With a melting inside and a crispy outside, the Moroccan version of almond cigars is an essential recipe of the holy month of Ramadan, that you will also find, sometimes with different flavors, in Algeria, Tunisia or, in some countries of the Near and Middle East.
Moroccan cuisine is extremely varied, thanks to the many cultural influences that have succeeded in the country and the variety of ingredients available. While the pastry reflects this richness, Moroccan desserts are particularly beautiful and delicious.
Morocco is a country with a rich culinary tradition where the inhabitants are passionate about all that is sweet. Small Moroccan pastries, which are unique jewels, are of all shapes and are prepared with great care for special occasions.
To satisfy people’s desire for sweets, Morocco uses all kinds of fresh and dried fruits and sweets in its kitchens. These delicious sweets are always accompanied by the traditional mint tea. Fine, sweet, good, delicious, fragrant, colorful, fruity, they are real small jewels of homemade confection.
The traditional Moroccan pastry is far from being something that is taken lightly. Intimately linked to every moment of life, it punctuates the great celebrations and marks the major events: births, weddings or deaths are all accompanied by specific sweets, made to exalt or soften. Plunging its roots in a preserved heritage, the pastry belongs to the long and beautiful history of a country where Epicureanism is erected in the art of living.
What could be the best way to understand Moroccan culture, a hospitable country, than to indulge in their culinary culture?
The cigars with almond paste dipped in a syrup of honeyed sugar are crispy nuggets made of sheets of brick dough, malsouka (in Tunisian) or warka (in Algeria and Morocco).
The brick dough sheet is a very thin sheet of dough prepared with a mixture of flour and semolina, warm water and salt. Its taste is neutral and its texture, once cooked, is crispy. It is a specialty of the North African gastronomy that is usually served filled with ingredients. It should not be confused with phyllo, which are made only with flour. The latter, of Greek origin, are also more fragile than the brick dough sheets.
Brick dough sheets are prepared by placing a piece of sticky dough on a very hot non-stick surface and forming a circle with the dough in contact with the pan to obtain the desired size and cook for a short time.
There is also a second cooking technique, which requires a lot less experience and is usually simpler: the dough is composed of a mixture, half flour, half fine semolina, warm water and salt. The mixture is kneaded until an almost liquid dough but less liquid than a pancake batter left to rest for two to three hours. The dough is again kneaded and brushed on a hot plate or pan.
The dough can be kept for three to four days in the refrigerator and freezes well, just as well as the prepared brick dough sheets.
What is the origin of brick dough?
The origin of the brick dough dates back to the 11th century. Claimed by several countries, it has a long history.
It has appeared with nomadic cultures since the origin of civilization. It grew out of this nomadic culture that needed to transport and cook food easily. These leaves spread in North Africa: brick dough sheets were known in Berber culture (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia).
Today, the brick dough sheets are international and adaptable to all kinds of cuisine: traditional cuisine, fusion cuisine, exotic cuisine, etc.
What is the origin of almonds?
Native to Asia, the almond was already cultivated in the Stone Age and probably from the Bronze Age, becoming the first transformed fruit of antiquity. For thousands of years, this fruit has been considered a symbol of hope, rebirth and luck.
This plant is the one that blooms first, and a Greek legend explains why. In Greek mythology, Demophon (son of Phaedrus and Theseus) and a girl named Phyllis were about to be married when the future spouse, due to the sudden death of her father, was forced to return to Athens.
Demophon, having promised to return quickly, returned soon after, but it was too late for Phyllis, who, trying to overcome her grief, hung herself for love. On her tomb, a symbol of pain, an almond tree with dry leaves was born.
Three months later, when Demophon came back and, after discovering the tragedy, he went to shed desperate tears on this naked tree and hug it. It was then that the gods, struck by so much sorrow, threw him a sign of Phyllis’ love, making a cloak of almonds and green foliage filled with magnificent white flowers.
In addition, one of the earliest written references to almonds appears in the Bible, in the Book of Numbers, in the lines where Aaron’s staff produces mature almonds.
In ancient Egypt and Greece, almonds were widespread, so much that the Romans called them nux graeca (Greek nut).
For the Latins, the kernel was considered a cure for hangovers. Plutarch, a philosopher and thinker of ancient Rome, told the story of a doctor who, host of the son of Emperor Tiberius, had challenged anyone to drink a lot of wine. He remained sober and mysterious of his strength of resistance to alcohol, remained inaccessible until he was caught eating almonds before the meal. He confessed that if he had not eaten these fruits, even a minimal amount of wine would have turned his head.
Charlemagne contributed to the spread of the almond tree, because it was considered a plant that offered a complete food, with stimulating and healing properties.
