Fried diamonds with dates and walnuts
This is one of the iconic Moroccan sweet pastries and maybe the one they ask me to do very often. It is on pages 122-123 of Sephardi cookbook.
This is another type of fried honey pastry common to Jews and Muslims from Morocco, and this recipe dates back to thirteenth-century al Andalus. These tasty pastries flavored with honey and dates are now associated with the holidays: Muslims eat maqrūṭ when breaking the fast of the Ramadan, and Sephardim of Morocco and France eat them for Rosh HaShana. This Jewish holiday corresponds to the Jewish New Year, and in celebration Sephardim traditionally eat sweet dishes like apples dipped in honey or dates. Maqrūṭ are also eaten for Hanukkah.
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As far as I remember, walking down the swarming main street “Calle Real” of the Spanish city La Linea de la Concepcion in the Strait of Gibraltar, allowed me to see those fried half-moon shape doughnuts soaked in honey through the bakeries store windows.
One mouthful and the vanilla confectioner’s custard overran your mind and carried you away. “Japonesas” is the name of this typical fried sweet pastry that can be eaten throughout the year in La Linea. But when you cross the border of the city and enter Gibraltar, you see that “japonesas” are one sample of the sweet pastries prepared. The Jews of the Rock have been selling them since the beginning of the 20th century, and perhaps before.
Testifying to the cultural mix in Gibraltar, “japonesas” are the witnesses of past trade routes that came to the Strait from Asia, India, North Africa, Italy, and Spain. It is the product of a living multiculturalism. Even if the etymology of “japonesas” is still a mystery, it is obvious that “japonesas” are a mix of Andalusian cuisine (dishes prepared under al-Andalus by Jews and Muslims over the 13th century) and an added European twist with the introduction of custard. Culinary preparations of milk and eggs thickened by heat have been part of Ancient Roman cuisine since the first century, thanks to Apicius. However, the first confectioner’s custard only seems to date back to the 17th century.
The Jews of the Rock, whose presence is documented from the 14th century, are a symbol of diversity, and a key component of modern Gibraltarian identity. Whether they come from Spain, Portugal, or Morocco, they remain a marker of the cultural ethnic mix in the Rock.
Many of the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 passed through Gibraltar on their path towards North Africa. The culinary evolution between the 14th and the 18th century results in the arrival of a Christian cuisine bearing “European” flavors. This may explain the presence of the filling custard.
Now an emblem of Jewish pastry in Gibraltar, “japonesas,” are eaten for Hanukkah as they are fried in oil, they stand as a delicious testament to the durability of Jewish traditions.
Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
– 2 ½ cups (400 g) medium semolina
– ½ tsp salt
– ⅓ cup (80g) melted butter
– 5 oz (150g) dates (or date paste)
– 3 tbsp of orange blossom water
– ½ tsp ground cinnamon
– 6 tbsp neutral oil
– 1 tbsp walnuts, finely chopped
– ½ cup (120ml) of water with 1 tsp orange blossom water
– neutral oil (not olive oil)
– 1 cup honey (340g) (with 1 tsp orange blossom water optional)
– toasted sesame seeds to decorate
In a large bowl, mix together semolina, salt, and butter until the fat is absorbed.
Meanwhile, prepare the date filling: chop the dates very finely and put them in a saucepan. Add the orange blossom water, cinnamon, and neutral oil. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the chopped walnuts. Mix and set aside in the fridge for 2 hours.
Then, add the ½ cup water flavored with orange blossom water to the semolina and butter, mixing with the tips of your fingers.
Divide the dough in 4 parts, and make rolls about 1 inch (2-3 cm) in diameter and 9 inches long (20 cm).
With your index finger (or a knife), make a slit length-wise in the center of each roll, without cutting through it.
Roll a little date paste and put it in the slit.
Close the edges of the dough over the date paste and seal. All the stuffing needs to be covered. Prepare all the long rolls in the same way.
Take the rolls and flatten them until they are 0.4 inches (1 cm) thick. Cut into lozenges about 1.5 inch long (2.5 cm). Take a knife and draw marks like a star.
Pour some neutral oil into a frying pan until it is 1.5 inches deep (3 cm). Heat over medium heat.
Fry the first side of the maqrūṭ for 2-3 minutes, and then fry the other side for another 2 minutes.
Pour the honey and blossom water into a saucepan.
Once hot (not boiling), immerse the maqrūṭ carefully into the warm honey for at least 3 minutes.
Be careful when you take them out as they will be soft.
Line a plate with baking parchment and put the fried maqrūṭ over it.
Sprinkle immediately with toasted sesame seeds.