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 corn harcha

A gluten-free harcha-meet-ghrieba with Moroccan flavours, how about that for a treat? I thought you’d like it!

As much as most of our ghrieba recipes are on the chewy side and a few of them on the shortbread side ( of the baking textures, this one is rather a baked version of our national galette called harcha.

The recipe is easy to follow and I find it rather cool how we get to smash the dough balls against the baking tray before baking the lot.

Versions of baked harcha ghriebas can include mix of flour and fine semolina or/and coarse semolina and this will depend on families. Some regions do not even have any baked version at all so you may find Moroccans who have never heard of this, then you could introduce them. Take this opportunity to spread your knowledge and expertise in all-things Moroccan and introduce them to it.

 

My touch

Now corn harcha-ghrieba is usually good the first day it’s baked and we can give it another half day to appreciate it. It does not come wonderful after heating it so don’t go there.

However, I’ve come up with a way to make the pleasure last longer: I quickly soak it in a lemony basboussa-revani-like syrup but really quickly as it might breaks in crumbs, 100% corn products have this reputation of hardly keeping their shape if you try to fiddle with them. If you are known to be clumsy then take a tablespoon and poor the syrup on the ghriebas, I reckon 1 or two tablespoons for each ghrieba will do the trick. That way you will be safe. This soaked version keeps well for a few days in the fridge and can be served garnished or crumbled over freshly cut fruits.

I am giving all in grams so you can use the same weighting scale and one mixing bowl to make it.

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Ingredients

Makes +/- 12 ghriebas of 50 g each 
Prep: 10 min - Baking time: 20 min
  • 250 g corn flour (not corn starch)
  • 60 g of vegetable oil (originally 80 g)
  • 60 g of butter, melted (originally 80 g)
  • 40 g caster sugar (only half if not into too much sweetness, optional if using syrup)
  • 30 g orange blossom water
  • 150 g water at room temperature, might need another 30 g depending on the absorption
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp aniseed, slightly crushed
  • 1 tbsp apricot jam (optional)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • A good pinch of salt

Finishing

  • 50 g of corn semolina or flour for rolling the dough balls (optional but It helps with the final look)

Syrup (you may double it if you want them really soaked)

  • 1/2 cup of water (1 measure)
  • 1 cup of caster sugar (2 measures sugar)
  • 1 tbsp of lemon or orange juice
  • 2 rinds of lemon

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Preparation

Preheat the oven at 180 C. Line a baking tray with baking paper or grease it and dust it with corn grits.

A a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients with the butter and the oil. Rub with your hands as if you are preparing a shortcrust dough.

Incorporate the orange blossom water then the water gradually and combine with a whisk or with your hands. The mix might look runny so don’t worry. Let it rest for 2 – 3 minutes. The corn flour will absorb the liquid and the batter-looking mix will turn to a malleable pasty texture.

Grab some of the dough and roll it between the palms of your hands. You need between 40 and 60 g for each ball depending how big you want the harcha ghrieba to be. I usually forget this step all the time but you need to roll the balls in corn flour (the part for the finished look) and smash it at about 40 cm height on the baking sheet. It helps with the cracking.

Arrange on the baking tray, leaving a bit of space between each unit.

Bake ghriebas for +/- 25 min  180 C. I usually rotate the tray after 15 min baking. They should look nicely golden. Set aside to cool.

Let cool, serve at room temperature, ideally the same day. You may like it with jam or honey.

To make syrup

In a small heavy saucepan, stir the sugar in water and add the rinds. Let simmer over medium heat for about 15 min. In the last 5 minutes, add the juice.

Set aside and use until it’s just warm to lukewarm (you can put your fingers in it without burning yourself).

Place the ghriebas over a grill and a deep plate at the bottom, poor the syrup on top and let them drip. Alternatively, you can poor one or two tablespoon over each ghrieba.

Keep the syrup-coated version in the fridge for a few days, serve with extra syrup as a dessert.

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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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Moroccan peanut shortbread

Moroccan peanut shortbread from the North

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I finally got hold of the best recipe for these melt-in-the-mouth shortbreads from Northern Morocco where there is an abundance of peanuts growing around Larache and its surrounding.

Compared to other recipes of the same biscuit/cookie, the one I’m about to share with you involves roasting the flour before using it and it does make a difference.

Moroccan peanut shortbread. Credit @Nada Kiffa

Now you may related them to polvorons and rightly so, as they have the same texture only more friable and they’re also wrapped in special paper. Note that polvorons are an Andalucian treat gone worldwide with the extension of Spanish culture to other countries and also that Andalucia has been a Muslim area for 800 years..Not to mention the Spanish colonisation of Northern and Sahara area of Morocco for decades. My point is that these cookies have a lot to say and showcase under their wrapping to be treated like just another sweet. It’s past wrapped up in a silky paper that ones takes in a mouthful.

As much as they’re easy to make, it’s important to choose peanuts with a strong flavour such as the small ones, to handle them with care once baked and to really restrain from moving them until they’re completely cool.

These special shortbreads do not contain eggs, so although they do have the shape of a Moroccan macaroon namely called ghrieba, they are still part of the biscuit/cookie category.

Expect a friable and melting texture once these peanut shortbread are in your mouth, not snappy or crunchy as a regular shortbread would usually be. It’s pure indulgence!

 

Ingredients
Makes about 20
Prep: 25 min (incl. roasting peanuts), baking: about 15 min
Recipe adapted from here

 

  • 200g of blanched peanuts, unsalted
  • 150 g flour
  • 80 g butter, melted
  • 30 -40 g of peanut oil (minimum)
  • 120 g icing sugar
  • 3 g of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 good pinch of gum arabic/meska, crushed (optional)

Finishing and wrapping

  • Icing sugar
  • Special wrapping paper for polvoron

Preparation

In a moderate oven (180 degrees C),  roast the flour for about 30- 40 min or until it changes to golden hazelnut colour. You need to stir it at least 3 times throughout the process. Set aside to cool and sift.
 

Roast the peanuts for 10 min at the same temperature. Set aside to cool then transfer them to a kitchen towel and rub them to remove as much of their skin as you could.

Transfer the peanuts into a food processor. Add the sugar, crushed meska, salt and cinnamon and blizz to a fine powder (not crunchy bits). Fold the mix into the flour and baking powder. You could sift all these dry ingredients together to homogenize.

Melt the butter (clarify it if you can) and mix it with 30 g of oil. Set aside to cool.

Pour over the dried ingredients and mix to combine. The dough should be moist and compact appearance. If it is too dry to bring together, add a tablespoon of oil or 2.

Preheat oven to 180/160 C degrees (conv/fan). Shape into 3cm balls. Arrange on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, spacing them about 5 cm. Slightly pat to level it but do not flatten it. I aim for anywhere between 1 to 1.5 cm thickness.

Bake between 15-20 min until it’s golden brown.

Cool completely before dusting with a slight coating of icing sugar. You could also roll it in. Wrap with a special paper and keep in an airtight container for a couple of weeks (clarifying the butter helps in keeping them for a longer time).

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