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.
The day started badly. I couldn’t find my moulds for the Easter cookies. I was teaching a class that evening showing how to make Lebanese Easter cookies. I searched everywhere, except of course where they were. I did the class. Had to, improvising with a tea strainer and a crinkly cookie cutter. The pastries were OK as you can see from the pic below and the class went well. They all had a go at making the cookies and they were scrumptious, even if my mother would have frowned at how they looked.
The next morning, I was putting some order in the hidden corner of my kitchen where I stash stuff that I don’t use that often, and, of course, the moulds were there. Too annoying. Never mind. I had pastry and filling left over from the class & lovely Nuria, my assistant, was coming back to clear up & help me make more cookies. When she arrived, I produced my moulds not knowing whether I should feel triumphant or stupid.
Didn’t matter. I had the moulds and now we could make the remaining cookies using them. I hadn’t used these in years and wondered if the pastry was going to stick to the grooves. Luckily not. Here is the first date cookie pre baking.
Not bad. So, I continued. The only thing I could have done better was to divide the pieces of pastry equally, weighing each so that the cookies turned out all the same size and more importantly, fitted the mould without spilling over or being too small. Here’s the recipe for the walnut cookies, which I should have sprinkled with icing sugar but I decided they had enough calories as is.
By the way, the pastry for the date cookies is the same as the one in the recipe below. All you have to do is mix 350 g date paste with ½ tsp ground cinnamon and 30 g melted butter. Knead to mix well, then shape small disks that are the size of the grooved circle inside the mould; then flatten the pastry into a circle that is about 1 ½ cm larger than the date disk. Put the date disk in the middle of the pastry, and flap the pastry over the date. Then gently shape into a circle that is slightly smaller than the mould. Put the filled pastry, seam side on the outside, into the mould and gently press to fit the mould and get the impression. Then tap out against your work surface, with your hand underneath the mould to catch the cookie. Slide on the baking tray. Bake, let cool on a wire rack and enjoy.
Makes about 30
For the pastry
350 g semolina
40 g plain flour
40 g golden caster sugar
Â¼ teaspoon easy bake yeast
150 g unsalted butter, softened
2 Â½ to 3 tablespoons orange blossom water
2 Â½ to 3 tablespoons rose water
for the filling
175 g walnuts, ground medium fine
50 g golden caster sugar
Â½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Â½ tablespoon rose water
Â½ tablespoon orange blossom water
1. Mix the semolina, flour, sugar and yeast in a mixing bowl. Add the softened butter and, with the tips of your fingers, work it in until fully incorporated.Â Add the orange blossom and rose water and knead until the pastry is smooth and elastic. Roll into a ball and cover with cling film. Let rest for one and a half hours in a cool place.
2. Mix the ground walnuts, sugar and cinnamon in a mixing bowl. Add the rose and orange blossom water and mix well. Set aside.
3. Preheat the oven to 200ºC.
4. Pinch off a small piece of pastry and roll into a ball the size of a walnut. Place it in the cup of your hand and with your index finger, burrow into it to shape it into a hollow cone — be careful not to pierce the bottom. The cone walls should be about 5 mm thick. Fill the pastry cone with 1 teaspoon walnut filling and pinch the dough together to close it over the filling. Carefully shape the filled pastry into a ball and lightly press into the tabe’ (ma’mul mould), leaving the pinched side on the outside so that when you invert the pastry, it is on the bottom. Invert the mould over the tips of the fingers of your other hand and tap it lightly against your work surface to release it onto your hand. Slide the moulded pastry onto a non-stick baking sheet. Fill and shape the remaining pastry in the same way. You may have to scrape the inside of the mould every now and then, in case some pastry has stuck to it. You can also shape these inside a small tea strainer if you donâ€™t have a mould or by hand. You should end up with about 30 pastries.
5. Bake the cookies in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes or until cooked but not coloured. Remove onto a rack. Let sit for a few minutes then sprinkle with icing sugar. Serve or store in hermetically sealed containers to serve later. These cookies will last for a couple of weeks.