What are Moroccan deserts made of?
And more nuts.
Perhaps 95% of Moroccan deserts and snacks contain nuts, especially peanuts and almonds.
Moroccans often don’t eat dinner until later, in the Mediterranean style – perhaps at 9 or 10 at night – and often there is a snack-meal late in the afternoon. This is called ‘merinda’, and will always include tea or coffee.
Moroccans often eat fruit after a meal, but it isn’t thought of as a dessert.
What sort of cakes and slices are eaten in Morocco? It doesn’t take long to find out – there are so many of these shops anywhere. The range of choices is quite daunting. And even though they are almost entirely made of almonds and orange blossom water, there is an extensive variety to drool over – topped with nuts, mixed into a paste or a slice, with and without chocolate and honey…
Typical ingredients include not only nuts but also almost invariably orange blossom water, and probably cinnamon amongst other spices. Here are a few of the different possibilities. One such bakery you can’t help coming across is Patisserie Al Afrah half way up the hill to the kasbah.
The most common sweet in Morocco is kaab ghzal. It is a pastry in the shape of a crescent moon with a detailed pattern covering its surface. The pastry is made from boiling almonds soaked for a long time in orange blossom water, then ground up with spices added. Inside is a filling of almond paste which is a lot like marzipan.
This is a date stuffed pastry, its name literally meaning – black man wrapped in a death shroud! It originated from Tetouan, a city in the north an hour from Tangier. Anything involving dates has a Jewish-Moroccan history to it. The Jews loved dates.
To make a paste the sweet dates are first steamed for several hours, then mixed with spices – including orange blossom water and cinnamon of course. They are wrapped in a basic pastry and covered with icing sugar.
This pastry is also one that is very common in Morocco’s north, but not so much in the south. So, treat yourself – this one is special.
These are named after the detailed patterning to be found on the tiles used on the floors and walls of buildings and homes throughout Morocco.
Peanuts are crushed with dark chocolate, made into a solid filling, and put between two layers of either dark or white chocolate. The top is then patterned in a contrasting color.
This pastry is named after the word for snake – m’hanch. It is an almond paste rolled inside an almond-based sheet of pastry to make a long snake. This is then coiled to make the biscuit. Once cooked, it is doused in honey and topped with sesame seeds or flaked almonds.
Sfoof is unusual since it is more of a crumble than any sort of a solid slice. For this reason, it is eaten with a spoon. It is especially common during Ramadan. What’s more, the name is not only unique to the north – in the south it is called ‘sloo’ – but it is a little different there.
The crumble is a mixture of un-hulled sesame seeds, raw almonds and all-purpose flour, with cinnamon and other spices. To make it more of a crumble than dry mix, butter and honey or sugar is added. The whole is then shaped into a mountain and sold by weight.
Sloo in the south has much more butter and honey added, until it can be molded into a solid shape. The most common shape is a pyramid, but many are shaped into a slab. Here is where the creativity comes out, changing the shape of the slab, adding decorations, or even making mini-pictures. This can then be sliced into portions just like a cake.
Both sloo, and especially sfoof must be accompanied by tea. This is essential in order to eat it. There is a saying in Morocco:
If there wasn’t any tea, half of Morocco would die from eating sfoof or rghriba.
This is a small biscuit or cookie, and in contrast to the majority of Moroccan sweets, it is made without any nuts at all. The dough is just your basic biscuit mix – flour with sugar and butter, and flavoured with spices and orange blossom water. Sesame seeds are sprinkled on top.
Chbakia (said shbakia) is a sweet which comes from the word ‘chbak’. In Arabic this means a fence or a nest, because it looks like a fence, which has been knotted into a nest shape. It is one which can be found everywhere during Ramadan especially. But if you want to try this one, just like sfoof or sloo, it is available if you look out for it.
Chbakia is a pastry made from sugar, flour and ground almonds. The spices through it are an interesting mixture including salt, orange blossom water, cinnamon, and ground anise.
The pastry is rolled out, then cut into strips. Although other shapes can be found, most of the chbakia strips are tied into knots in a very specific pattern. They are left to dry out, after which they are deep fried. Once cooked they are doused in honey and topped with un-hulled sesame seeds.
The street versions of these can be a little uninspiring, but I have tried home-cooked ones which are quite a treat.
When in Morocco you cannot help but notice the little shops and stalls everywhere selling large blocks of nougat and caramelized nuts.
I have always been a fan of the little sesame seed wafers which come from China, but the offerings in Morocco way supersede them. They are on display in their large blocks as they were made, for you to buy by the kilogram. They come with all kinds of nuts, including almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, and pistachios.
The nougat also way outclasses anything I have ever tasted, even in Italy which is where I thought it originated from. It is in fact available all across the Mediterranean, and was originally a Persian creation. Either way, the nougat is something you should try! Just like the caramelized nuts, you buy it by the kilogram.
There is an amazing range of sweets in Morocco, which can be eaten as a desert, or as a snack with tea or coffee. They are mostly nut based, and something any foodie should not bypass. Maybe check out Blue Door Cuisine to see if they have a food event involving Moroccan sweets – maybe learning how to make some, or as an accompaniment to a session discussing etiquettes, history, and how to make the wonderful sweet Moroccan mint tea.
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