Esther Rica, “the” cook (tebakha) of our big family celebrations in my native Fez, always said of North African pastries that they had a taste of heaven!
Heaven… This is where I wish my friend Margaret to rest in peace. Who else could I dedicate my recipe if not her? Margaret, author of the famous blog Piroulie, who enchanted all of us by her sweetness, kindness and her great recipes, unfortunately left this world this past weekend.
It seems that heaven is only filled with great people, so I am certain you are there! Rest in peace my dear friend!
Except for the few people who are haunted by their weight, diabetes or cholesterol, Middle Eastern pastries are generally very popular.
Depending on their origins, Middle Eastern pastries, even if they are prepared exactly the same way, do not always have the same name.
Chebakia for some and griwech for others.
Today, I am making one of the jewels of North African pastries: makroud or makrout? Maqroudh? Maqrouth? Anyway, what is important is that its taste and texture are irresistible!
Some sources say that its origins are from the oases of Mzab and the steppes of Setif in Algeria and others say that its story would be linked to the city of Kairouan, spiritual capital of Tunisia, a city that actually hosted the first national makroud festival on May 20, 2008.
Traditionally, makroud is composed of a dough made of semolina that is most commonly filled with dates but also figs or almonds. Of course, there are various recipes: some are baked or fried in oil, while others contain almonds or sesame seeds. In any case, the classic recipe remains pretty much the same everywhere. It is then rolled and cut in diamond shapes. Makroud actually means diamond. The pastry is then dipped in a honey syrup made from sugar and lemon or orange blossom water.
Let’s face it, it is in Algeria that most varieties of makroud can be found. Algerian makroud is fried or baked.
– makroud tmar (tmar means date), is made with semolina and dates and is flavored with cinnamon, cloves, and orange blossom water, all topped with honey.
– makroud el louz (اللوز or louz means almond) or makroud msaker (سكر or saker means sugar) which is mainly prepared with the ground almonds, icing sugar, semolina and lemon zest, without forgetting what makes it authentic: orange blossom water.
– makroud lassel, with semolina, stuffed with ground almonds and flavored with cinnamon and orange blossom water.
– makroud el koucha, a specialty from Constantine that many Algerians see as the original makroud, “ancestor of all makroud”. It is prepared with semolina and dates and is baked in the oven.
– makroud wahrani, is a variant of Oran containing only semolina and spices.
– makroud bel qarmouss, meaning fig, is stuffed with fresh figs, but also bursts of caramelized nuts and vanilla.
– mkirat, specialty from Tlemcen, is prepared with a large amount of egg, peanuts and toasted sesame seeds, baked and then topped with a lemon honey syrup.
– makrout malah, meaning salt. It is a savory preparation, containing potatoes, spices and herbs like turmeric, ras el hanout, cumin, oregano and thyme. The stuffing is often chicken marinated in a garlic sauce with tomato, paprika and olive oil. It is then covered with fresh sesame.
In Tunisia, even if the famous Kairouan makroud is prepared with dates, the most traditional Tunisian version and the oldest is a semolina-based makroud stuffed with fresh figs. However, both versions are equally famous and widely consumed in the country.
Well… And what about Morocco? I don’t want you to think I am chauvinistic but in Morocco, we also eat a lot of makroud, especially in the cities of Oujda, near the Algerian border, in Tetouan where it was introduced by Algerian immigrants and in Fez where it was introduced by the Tunisians from Kairouan in the ninth century. In Morocco, the most common version is the classic preparation with semolina and dates.
I chose to prepare the most classic version, aka makroud tmar, or commonly called makroud.
My makroud traveled to Normandy for a weekend with friends… mainly Tunisians ! Everybody loved them… well, they were fried so how can’t you love them?
- 3½ cups medium semolina
- ½ cup flour
- 7 oz. clarified butter
- 2 pinches salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ cup warm water (more or less)
- 4 tablespoons orange blossom water
- Vegetable oil (if frying)
- ½ lb date paste (or pureed ripe dates)
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground clove
- 1 oz. clarified butter
- 3 tablespoons orange blossom water
- ½ cup honey
- 2 tablespoons orange blossom water
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Mix the date paste with all the stuffing ingredients until obtaining a smooth paste. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a mixer, pour the semolina, baking soda and flour. Make a well and pour the melted clarified butter.
- Mix for two minutes so the butter is absorbed by the semolina. Let stand at least 2 hours (more if possible).
- Moisten with orange blossom water and warm water, and mix with your fingertips without overworking or kneading the dough. Add water if necessary. Once reaching a compact ball of dough, cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 45 minutes.
- Take a good amount of dough and shape a sausage. With the index finger, make a gutter in the center lengthwise. Roll a little strand of date filling and place it into the gutter. Pull the edges of the dough back on the dates to cover everything. Roll again gently to obtain a sausage of about 1 inch diameter. Cut diamond shapes and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Repeat until all the dough is used.
- Preheat oven to 350 F and bake the pan on the center rack for about 30 minutes (watch carefully so they evenly get a nice golden color).
- Heat a large pot with oil and deep fry the makroud on each side until browned.
- For both methods, the diamonds should be arranged close to each other in order to prevent the dates from burning.
- Over low heat, cook all the ingredients of the syrup and dip each cooled makroud on both sides. Set aside for 30 minutes and repeat.