Middle Eastern and North African pastries
Middle Eastern and North African cuisines are very rich in pastries. These pastries are often prepared with almonds and honey or honey syrup. The yoyo (or youyou) is a must of Tunisian pastries.
Even if we often do not distinguish between Middle Eastern and North African pastries, there are important differences between the desserts of these two regions even if they have been influenced by common cultures.
North African pastries, however, use a lot of nuts, almonds, pistachios, sesame seeds, as well as dates or honey. They also often feature aromas of rose water, orange blossom water or even geranium blossom water. Most of these textures and fragrances do not exist or are rarely used in Middle Eastern pastries.
In particular, Tunisian pastries make use of dates, Aleppo pine seeds, pomegranates, as well as sorghum or chickpea flour. The most popular of these Tunisian pastries include assida zgougou, bsissa, zouza, kaak warqa, ghraïba, twajen, baklawat el bey, makroud, mesfouf, samsa, zlabia, bambalouni, debla, harissa hloua (aricha), madmouja, tarayoun, ghrayba droo or kaber ellouz.
North African pastries are traditionally served with mint tea, which in Tunisia is often complemented with pine nuts. These pastries, which are real jewels of artisanal crafting, are meticulously prepared. They are sweet, fragrant, colorful, sweet and fruity. These treasures of gastronomy continue to brighten up and delight the royal palaces as well as the royal palates!
In the Maghreb, each pastry is linked to a special occasion, each ingredient is meaningful. These delicacies punctuate the major events of people’s lives, be it joyful occasions like births or weddings, or less joyful ones like deaths.
Also often present on the Ramadan tables and in particular at Eid el-Fitr (also called Eid as-Saghir), they are served to exalt these moments of life or to soften them.
Most of these irresistible delicacies are simple to make and require only easily accessible ingredients, even if some pastries are a little longer and delicate to prepare and use particular techniques, such as griwech or cornes de gazelle.
The yoyos also are in the spotlight at certain festivals, especially the Jewish holiday of Purim (“Feast of Lots”) whose story is told in the Book of Esther (Megillah).
The recipe of Tunisian yoyos is quite easy to execute. Lightly flavored dough (often with orange and/or lemon) is shaped into a donut before being fried. The shaping can be done by hand or with two different sized cookie cutters.
Tunisian youyous are usually dipped in honey or sugar syrup, although they can also be eaten “dry”. They are often covered with crushed pistachios or almonds, sesame seeds, or more rarely with coconut.
Yoyos are savored with a good small glass of mint tea, with pine nuts or a coffee.
- 1 cup water
- 2½ cups sugar
- Zest of half an orange
- Juice of half a lemon
- 1 tablespoon orange blossom water
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- ⅔ cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla essence
- 2 tablespoons orange blossom water
- Zest of half an orange
- 2½ teaspoons baking powder
- 3 eggs
- 3 cups flour
- In a saucepan, pour the water, sugar, vanilla and orange zest.
- Bring to a boil then add the lemon juice and orange blossom water. Simmer on low heat for about 15 minutes without mixing.
- Add the honey, mix and continue simmering for an additional 15 minutes, or until the syrup is a little thick.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, pour the oil, sugar, vanilla, orange blossom water, orange zest and eggs. Mix for 2 minutes until homogeneous.
- Pour the flour gradually and continue mixing at low speed until the dough is smooth and slightly sticky.
- Cover and let stand at room temperature, away from drafts, for about an hour.
- In a large saucepan over medium heat, pour enough oil to deep fry.
- Pour some oil into a small bowl not far from the pan, to smear your hands during shaping.
- Take pieces of dough a little larger than the size of a ping pong ball. Shape these pieces into balls. Slightly flatten, then form a hole in the center by pressing the dough between your thumb and middle finger. Rotate the donut around the thumb and middle finger to smooth the yoyo.
- Dive the yoyos in the hot frying oil, without overloading the pan.
- Fry for about 2 minutes until they are golden, then turn the yoyos to brown the other side.
- Drain the yoyos on a plate lined with paper towels. With a toothpick, make a few small holes on the surface of the yoyos. This will allow the sugar syrup to penetrate the pastries.
- Reheat the sugar syrup on low heat for a few minutes.
- When it has reached the desired consistency, dip the yoyos and turn them over so that they are well coated with the sugar syrup.
- Drain above the pan to remove the excess syrup before placing them on a serving tray or a large plate.