By Habeeb Salloum
While the Easter Bunny munches on carrots, we have the advantage on munching on M’hansha, one of North Africa’s most favourite sweets.
North African sweets are rich in taste and refined in texture. Made mainly with almonds and flavoured with cinnamon and orange blossom water, they represent the best of what North Africa has to offer today in the world of sweets.
M’hanshah is a crispy stuffed pastry, coiled like a snake and for this reason, its name.
Moroccan oral tradition makes claim that this sweet originated during the time the Arabs were in the Iberian Peninsula. However, many of my Moroccan friends from Fez, Rabat and Casablanca have assured me that M’hansha is as old as time in the North African kitchen.
The Snake – M’hansha
Makes two 9-inch pies
- 4 cups ground almonds
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon orange blossom water
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 2 eggs
- 1-pound filo dough, thawed according to package directions
- icing sugar
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
To make the filling, place the almonds, sugar and orange blossom water in a food processor and process for 1 minute. Stir in 1 egg and mix well together. Place the filling again in the processor and process for 1 minute. Divide the mixture based on the number of filo sheets, creating half as many portions as filo sheets. If the package of filo dough contains 18 sheets, divide the filling into 9 parts.
Beat the remaining egg and set aside.
Take two filo dough sheets and lay lengthwise, one on top of the other, on a counter top. Brush the top sheet lightly with butter. Take 1 of the parts of the filling and spread evenly along the bottom of the doubled filo sheet. Starting from the bottom, roll the doubled sheet of filo, tucking in the sides, upwards forming into a long cigar shape. Brush the beaten egg along the seam of the roll. Place the rolled pastry piece in a greased 9-inch round x 1 1/4-inch deep pie pan by coiling it around the edge of the pan, seam side down. Continue filling and rolling the filo and placing the rolls tightly next to the ones already in the pie pans by coiling until the pans are filled. Brush the top of the M’hansha with the remaining butter and the beaten egg.
Bake the M’hansha in a pre-heated 325 F oven for 40 minutes. If the top has not browned, place under the broiler until golden brown. Cool completely.
Using a fine sieve, sprinkle the M’hansha generously with icing sugar and then sprinkle with the cinnamon.
To serve, slice into bite-size pieces.