Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Orange Blossom Almond Cookies from Morocco

A Moroccan tea set is featured in the background
The charmer made the snake move from side to side, as the crowd moved around him, in front of the medina wall. When I entered its bustling market, a collection of one-story stands that stretched for many blocks, 9000 streets to be exact, I wondered if I would get lost... I wasn't in an Arabian nights story. I was in Fez, Morocco.
"Where are you? Don't stray from the group," a friend said nervously. 
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Colorful leather tanneries in a medina in Fez, Morocco
And that was exactly what we did... but we put our survival strategies for not getting trapped in a medina from A.D. 859 to the test. We stuck to the main path as if we were kayaking in a wide river and avoiding the narrower, more secluded tributaries. In other words, we didn't wander into the side streets. Golden-toned Aladdin lanterns beckoned us to let their genies escape, next to blue lanterns that might have lit Scheherazade's abode. Nearby, muslims chanted prayers in unison at a Koran school.  A merchant offered leather jackets, in a stand that had them plastered like wallpaper all over the store, and pouring out like jungle plants in Jumanji. "900, 900, for a jacket." In broken Arabic, I ventured: "700?" and put it on to continue my journey. Outside a window, the leather tanneries resembled boxes of watercolors inside their brown, red, white, and black circular compartments. 
A motorcycle sped by me, and I clutched my purse tightly, wondering if the driver might be one of the motorized thieves I had heard about.

Ceramics in a tile factory outside Fez, Morocco
 Gazelle Horns
These pastries are served with Moroccan (green and mint) tea every day, and are specially chosen for weddings, because a Moroccan myth tells the tale that a princess made them to give to her beloved. She was offered in wedlock, against her wishes, to a cruel man. When her loved one travelled far to reach her, and was dying of exhaustion in the desert, she inmediately filled an antelope's horns with honey and nuts to send to him.
I tried this treat in a brick-color Portuguese fort from the 1500's, where tea was served in ornate silver-colored kettles, and the sweet, minty, boiling liquid bobbed up and down, spurting into the glasses. The varied, sweet, and rich almond pastries decorated the table, and the garden that surrounded us had a row of giant tagines (clay pots shaped like a hat) stewing chicken or lamb and potatoes over warm fires that burned underneath them.

Phyllo dough
500 grams flour
1 tablespoon butter
7 tablespoons orange water
4 tablespoons warm water
1 egg
1 pinch of salt

Nut Filling
1 kilogram almonds, blanched and ground
750 grams granulated or powdered sugar
100 grams of butter
2 tablespoons of orange water
1/4 teaspoon of gum arabic

Grind almonds in food processor two times. Add powdered sugar and grind again. Add melted butter, water, and gum arabic. Shape into a large ball.
Phyllo Dough
Mix phyllo dough ingredients. When the dough is pliable, elastic, and smooth, it is ready for you to roll into squares.
Shape the almond paste into thick, snakelike portions by rolling it with your hands. Place in the refrigerator for half an hour. Roll out the phyllo dough, and make 3-inch squares. Place the cigarette-like portion of almond paste on the dough, wet the edges of the square, and roll it to cover completely. Bend into the shape of a crescent. Cut the dough with a cutting wheel.  Pinch it shut. Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 325 degrees F for 20 minutes.
The gazelle horns are inside a decorative brown "tajine"


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