For years I made m’hanncha with the same dough as that for cornes de gazelle and with the same filling, just shaping it differently. Until I met Bushra, a wonderful Moroccan cook who helped me in my classes in Marrakesh. One day I was teaching how to make cornes de gazelle and said to the students that they could make m’hanncha with the same dough and filling. Bushra corrected me and explained that m’hanncha was indeed made with the same filling but that the pastry used was warqa and not the dough for the cornes. Much easier I thought except that I couldn’t find the same super-thin, super-pliable warqa in London. I started bringing back a stock of warqa with me whenever I went to Morocco and kept it in my freezer. Unfortunately,Â I had to throw away my last batch. A friend left my freezer door open one evening, ruining a whole stock of mango ice cream (my own), a beautiful foie de canard, which I had brought back from Paris and a sizeable stock of warqa, which I had bought from the best woman warqa maker in Marrakesh. Too sad. So, I had to make do with filo recently when I taught a Moroccan class in which I showed everyone how to make m’hanncha. It worked well as you can see from the pic below, although the snapshot is not my best effort. At least it gives you an idea.
Here is the recipe, and before it a few photos I took in the kitchens of my favourite restaurant in Marrakesh, Stylia, showing how warqa is made. The dough is very, very wet and the woman bounces it very quickly like a yo-yo, all around a hot tobsil (the metal plate on which warqa is cooked). Each time she releases the dough, it hits the hot tobsil (metal plate on which warqa is cooked), leaving a thin disk of pastry. She makes sure each disk slightly overlaps the other, until she has an outside ring. She then starts the same process again, inside the first ring, slightly overlapping the outer ring, and carries on until she covers the tobsil. She then peels off the thin warqa (meaning leaf in Arabic, although in Tunisia warqa is known as malsuqa meaning stuck) and stacks it over the previous ones. The sheets are slightly oiled. Totally different from anything you buy outside, either in France, England, the US or wherever, and much easier to work with than either commercial warqa or filo.
You can make these much thinner and have 40 instead, which is probably better but l was rushing. Makes 20
For the filling
500 g blanched almonds, soaked in boiling water for 1 hour
150 g icing sugar
4 tablespoons orange blossom water
30 g unsalted butter, softened
Â½ teaspoon ground mastic
to make the m’hanncha
1 x 400 g packet filo pastry
1.Â Drain the almonds well and put together with the icing sugar in a food processor. Process until pretty fine, then add the butter, mastic and orange blossom water. Transfer to a mixing bowl and roll into a ball. Divide into 20 equal pieces and roll each into a ball, before rolling into a long, thin sausage. Cover with cling film.
2. Preheat the oven to 200Âº C.
3. Lay one sheet ofÂ filo on your work surface and brush with butter. Lay one almond sausage, about 1 cm away from the edge nearest to you, leaving about 2 cm on either end. Flap the filo over the almond sausage and roll, keeping the filo very close to the almond throughout. Brush with butter all over and with the seam side down, fold the empty end over the almond roll and roll into a coil, sliding the other empty end under the coil. Transfer to a non-stick pan and press lightly on the coil to make sure it doesnâ€™t unroll during baking. Make the remaining spirals the same way. When you have finished them, spike them here and there with a toothpick to stop the pastry from puffing.
4. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack. Serve at room temperature or store in a hermetically sealed container where they will keep for a few days.
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