Cornes de gazelle are the undisputed queens of Moroccan pastries.
But, there is the cuisine of Morocco and there is the cuisine of Fez, which is where cornes de gazelle come from.
As the cultural, spiritual and artisanal capital of Morocco, Fez distinguishes itself by its great culinary diversity. The traces of its rich past are still present and Fassi cuisine features a variety of very different dishes.
Recipes of some culinary Fassi specialties have long been jealously guarded by the women of the city, such as the khliee, a delicious beef jerky, which contributes to making the culinary art of Fez so unique.
What is a corne de gazelle?
Cornes de gazelle (or كعب الغزال) are part of Moroccan heritage and are popular around the world. In a nutshell, they are cookies that are prepared with almond paste. But store-bought almond powder (unless very fresh) is not recommended for this recipe because it would lose its authenticity, especially the taste and texture that will necessarily differ. Orange blossom water complements the delicious scent of almond. And some even add cinnamon.
The success of this recipe lies in the dough that must be extremely thin and made from white flour. In Morocco, this pastry flour is called lforss or force. This dough that makes or breaks cornes de gazelle must be perfectly smooth and flexible enough to be rolled as thin as a sheet of paper and especially without any puncture. And it must strongly adhere to the almond paste.
Another very important step: the resting stage. Indeed, cornes de gazelle should rest for 15 to 20 hours at room temperature before being baked and this is what will allow the dough to adhere very well and will avoid any puncture during cooking. And last key step: each corne de gazelle must be poked 3 times using a thin needle and absolutely not with a fork.
When to serve cornes de gazelle
Generally speaking, cornes de gazelle are served during traditional ceremonies like weddings, circumcisions, engagements, large family meals but also during Eid and throughout the period of Ramadan.
This recipe was born in the kitchens of Fez. And when visiting Fez, beyond all the exceptionally beautiful sites and monuments of the city, tasting cornes de gazelle at the Medina of Fez is a stop that is highly recommended by all the guides.
Where does the corne de gazelle name come from?
In the Moroccan vocabulary, also called darija, the term “corne de gazelle” (gazelle horn) is written كعب الغزال and is transliterated into ka’b al gazal, which means “the ankle of the gazelle”. Ka’b (كعب) is Moroccan arabic for ankle and gazal (الغزال) means gazelle.
In the past and as recently as the last century, the majority of Moroccan women were dressed in a traditional manner with a djellaba that covered their face and body down to the ankles. Men could only guess their beautiful silhouettes wrapped in their traditional dress, and could only see their fine white ankles. Since this was the only part of their body that could be admired, young women took great care of their ankles that were always smooth, clean and white. Men called their ankles “cornes de gazelle” (gazelle horns).
That’s where the name of these delicious cookies comes from. Thus, the essential condition for the preparation of this cake is that it should be slightly golden after cooking. If the cornes de gazelle are too golden brown, they will not be authentic as it would be considered an insult to beautiful Moroccan women whose ankles were clean, white and smooth.
What are the different versions of cornes de gazelle?
Besides the traditional Fassi version, you can find several versions of cornes de gazelle horns in Morocco. The most popular are:
- Cornes de gazelle from Tetouan, a quaint little town by the sea, in the north of the country. They are nicely decorated with a tiny clip that is called mangach, which gives them a beautiful jagged effect. In Tetouan, sugar syrup is sometimes poured over cornes de gazelle immediately after they come out of the oven.
- The “quick version” of cornes de gazelle, aka the “lazy version”. It is a simple version where marzipan is coated with sesame seeds or chopped roasted almonds. This version is known as the halwat hilal which means “moon cookies” as they have a crescent moon shape.
- Southern cornes de gazelle come from Ouarzazate, in the south of Morocco. Their stuffing is prepared with figs or dates, and sometimes a mixture of various nuts.
- Cornes de gazelle mssakar, also made with marzipan are generously coated with icing sugar immediately after they come out of the oven.
Cornes de gazelle from my native country eventually travelled and today, you can find them outside of Morocco.
- Tunisian cuisine calls them “cornes de gazelle Tataouine”, along with like many Tunisian recipes, a fried version called mahchi.
- In Algeria, it is a specialty of the city of Algiers, called tcharak. There are different varieties of tcharak. The best known is tcharak msekkar which translates to “tcharak sprinkled with sugar”. It is a pastry made with white flour, butter and orange blossom water, filled with almond paste and generously coated with icing sugar. In Algerian Arabic, tcharek (تشاراك) means crescent.
- In some Gulf and Middle Eastern countries, there is a corne de gazelle version known as the “Palestinian crescent” or “Jewish corne de gazelle”. It’s a corne de gazelle whose pastry dough is stuffed with peanuts, with orange blossom and cinnamon flavors. As they come out of the oven, these cornes de gazelle are coated with crumbled wafers and/or sesame seeds, which makes them crispy.
- 2¼ cups flour
- 4 tablespoons butter , melted
- 1 tablespoon sunflower oil
- 2 teaspoons liquid honey
- 1 egg
- 1 pinch salt
- 2 teaspoons orange blossom water
- 4 cups whole almonds , blanched and peeled
- 1½ cups sugar
- ½ cup orange blossom water
- 6 tablespoons butter
- ½ teaspoon mastic (Arabic gum), ground
- ¼ cup sunflower oil
- In a large dish, pour the flour, salt, melted butter, oil, honey and egg. Mix all ingredients and slowly add enough water to make a smooth dough.
- Knead vigorously for 10 minutes until it becomes elastic and not sticky. Cover with a clean cloth and let stand while preparing the marzipan.
Mix the blanched and peeled almonds with the sugar and grind them ideally with a meat grinder (or food processor) to make marzipan.
Stir in the orange blossom water, butter and mastic. Knead the marzipan and make 2-inch (5cm) long and 1-inch (2.5 cm) thick strands (about ¾ oz / 20g).
- Divide the dough into 6 small balls.
- Place a ball on an oiled work surface and, using a very smooth and oiled pastry roll (without imperfection), roll the dough thinly.
- Place a strand of marzipan in the center of the pastry dough and fold it. Shape the dough in the shape of a crescent by firmly pressing with your fingers to make the dough adhere to almond paste.
Seal the edges by pressing strongly and cut the crescent with a serrated wheel leaving about a ⅛ inch (3 mm) edge.
- Repeat this process until you run out of dough and marzipan.
- Place the cornes de gazelle on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and let them rest uncovered at room temperature for 15 hours, until they dry.
- Using a thin needle, poke each corne de gazelle 3 times on top, spacing the holes equally.
Preheat the oven to 340 F (170˚C).
Lightly brush oil on each corne de gazelle.
Bake for 7 to 9 minutes until obtaining a light beige color, making sure that they do not turn brown.
It is very important to closely monitor the baking so that the cornes de gazelle are very light.
Let them cool completely on a wire rack before placing them in a sealed metal box to keep them in a cool place.