Walking into a friend’s backyard for a Mimouna celebration is one of the most exciting moments in the Jewish calendar. You will find table after table of treats made from honey, flour and almonds, alongside little bowls of jam and mint leaves, and lots of colorful flowers.
At traditional Mimouna celebrations, you will oftentimes find a large bowl of flour with five gold coins placed on top alongside five green fava beans and five dates. Dipping your gold jewelry inside the flour is supposed to bring good luck for fertile land and economic abundance.
The most well-known specialty found at Mimouna are muflettas, which are thin and crepe-like, and are usually eaten with butter and honey spread on them. It is customary to leave your door open when hosting a celebration so all your guests will feel welcome to enter.Learn more about Pascale's Kitchen here>>
This year, I was invited to singer Yossi Azulay’s home in Moshav Shilat to watch as he prepared muflettas and marzipan cookies. Right as I entered his house I could see it was separated into two wings representing his two loves: music and baking. He had all sorts of kitchen utensils, along with rugs and tablecloths he’d imported from Morocco, including a beautiful set of tea glasses and copper trays. His kitchen was of course outfitted with the most sophisticated and professional-looking equipment, and I could smell vanilla, almonds and rosewater in the air as I looked at the tray of dough balls sitting in a bath of oil, waiting to become muflettas.
Azulay grew up in Jerusalem around relatives who hailed from Morocco, and he spent many hours during his childhood with his mother, aunt and grandmother as they prepared delicacies from Moroccan cuisine. It was only after he left home, though, that he realized how strong his affinity was for these treats. His grandmother would prepare the traditional sfinj on Hanukkah, couscous cooked with milk and dates on Purim, and of course muflettas after Passover. When his grandmother passed away, Azulay was keen to take ownership of her large aluminum couscous bowl so he could continue with the traditions. He began hosting the family Mimouna, which grew from year to year. Along the way, Azulay began investing more time and energy learning about his family’s culinary traditions.
In his teenage years, Azulay was a member of the Mi’urav Yerushalmi band and served in an IDF music troupe, where he met his wife, Tali. Together, they have three boys.
Not long after he finished his service, he wrote the famous song “Ima,” which he performed with Shlomi Shabat.
“For years I would come home late at night after performances, and my favorite way to relax was by preparing dishes I remembered from childhood. I began hounding my mother and aunts, asking them a million questions about how they made everything.”
In 2013, Azulay was chosen to participate in MasterChef, and afterward decided to enroll in a pastry chef program at Bishulim Culinary School. He continued with his singing career as he tried out new recipes and techniques every day in his spare time. He even took additional culinary courses in Morocco, France and London.
Azulay is a perfectionist, and it is very important to him that each cookie or pastry came out exactly how he intends. Three years ago, he created a website and Facebook and Instagram pages (dar-dyali.com) on which he takes orders for (Mehadrin kosher) Moroccan delicacies for events. He plans to open a boutique shop in Israel and perhaps in Morocco, also offering pastry workshops. Dar Dyali was chosen by the Foreign Ministry to display its delicacies on the ministry’s Arabic-language website.
Just as Azulay dove into his Moroccan roots in the culinary world, he also began to investigate his family’s musical roots in Moroccan traditions. Azulay produced an album called Tfilot (Prayers) as well as an album titled Andalous, which focuses on North African Jewish liturgical melodies, including a duet with renowned French singer Enrico Macias.
Like everyone else, both his musical and culinary businesses have suffered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Azulay is taking great strides to make a comeback.
Azulay’s appearance here in this column is another way to celebrate his tremendous talents, and as I was leaving at the end of the day, he told me with a sparkle in his eye how his dream is to one day have the opportunity to offer the King of Morocco – either in Israel or Morocco – a taste of his handmade delicacies and serenade him with his Andalusian music.
“If I could, I would open up a bakery across the street from the king’s palace in Rabat so that he could just walk outside and ask me for a taste.”
Makes 40 pieces.
1 kg. flour, sifted
3 heaping Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. salt
650 ml. water at room temperature
Oil for covering dough
Add the flour and sugar to the bowl of an electric mixer and mix on medium speed. Gradually add the water while mixing. Mix for 7 minutes at medium speed until dough is mixed well. Add the salt and continue mixing for another 3 minutes on medium speed. Using wet hands, form the dough into a ball inside the bowl. Cover the dough with a bit of oil, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest for 30-45 minutes.
Pour oil into a baking pan so that it is 1 cm. high. Make 40 balls out of the dough and place them in the oil in the tray. Flatten the balls a little so that they are shaped like little disks. Cover the tray with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 45-60 minutes.
Heat a large, flat and thick frying pan upside down on the stove top over a medium-high flame (or use an electric skillet). Grease your counter top generously and place one of the dough disks on it. Next, use your greased hands to flatten the disk as much as possible so you can almost see through it, but without tearing the dough.
Place the flat disk in the hot frying pan and fry until it turns golden brown. In the meantime, while it’s frying, prepare the next disk. Then, flip the first one to brown on the second side. Place the next sheet of dough on top of the cooked mufletta, and start preparing the next dough disk. Continue adding another mufletta to the pan and flipping all the layers together until you have a pile of 15 or 20 sheets. Each time, flip over all the layers together. Place the pile of muflettas on a sheet of foil and close it up airtight so they can soften for a few minutes. Then open up the foil and separate each layer. Brush each mufletta with butter and honey and then roll it up and eat.
Level of difficulty: Medium
Time: About 3 hours
Many Moroccan dishes include almonds, so not surprisingly marzipan is a very popular dessert served at Mimouna celebrations.
Makes 50 cookies.
1 kg. prepared almond marzipan
500 gr. peanuts that are peeled, roasted and coarsely ground
200 gr. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
Corn flour for work surface
Dried rose petals
Edible sugar lace
Place the peanuts in a food processor with the sugar and cinnamon. Grind until the mixture is doughy.
Take hold of the marzipan and work it in your hand until it softens. Separate it into balls that are 150 grams each. Color each ball using gel food coloring. Cover your work surface with a bit of corn flour. Roll out each marzipan ball into a rectangle that is ½ cm. thick.
Take a small amount of the peanut mixture and roll it into a log with a diameter of 2 cm. Place the log on top of the marzipan layer and roll it up inside the marzipan. Cut the log so that each piece is 5 cm. thick and form each cookie into whatever shape you desire. You can use a special cookie cutter to shape the cookies, then sprinkle with gold sugar or cover with edible lace, rose petals and gold candies. Let cookies dry for two hours in the open air.
Level of difficulty: Medium to hard
Time: About 1.5 hours
MULTI-COLORED ALMOND COOKIES
Makes 65 cookies.
550 kg. ground almonds
300 gr. sugar
1 packet baking powder
A bit of almond extract
165 gr. egg yolks
Green, red and yellow food coloring
Mix the ground almonds, sugar and baking powder together in a bowl. Mix the almond extract with the egg yolks and then add to almond mixture. Mix well.
Let the mixture rest for a few minutes, then separate into three equal portions. Color each one a separate color using a drop or two of food coloring.
Using wet hands, form 15 gr. balls. Place the balls on a flat dish that is covered with powdered sugar. Roll the balls around in the powdered sugar until they are completely covered with sugar. Shake them a little so that the excess sugar falls off, then place them on a baking sheet with 5 cm. of space between each one. Place half an almond in the center of each cookie.
Bake in an oven that has been preheated to 160°C (not on turbo) for 13-15 minutes until the aroma of almonds wafts through the air. You can also bake the cookies in paper baking cups.
Level of difficulty: Easy to medium
Time: 30 minutes
Translated by Hannah Hochner.