I lived in Morocco with host families for more than 3 years, and I learned about the importance of sugar and sweets in Moroccan culture.
Sugar in the Moroccan Culture
Knowledge is passed down. Recipes are shared to bring people together. My three years in Morocco (and going in for a fourth) have been filled with the warmth of friendships, love from communities, and baking sessions in the kitchen.
I've spent a lot of time with my host families, as well as other Peace Corps volunteers. Afternoons were dedicated to asking what ingredient is this and how much of that do I add? Hours were spent with my host mama perfecting the art of kneading dough and folding filo dough the correct way. But the most important part? The laughter we shared as trays of piping hot kaab el ghazal, or "gazelle's ankles," came out of the oven. Over time, I also came to realize the value of sugar in Moroccan society.
Sweets for Any Occasion
Sugar plays a huge role in Moroccan culture. Massive sugar cones are given as gifts for weddings and funerals. Tea, either mint or black tea, is served with a healthy serving of sugar. During kaskroot, a snack served around 6 p.m., sweets are offered in abundance. Many of these confections contain peanuts, almonds, shredded coconut, or date paste.
Throughout Ramadan, chbekia—a treat made from dough that has been cut into strips, wound together, deep fried, doused in honey and toasted sesame seeds—can be found in almost all shops. This cavity-inducing treat is usually eaten at Iftar, the meal that breaks the Ramadan fast.
Common Sweets for the Sweet Tooth
If you are walking the hectic streets of the Moroccan souk (market), you will be sure to find fukas and briwates.
- Fukas is a biscotti-shaped confection with notes of anise and licorice. The top is drizzled with melted dark chocolate.
- Briwates can be savory or sweet. Some are filled with minced beef, cheese or chicken. Others have ground almonds with a coating of honey on the outside. All are wrapped in a crispy fried dough and can be cylindrical or triangularly shaped.
Almond Briwate Recipe
Difficulty level: Intermediate
This recipe requires a fair amount of prep work. Because all Moroccan confections are handmade, the instructions are very detailed and intricate. Once you have completed the first steps, move onto the folding and frying instructions. Give yourself two hours to make a batch of these tasty treats.
- 2 pounds raw almonds
- 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon gum arabic powder
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup orange flower water
- filo dough
- egg yolk
- 1 liter honey
- vegetable oil
Step 1: Make the Almond Filling
- Blanch and peel the almonds. Once they are prepared, stick them in a Tupperware container and toss them into the fridge.
- Fry half of the almonds in vegetable oil in a skillet. Place cooked almonds on a layer of paper towels to catch the excess oil.
- Measure 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar. Pour half of it into a food processor with the fried almonds.
- Process until a paste forms.
- Add the blanched almonds (the other half of the almonds) and the rest of the sugar.
- Process into a paste.
- Put the almond paste in a large bowl and add 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon gum arabic powder, 1/2 cup unsalted butter, and 1/3 cup orange flower water.
- Knead the dough. If it still crumbles, add in a pinch more butter and orange flower water.
- Roll the almond paste into balls that are about the size of a grape. Set aside.
Step 2: Fold and Fry
How you fold the warqat, or filo dough, is key to making sure the briwates stay together. If the almond-filled triangles are not sealed correctly, oil will seep into the filling.
- Take 5-centimeter-wide filo strips.
- Apply a coating of butter over the strips.
- Add the almond filling about one inch from the bottom.
- Take the bottom edge of the dough and fold up. Make sure you keep the filling centered and the edges scrunched.
- Take the bottom left corner and fold up and to the right. Fold until it meets the edge of the dough.
- Take the newly formed triangle and fold up and to the left.
- Keep folding, switching from right to left. You should have a neat triangle shape.
- At the end of the strip, brush some egg yolk onto the remaining flap and fold it into the pocket (the open edge of the dough).
- Heat 1/4 cup of vegetable oil in a frying pan.
- Heat 1 liter of honey and a dash of orange flower water in a pan until heated.
- Fry the briwates in the oil and then immediately transfer to the honey pot.
- Let the fried briwates soak in the honey for a few minutes while you fry another batch up.
- Let them cool. Serve with Moroccan mint tea.
Layers of roasted, crumbled almonds, cinnamon, shredded chicken, and a dusting of confectioner sugar all come together to make a scrumptious morsel. The name? Pastilla. The ingredients? Heavenly.
To make this masterpiece, a few layers of butter-brushed filo dough are placed on the bottom of a pan. Shredded chicken, chopped almonds, and cinnamon are distributed on top of the proteins. The process is repeated until there are a substantial number of layers. Once assembly is complete, the pan goes into the oven until the dough starts to brown and the house smells like a bakery.
High on my list of favorites is sfoof. This Moroccan specialty can be seen during Ramadan and at weddings. It contains sugar, toasted sesame seeds, fried almonds, and flour that has been browned in the oven. These ingredients are gradually mixed together in a blender to produce a crumbly, protein-packed snack.