M-hanncha is one of Morocco’s most popular pastries and is served for special occasions. Conveniently, every meal in Morocco seems to be a special occasion! The almond filling is quitissentially North African and can also be seen in savory dishes like Almond Stuffed Bass and Bastilla of Fez with Chicken.
Sweets permeate Moroccan meals and are brought to a crescendo in the dessert course where platters laden with fruit, nuts, and honey are paired with a vast array of pastries and other sweets. Amazing, I have seen pastry shops in Turkey and can’t wait to visit one in Morocco one day!
I am a baker at heart, so I always treat my dessert course seriously. I fell in love with the Warqa pastry dough while researching for my Bastilla and wanted to continue the use of this Phyllo-like, paper-thin pastry into the dessert course. I blended the almond with confectioner’s sugar, orange blossom water, and some fresh orange zest from the oranges I used to make our Orange and Radish Salad for the Moroccan Salad Course.
The name literally means snake and refers to the coil that this dessert is traditionally presented in, like a snake resting in the sun.
PS: This pastry can be simplified significantly through the use of Phyllo pastry, if you want to avoid making the Warqa dough, use the same amount of Phyllo, just make sure you butter each leaf before rolling.
We served this with a Moroccan Rice Pudding flavored with almond milk, cardamom, and cinnamon.
M-hanncha – the Almond Snake
3 cups ground almonds
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons orange blossom water
1 tablespoon orange zest
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
pinch of potato starch or gum Arabic powder
16 Warqa leaves
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 egg yolk, beaten + 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
chopped or slivered almonds
confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
2 cups high gluten flour
1/4 cup all purpose flour
(OR 2 1/4 cup bread flour)
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups water (plus extra as needed)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil + additional for brushing
- If you can find high gluten flour, use the first combination, but I find that bread flour has enough gluten to work. In a stand mixer, combine flours if using and add salt.
- Combine vinegar and water in separate bowl with a lip.
- Add oil to the flour mixture and pulse.
Slowly add water, mix until smooth batter is formed. Do not panic if there are some lumps, they will dissolve overnight.
- Cover and refrigerate the dough overnight, or at least for four hours.
- Oil a 12 inch copper tin lined skillet if you have one. This is the traditional method, but a nonstick skillet should work just fine! Take a paper towel and remove excess oil.
Heat the skillet.
- Mix up the dough and use a bristle brush to brush on a thin coat of dough, fill in any holes with a second thin layer.
Cook on one side until the surface turns white, the thin edges will begin to peel up a bit.
- Peel the Warqa up and place cooked side up on a paper towel.
- Brush with oil and repeat.
- Stack all of the Warqas up and wrap in plastic if not using immediately. They can be refrigerated for up to three days.
- Combine all filling ingredients.
- Make 16 pencil shaped cylinders, about 6 inches long. I roll them back and forth on a piece of parchment or aluminum foil.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Overlap 2 Warqa leaves so they are 13-14 inches wide.
Place 2 filling rolls side by side about an inch up from the bottom of the leaves, don’t worry if they hang off a bit on the edges.
Fold in the first inch and roll up like a cigar.
- Butter a 12 inch baking dish and coil up the first cigar at the center.
- Repeat with the remaining Warqa and filling sausages and slowly make a radiating shape to fill out the 12 inch pan.
- Brush top with egg yolk and cinnamon mixture.
Bake for 15 minutes.
- Carefully invert and return to pan. Cover with almonds and return to oven for an additional 20-30 minutes, until golden.
- Make this at least a day before serving, it tastes better with age!
Warm up a bit and serve with confectioner’s sugar.
Total cooking time: 3 days total with Warqa and making the day before, but about 1 hour active time. Serves 10-20, paired with another dessert like our Moroccan Rice Pudding.