In the Middle Ages, almond has become one of the most used ingredients both in the kitchen but also and especially as an aphrodisiac and love filter. This success was not only related to the nourishing properties of the fruit, but it contained almost twice as much protein as beef. Also, because of its imaginative shape, it represented the female organ ready to open up to generate life .
The custom of giving and eating almonds at weddings and baptisms comes from the symbolic value of almond-related prosperity.
In the oldest Arabic tradition, whole almond and almond paste desserts were appreciated for their hidden aphrodisiac powers.
An energy drink was also made with these fruits: almond milk, whose recipe seems to have been tested in monasteries. This milk was also a real resource of all the aristocratic cuisine.
Medieval humoral medicine placed high expectations on almonds, prescribing them to rejuvenate and enhance sexual activity, so much so that in the sixteenth century, botanist-doctor Mattioli said: “… many use them in restorations and in drugs that increase coitus”. Throughout the eighteenth century, almonds were known as powerful aphrodisiacs.
Almonds in Moroccan cuisine
After the olive tree, the almond tree is the fruit species that occupies the most area in Morocco.
In Morocco, the cultivation of the almond tree covers an area of 600 square miles, representing 72% of the area reserved for rosaceae fruit, or 1.5% of the agricultural area. It is grown in most agricultural areas of the country.
The national production of almonds is around 110,000 tons annually, the equivalent of more than 20,000 tons of kernels.
The almond is the ultimate ingredient of all the jewels of Moroccan cuisine and many of its iconic recipes include almonds.
Here are just a few examples from a very long list:
– Almond chicken
– Amlou, the spread of almonds with argan oil
– Couscous with dried fruits
– Cornes de gazelle
– Briouates that you can find in Tunisian cuisine under the name of samsa
– The makroud
– Chebakia that resembles Algerian griwech
– Lamb tajine with prunes and almonds
– Chicken tajine mqalli with dried fruits.
Varieties of Moroccan cigars
Besides almond cigars, here are some other varieties of cigars that make you want to prepare those small works of art.
There are Moroccan cigars with different toppings in a sweet version, such as briouat bil luz, also garnished with almond paste and honey. Among the most common savory fillings, you will find:
– Cigars with nuts
– Cigars with ground beef
– Cigars with chicken livers
– Spicy cigars with angel hair and ground beef or chicken
– Cigars with minced lamb meat and notes of mint and coriander
– Cigars with chicken and onions
There are also seafood cigars, which use a mixture of shrimp, mussels, crab and fish, to which are added garlic, chopped parsley, mint and cilantro, and finally cumin, paprika, and cayenne pepper.
Discover these little cigars with almonds very quickly. They are truly orgasmic!
- 12 large sheets of brick dough
- Vegetable oil (for frying)
- 1 egg white , beaten
- 10 oz. raw almonds , peeled
- 1 cup icing sugar
- 1 egg white
- 2 tablespoons orange blossom water
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 300 g caster sugar
- ½ freshly squeezed lemon
- 2 tablespoons orange blossom water
- 4 tablespoons liquid honey
Place the almonds in a saucepan and cover with boiling water. Bring to a boil and stop cooking after a couple minutes.
Drain the almonds and place them between two thick linens by tapping them to dry them well.
Place the almonds in the bowl of food processor, add the icing sugar, orange blossom water and lemon zest and mix until obtaining a smooth and homogeneous paste. Pour the dough into a bowl, add the slightly beaten egg white and knead well.
Let stand 15 minutes in the refrigerator.
Then form 2-inch sticks and set aside.
Pour the sugar into a nonstick pan and cover it with water.
Add lemon juice and orange blossom water.
Place the pan on low heat and, using a wooden spoon, stir once (not more), when the sugar is boiling.
Cook gently until reaching a temperature of 220 F, for about 20 to 30 minutes.
When the sugar reaches a temperature of 195 F, stir in the honey and stir the pan by the handle (do not stir with a spoon).
Cut each sheet of brick dough into 3 equal triangles.
Place a stick of marzipan, about ½ inch from the edge of the triangle.
Fold over each end by folding them on the stick.
Begin to roll the cigar starting with the rounded edge.
Close by brushing with beaten egg white to stick.
Heat a large volume of oil in a non-stick pan (avoid stainless steel) until the temperature reaches 340 F.
Fry the cigars over medium heat, turning them occasionally until golden brown.
Drop them as you go in a colander.
Dip the still hot but non-burning cigars in the hot but not burning syrup and place them on an oiled parchment paper to cool them.
Wait until they are completely cool to keep them in a cool place in a metal or glass container.