 2 baking sheets with baking paper.

Lightly beat the eggs with the remaining of the sugar quantity and the pinch of salt. Break in the almond and peanut paste. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix with hands or with a food processor until the mixture looks lump-free. You don’t need to overwork it especially if all ingredients are at room temperature.
Form small balls of approx 2 to 3 cm.
Drop the balls in the icing sugar so they coat from one side and all around. They need to pick as much icing sugar as possible as this plays a major role in the highly sought crackling.

Bake ghriebas

Place the ghriebas on the baking sheets, leaving about 5 to 6 cm gap between each one. Place your thumb right in the middle from the top and slightly apply a pressure. This helps with the final look.

If you have a convection oven, place the tray in the top tier for 5 minutes then place it in the middle for another 5 minutes. Turn the baking tray around to ensure even baking and bake for a few more minutes until the ghriebas look nicely crackled and golden from the sides. The icing sugar will look set and not damp, a sign the ghrieba is ready.

If you are using a traditional oven, bake on position “grill” until it crackles then bake from the bottom. I usually put the 2 positions ON at the same time. This way it bakes in 18 minutes.

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Notes

 
  • Mastic gum or meska is the secret ingredient that gives this delicate taste. The spoon of jam reinforces the chewy texture. Although some also call it gum arabic but I believe there is a difference. The one used in our Moroccan baking usually comes from Greece. Gum arabic is from a species of Acacia, while mastic gum is in the Pistacia family and is related to frankincense.
  • Always keep lemon rinds with the chewy ghriebas in an airtight container as they help them keep their texture and the lemon touch longer.

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A tray of Moroccan walnut macaroons or ghrieba

Gluten-free Moroccan walnut ghrouiba or ghrieba (Macarons)

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Ghrouiba is a sort of round-shaped cookie which is usually compared to macaroons. They come in different varieties and range from soft to shortbread-like in term of texture.

In Morocco, we have wide array of Ghrouibas, which by the way can be gluten-free. Please check other recipes which I have posted before under “Sweet Moroccan biscuits and co”.

You can use almonds with skin on for half of the almond quantity. The almonds are there as a base but not for their taste. So even if they don’t taste very almond-y, do not be tempted to add almond extract

A tray of Moroccan walnut macaroons or ghrieba

Moroccan gluten-free walnut ghrieba. Credit @Nada Kiffa

One of my top favourites is this crackling walnut ghrouiba or ghrouiba bel guergua’. There is an indulging and rewarding chewiness trapped underneath that light crust that will make everyone happy. It’s again a treat that goes well with coffee or tea besides the goodness from its ingredients.

This is at least a 40 years old family recipe. You will notice the special use of apricot jam and lemon zest in this version unlike the common version found everywhere. In our family, we tend to add these two in most of the nutty ghrouibas to maintain a chewiness and freshness for longer.

These ghrouibas are best consumed 48 hrs after being prepared because the flavours will have time to mature and complete each other.

This is a very easy recipe where you only need a bowl or two, a food processor and a baking tray.

It’s freezer-friendly (you know I like that!). However, you really need to pick good walnut halves, not the rancid or bitter stuff. And like any nut, heat your oven at 170 degrees and give them a new life by roasting them for about 8 minutes without burning them.

A set of photos for Moroccan walnut ghrieba showing pre-baking and storing steps

Adding lemon skin while storing a chewy ghrieba keeps them frangrant and chewy. Credit :Nada Kiffa

Ingredients

Makes  +30 ghrouibas
Prep: 12 min (active time) – Baking: 12- 15 min

  •  500 g ground almond (blanched and skined then slightly dried with a towel), see notes
  • 500 g ground walnuts (slightly coarse and not too fine)
  • 400 g caster sugar, see notes
  • 40 g of melted butter
  • 3 heaped tbsp of fine apricot jam
  • 7g baking powder
  • 2 small eggs + 1 egg yolk or 2 standard eggs
  • About 5 drops of mastic gum, ground with a tsp of sugar (by using to bottom of a glass to crush it or a pestle & mortar)
  • 7 g vanilla sugar or equivalent
  • 1 tbsp of lemon zest (optional)
  • A good pinch of salt

To decorate

  • About 400 g of icing sugar layered in a tray/ plate to form a layer about 5 mm thick

 

Preparation

  • Make sure you slightly roast the walnuts as mentioned above. Set it aside to cool. Rub it with your hands to get rid of excess skin.
  • In a food processor, whizz up the walnut to have a coarse texture (not too fine). Place in a bowl.
  • Whizz up the almonds along with the sugar, the mastic gum, lemon zest. Try to bring the mix to a paste.
  • Combine all ingredients with your hands or using the same food processor.
  • Heat the oven at 170 degrees C.

Shaping the Ghrouibas

  • Form dough balls between 3 and 5 cm depending how you like it (small or medium size). The dough is somewhat sticky. We usually keep a bowl of orange blossom water on the side to dip in our fingers. You could also use the back of a knife to scrape off the sticky dough.
  • If orange blossom water is expensive in your area, use oil or water to lubricate/humidify your hands.
  • Take each ball with your fingers holding it from the edges bit towards the bottom, dip the top and edges in the icing sugar. Carry on with the rest of the dough.
  • Before getting these ghrouibas out of the icing sugar plate, make sure you slightly press them for 2 reasons:

1/ to slightly flatten them.
2/ to get more icing sugar sticking at their surface.

Baking and storing

Traditionally, for all nutty ghrouibas, we usually bake a couple to test a few things. One of them is the consistency of the dough in case it needs a bit more liquid (via eggs) or more dry ingredients (which we then add by tablespoon). These two will tell us how the ghrouiba will spread in the oven and how it will crack. If it’s to our satisfaction, we bake the whole batch as planned

  • Bake the ghrouibas until you see a bit of crust forming. I also pick one ghrouiba to check the texture: It should have a bit of a crust while the inside is bouncy and chewy but not runny.
  • Usually, it takes anywhere between 12 to 15 min depending on the size of the balls and the size of your oven. For old traditional ovens, we slightly open the door during the baking process to let the steam out. For convection oven, you could do it once or twice after 8 minutes of baking.
  • Once cool, store the Ghrouibas in a cookie box or freeze them. Thaw them before serving.
  • I like these ghrouibas 2 days after preparing them. Ideally, they’ll be fine within 2 weeks if the weather is not too hot. Place any extra ghrouibas in the freezer and thaw them about 15 min before eating them.
 
Running a baking test in my auntie’s old oven.
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