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.


Crunchy Moroccan Halwa del Qsseb and Debla

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If you see these you might think they’re cousins of Sicilian cannoli. Maybe they are. 
 
It seems that cannoli is a version of an Arab sweet from Baghdad which has made it to Sicily centuries ago. The name came from “qanawats” which means pipes or channels in Arabic. Theories are out there as for the origin, but let’s concentrate on the yumminess of these. 
Since the dough is not sweet, dipping them in honey will bring the perfect sweetness
Well in Morocco, where this sweet was also famous at some point, is disappearing slowly but surely. Same thing for its quicker version made using a fork while frying it..
To make this Halwa del Qsseb, we use these bamboo pipes easily found in Morocco. They’re used to roll silk threads which is used to embellish traditional Caftans. 
 
You could use the metallic ones commonly found in pastry/baking aisles but I have to say that using these bamboo rods gives an authentic flavor to these fried sweets. It’s a bit like using an unglazed tagine versus a glazed one to make good Moroccan tagines.. 
The same dough is used to make fork-shaped crunchy fried sweets across Morocco. Their name would be just “halwa del fourchette” or “Debla”. It consists of trapping a strip of dough in a fork, frying it and rolling it as you go..
I made these using a fork to shape them while they were frying
So here I give you The humble Moroccan halwa dial Qsseb (Pipe/Rod’s sweet). 
 
 
Before we start, I want you  to make sure of the following:
 
  • Roll the dough thin,
  • Prick the roll dough it with a fork,
  • When you roll the dough around the pipe, make sure you stick the end firmly,
  • Fry on low-medium heat..The oil should not be too hot or they wont fry properly,
  • Once fried, release them from the pipes/rods.
 
Ingredients

Makes 24+
Prep: 20 min – Frying: About 3-4 min per batch
• 250 g of all purpose flour
• 1 tbsp of vanilla sugar or 1 tsp of vanilla extract or beans from 1 vanilla pod
• 30 g of butter, soft
• 3 tbsps of orange blossom water
• 120 ml of milk, lukewarm
• A pinch of salt
For frying
  • About 1 1/2 l of oil for frying
For finishing and decorating
  • 250 g of warm honey for dipping OR
  • Icing sugar for dusting the halwa
  • 100 g of blanched and fried almonds, roughly crushed
They’re a wonderful garnish to vanilla ice cream
Preparation
Prepare the pipes
Soak the pipes in boiling water mixed with vinegar for a few hours.
Use a serrated knife to cut them into 2 unless you have a big pan and you want to make big halwas.
Drain and dry them with a kitchen towel. Slightly oil them from the smooth side.
Make the dough
In a bowl, combine all ingredients and work the mix about 2 minutes to have a smooth dough.
Place the dough in a plastic bag and set aside for 10 min.  Generously prick the dough with a fork.
Roll the dough about 1 mm thin and then cut squares about 6 cm large.
Roll each square around the rods/pipes. Make sure you pinch the end of the dough very well so it won’t open during the frying step. You also need to make sure the ends of the pipes are not all covered with dough so it comes out after frying.
 
Frying and finishing Halwa del Qsseb
Heat the oil into a deep pan to medium. Start frying a few halwas, leaving space between each one.
If you see that they color fast, reduce the heat. They should fry to a golden color all the way through. They also have to be crispy and crunchy.
Place each halwa in a sieve and let it cool for 5 min. Push the pipe/rod out of the Halwa del Qsseb, it should come out without problem.
Drizzle honey or dip and roll them in. Roll each honeyed fried halwa into almonds.
You could generously dust them with icing sugar.
Serve at room temperature.
Keep extra halwa in a container or a Ziploc for a few days and serve when you want to indulge with a crunchy treat.