I have yet to meet anyone who can resist the unbelievable chewiness of these Moroccan almond macaroons, a type of ghrouiba or ghrieba. And I have yet to attend a wedding or a happy event in Morocco where they are not served.
In Morocco, this sweet treat has many names: mlewza, ghriebat el a’kda, ghrieba d’ellouz or bellouz. You would be forgiven for comparing it to the Italian cookie Ricciarelli as to some extent you would not be far off.
I’ve been using this family recipe for a solid 25 years after copying it from one of my aunties decades ago. The recipe itself is dead simple but the size of the eggs, the type of the oven and the quality of almonds all play a role in the outcome.
I always keep batches of Moroccan almond paste ready in my freezer. I never know when I will need a ghrieba for my teatime.
In Morocco, we are blessed with a good variety of local almonds that deliver in flavor and also in texture. Making an almond paste with Moroccan almonds tends to be moist while other almonds just yield a dry paste, hence the use of apricot jam to save the day and bring a bit of that missing texture.
I also use standard medium-sized eggs and as my auntie used to say, use the second egg wisely—start with an egg yolk, and if you think you need more, add the egg white.
Old ovens are still used in Morocco and convection ovens can be found in a few urban houses. We used to start off by test baking a few ghrieba. Initially the cookies went into the oven with the rack positioned for the grill or broiler and with the door slightly ajar. Once cracks appeared over the ghrieba’s surface, we would move the baking rack down and use the bottom third of the oven for the remainder of the time. If we were satisfied with the cracking and how it spread, we shaped the other ghriebas and baked them. Otherwise we adjusted the mix. Now that we have a convection oven, I just place the baking sheet right in the middle throughout the baking time and I know that my recipe delivers with the measurements listed.
Moroccan Almond Macaroon - Mlewza or Ghrieba d'ellouz
- 1.13 lbs almonds blanched, skinned and well dried (do not use almond powder)
- 7 oz caster sugar
- 1 pinch of salt
- 2 tbsp apricot jam, measured after straining
- 1 egg, medium-size
- 1 egg yolk, medium-size
- 2 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
- 3 to 4 grain of mastic gum
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
- 4 drops almond extract (optional, if you suspect that the almonds lack flavor)
Finishing and decoration
- 8 oz icing sugar
- Make an almond paste with the sugar and almonds until it forms a paste or nearly there. You will need a good food processor for this.
- In a pestle and mortar, mix 1 teaspoon of sugar with the grains of mastic gum and crush them to a powder. Alternatively, use the back of a glass and crush the mix. Flavor the almond paste with this mix.
- Preheat the oven to 350° F (180° C) and cover 2 baking sheets with baking paper. Fill a large bowl or a deep plate with the icing sugar intended for the finishing.
- Lightly whisk the eggs with the sugar and salt. Break the almond paste into rough pieces and add it along with the rest of the ingredients. Mix until everything looks homogeneous. Do not overwork. You can do this by hand as well as with a food processor. Be sure there are no lumps left in the mix.
- Shape small smooth balls of about 0.7 oz or 1.2" diameter. If your hands get sticky, wash them and keep them slightly moistened to carry on. Some people place a large bowl of water and a towel alongside so they don't have to keep going back and forth the the sink.
- Drop the shaped balls into the icing to coat the top and sides with icing sugar.
- Place the ghreiba balls on the baking sheets leaving at least 3" space between them. Slight flatten by pressing your thumb in the middle but do not over-flatten it.
Baking and storing ghrieba
- Convection oven: Place the tray in the middle of the oven and bake for at least 12 min. If more time is needed, turn the baking sheet for even coloring and continue baking for a few minutes or until the ghriebas are ready.
- Conventional oven: Place the baking pan in the top third of the oven with the grill on for about 5 minute or until the tops of the cookies crack. Move the rack to the middle or lower third of the oven to finish baking. I usually use both the grill and oven heat at the same time so the cookies bake in 15 to 18 minutes.
- Once cooled, store in an airtight container. I suggest you place a layer of baking paper or foil between each layer so the nice icing does not get damaged by friction between ghriebas.
- Mastic gum or meska is the secret ingredient that gives this ghrieba delicate taste while the spoon of jam reinforces the chewy texture and makes it last. Mastic gum is not to be confused with gum arabic as the former is used for flavoring and texture. It is a resin from Pistacia lentiscus. Also beware of false meska.
- You can replace the apricot jam with a sweet orange marmalade, just make sure to chop the orange rinds before adding it to the mix. Ideally, you can blend it with the almonds so it is combined perfectly.