I am not a fan of North African cookies. I find them too sticky, too sweet, or too rich. But there is one exception. They are diamond-shaped cookies, well balanced in flavor and texture and fragrant with vanilla and orange blossom water. They taste delicious thanks to almond flour. Covered with powdered sugar, they have a wintery look that makes them a perfect gift at this time of the year.
They are called makrout a’luz, and they are originally from Algeria. They remind me of cookies that my mom, who is originally from Oujda, at the Moroccan border with Algeria, used to make. We used to take them uncooked to the neighborhood wood oven early in the afternoon on our way to school, and we’d pick them up after school.
The communal oven is called ferran in Arabic, and it offers baking only as a service. People bring their uncooked bread, cookies, and sometimes fish, chicken, and big portions of meat, like half a sheep, to the ferran, and they come back to pick up their food later on in the day. It’s an ancient practice, and I am happy that neither the presence of French bakeries nor the introduction of modern ovens into homes has extinguished this tradition. Click here to see another example from a previous post.
You would be surprised how easy it is to make makrout a’luz. This is what you need for about 45 (1” x 1/2”) cookies. Watch this recipe with Albarock
For the dough
- 2 cup almond meal flour (Bob’s Red Mill available at Whole Foods or Safeway, but cheaper online)
- 3/4 cup confectioner sugar (also called powdered sugar or icing sugar)
- 1 large egg
- Lemon zest from 1 organic lemon
- 1 tablespoon orange flower water (available at Whole Foods)
- 1/4 cup flour for dusting
For the syrup
- 2 cup of water
- 1 cup of granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons orange flower water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or half a vanilla bean)
- 2 cup confectioner sugar
Preheat your oven to 325° F. In a large bowl, use your hands to mix all the dough ingredients together to form a ball, then divide it into 3 small balls.
Flour your surface so the dough doesn’t stick, and roll out each small ball into the shape of a thin log. You can decide for the thickness of the log, but I like it not too thick, in order to allow a perfect balance between the outside crispiness and the inside moisture of the cookie (I use my index finger as a measurement reference). With a sharp knife, cut the log diagonally to form 1” diamond shapes.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the cookies on it, without leaving much space between them, as they don’t expand. Place the sheet on the middle oven rack and bake for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the syrup. Bring the water and sugar to a boil. Turn off the heat and add the vanilla and the orange water. The syrup needs to still be hot when used.
Now prepare your work space. Place the syrup pan near a bowl with a drainer, followed by a bowl with powdered sugar, and a large plate or empty space on your work table. Organization is important here because you will need to work quickly.
Bring out the cookie sheet and turn off your oven. Start with only 10 cookies. Soak them in the syrup using a perforated spoon, then quickly place them on the drainer, then in the bowl of sugar (delicately covering them with sugar using both hands), and then place them on your plate or space without overlapping them. Do this about 4 times until you are done with all the cookies.
About 5 minutes later, when the cookies have cooled down a bit, return them in the bowl of powdered sugar for a second coating. Let the cookies sit for 30 minutes until they are completely cool. Then place them in small gift bags or preserve them in a tin container, if you have one. I use a baking pan and cover it with aluminum foil. You can keep your makrout a’luz hidden there for as long as a week, if you’re lucky!