Deblas are the popular Tunisian pastries made of thin and wide strips of dough coated with honey syrup. They are light and crispy. The deblas are almost always present on Tunisian tables at the time of dessert and are also served at tea time, along with a glass of mint tea.
What is a Tunisian debla?
Debla, eddebla (“alliance”), oudhnine el kadhi (“ears of the judge”) or manicotti is a Tunisian pastry made with simple ingredients, including flour, eggs and water. It is a crispy pastry that is deep fried before being coated with an orange blossom water scented syrup, and sprinkled with sesame seeds or crushed nuts. Traditionally, two or three women would gather for the preparation of these pastries that can be time consuming to prepare in large quantities for the whole family.
In some northern Tunisia cities, it is customary to use a half eggshell as a measurement to make the debla recipe. The water added to the dough, as well as the yeast, are measured using this half eggshell. It is certainly not very precise. Along with the “handfuls” of flour and “glasses” of water, the grandmothers of yesteryear were certainly using their years of experience in pastry making instead of following recipes to the letter.
How to make perfect debla
There are really two important tricks to prepare deblas. The first difficulty lies in the rolling of the dough into very thin strips. The second one is the frying stage.
Indeed, it is extremely difficult to obtain an ultra thin dough just by rolling it with a rolling pin. A pasta maker will be necessary when making these pastries and it will save precious time. It is possible to use the pasta roller attachment of a stand mixer to roll the dough into thin strips. It will make it easier to wrap the strips around the fork at frying time. The strips of dough should be as thin as possible. Traditional deblas are light and have tiny bubbles on their surface. Their texture is crispy and brittle. If the end result is rubbery and heavy, it’s because the dough was not rolled thin enough.
For the frying stage, the thin strips of dough need to be wrapped around a fork into the hot oil while gently pressing along the edge of the pan. The strips should be wide (about 2 inches or 5 cm) and long (around 10 inches or 25 cm).
In some regions of Tunisia (Djerba in particular), the strips of dough are cut with a serrated dough cutter for aesthetic reasons. Of course, this complicates the frying stage because it becomes more difficult to obtain very regular deblas. It could sometimes happen that the strip of dough escapes and the “rose” opens up while frying.
Also, the oil should not be too hot when frying the deblas. They must be golden brown but not dark brown.
Deblas, manicotti, fazuelos
The deblas have cousins and variants around the world. Donuts and other fried pastries are popular throughout the Maghreb. In Morocco, the deblas are called fazuelos. People also call them fijuelas in the Spanish zone of Morocco.
There is another kind of pastry made with fried dough that is dipped in honey syrup: Moroccan chebakia, that are colored and scented with saffron. In Algeria, the same pastry is called griwech.
In the south of Spain and Andalusia, the pestiños come closest to the deblas. The pestiños are crunchy donuts that are fried in olive oil, then coated with honey or icing sugar. In Málaga, these fried pastries take the name of borrachuelos.
On Mardi Gras, it is traditional to eat bugnes in France. The bugnes from Lyon that are crispy and covered with icing sugar, are the closest to the deblas.
There are a few pastries that are also presented or called with names like roses or ears, just like the “ears of the judge” (oudnin el kadhi) in Tunisian. During the Jewish holidays of Purim, for example, it is customary to enjoy oznei Aman (ears of Aman) aka hamantaschen (in Yiddish) in Ashkenazi communities. These pastries have a relationship with the deblas only by their name, as they are shaped as a triangle of shortcrust pastry filled with jam or poppy seeds.
In Brazil, people enjoy the orelha of gato (cat ears). These fried pastries actually look like French bugnes.
This recipe will yield a good amount of deblas, but don’t worry, they will not last very long.
Debla (or oudnin el kadhi) is a Tunisian pastry which consists of a thin strip of dough that is fried before being coated with an orange blossom water scented syrup, and sprinkled with sesame seeds or crushed nuts.
- 4 cups flour
- 4 eggs , lightly beaten
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons water
- 4 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 pinches salt
- 4 tablespoons orange blossom water (or rose water)
- Vegetable oil (for frying)
- Cornstarch (for the countertop)
- 8 oz. honey
- 2 tablespoons orange blossom water (or rose water)
- Juice of a lemon
- 2 oz. sesame seeds (or coarsely ground roasted pistachios)
- Mix the flour, water, eggs, oil, lemon juice, orange or rose blossom water, and salt and knead until obtaining a smooth and homogeneous dough.
- If the dough is sticky, add a little flour and if, on the contrary, it is hard, add a little water (or orange blossom water or rose water).
- Divide the dough into 3 pieces of equal size. Cover each piece with plastic wrap and let them rest for 45 minutes in a cool place (not in the fridge). This stage allows the dough to become less elastic so it will be easier to roll.
Sprinkle the work surface with cornstarch and, using a rolling pin, roll the first dough to about 1/16 inch (1mm) thickness.
Using a serrated cutter, cut strips of dough, about 2 inches wide and 10 inches long (5x25cm).
- Repeat the operation with the remaining 3 pieces of dough.
- Place the strips of dough as you make them, on a dry cloth sprinkled with cornstarch and cover them so that they do not dry.
- Take a strip of dough and shake it gently to get rid of the cornstarch.
- Heat a large pot with vegetable oil over medium heat.
- Using a fork, prick the end of the dough strip while holding the other end with the other hand. Dip the part held by the fork for a few seconds in the oil then roll the dough quickly around the fork.
- Carefully remove the fork, and flip with a slotted spoon.
- When it is golden brown, take the strip out of the oil and place in a colander.
In a non-stick saucepan, combine the honey, lemon juice, orange blossom water (or rose water) and bring to a boil.
Turn off the heat and soak the oudnin el kadhi (still hot) in the hot syrup.
- Sprinkle with sesame seeds or ground pistachios.
It is possible and even preferable to use a pasta roller (pasta machine) to roll the dough.