Pockets of love

Try your hand at traditional sweet pastries from North Africa

Chef Pascal Perez-Rubin (photo credit: HAGIT GOREN)
Chef Pascal Perez-Rubin
(photo credit: HAGIT GOREN)
Pascal Perez-Rubin is a chef, baker, teacher and food journalist. She is the author of nine best-selling cookbooks and runs her own Internet site.
In her cookbook published recently for the holidays, Nedunia (Dowry): The sweet Ties of the Jewish Diaspora , she presents recipes that she found when researching the Jewish cuisines of North Africa and the Mediterranean over a span of five years.
In the book, she presents the traditional holiday and everyday recipes of desserts, exploring the similarities and the differences.
Says Perez-Rubin, “I was surprised to find that many of the desserts were very similar in taste, and sometimes also in their shape and presentation, but they were called by different names. But I also found many others that were completely unique in flavor and technique.”
She was especially surprised to find the same cookies she loved as a child that her mother had made for her. “They were my favorite cookies, and I was very surprised to find them in other cuisines, called by different names,” she says.
From the book we chose to explore the deep-fried pastries popular in many North African Jewish communities. Called by many different names, such as cornet, burika, beluz, pastel and tamariya, all these pastries are traditionally made from brik, which are thin, almost transparent, pastry leaves typical of North African and Mediterranean cuisines.
Brik is made from flour, vinegar, oil and water. Prepared by North African home bakers, Perez-Rubin says it can be purchased in many of the markets today.
If you cannot find it, use phyllo pastry or pastry for Moroccan cigars that is available frozen in supermarkets. Puff pastry is another option, but Perez-Rubin says that none of the alternatives are like the original brik. If you have friends or neighbors whose parents came from North Africa, ask them where they get their pastry dough.
Brik is used for savory and sweet pas- tries. The sweet pastries change in shape and filling from one Jewish community to another, but the idea is the same: small filled pastries stuffed with nuts, peanuts or coconut that are shaped, fried and dipped in sugar syrup.
The Moroccan sweet cigars EsBabel Luz and korne are cones filled with marzipan.
In Tripoli, they used to make burika beluz, which are large envelopes filled with nuts.
The Moroccans made them smaller and filled the envelopes with currants. The Lebanese tradition calls for envelopes filled with semolina spiced with rose- water, called tamariya. The tamariya is served with powdered sugar or dipped in syrup. In Spanish cuisine, they make strudel-like wraps filled with nuts. And the Turkish, Greek and Aleppo Jews used to make baklava cake from puff pastry or from phyllo dough.
All those rich pastries were traditionally served at family celebrations and on holidays.
For 20 to 25 pastries:
✔ 20 to 25 brik or filo leaves
✔ 1 to 2 egg whites, lightly whisked
✔ Oil for deep frying For the syrup:
✔ 1½ cups sugar
✔ 1½ cups water
✔ Juice of ½ lemon For the filling:
✔ 2 cups peanuts or almonds, roasted, shelled and finely ground
✔ 1 cup crushed nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts or pecans)
✔ ½ cup raisins
✔ 1 cup coconut flakes
✔ 1 tsp. almond extract
To garnish:
✔ ½ cup nuts or pistachios, chopped To cook the syrup: Place all the ingredients in a small pot with a long handle and cook