Every time I search for a new dessert to try, either buying or making, I tend to look for desserts that look attractive. Since I love decorating cakes and other types of sweet treats, I personally love eating desserts that are beautifully decorated. In my opinion, a well-decorated treat often takes a lot of time and effort. This means that the chef has put a lot of dedication into making this treat. This does not mean that simple-looking desserts are easy to make or the person who made them did not work hard. I just happen to prefer elegant-looking sweet treats over simple ones. The dessert we will be exploring today is called Mkhabez. It is an Algerian signature sweet dish that has a lot of beautiful decorations on the outside and packs a lot of flavor within itself.
The Mkhabez first appeared in Algeria’s capital city, Algiers. According to the locals, this dessert recipe was influenced by French cuisine with added Algerian twists. The Algerian cuisine adores almonds. There is a huge variety of desserts that are made from almonds and/or almond flour. Along with almonds, there are also different types of dried nuts and fruits that are also used to make these desserts. In the original Mkhabez recipe, the main ingredient is almond flour or almond paste. Other than almond flour, the recipe also consists of other ingredients such as butter, lemon zest, eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla extract. All of these ingredients will be mixed together to form a thick dough. After mixing, the dough will be put in a refrigerator to chill for a couple of hours. This process makes the dough become firmer and easier to shape. After chilling, the dough can be taken out and cut into shapes. Traditionally, Mkhabez has a triangular shape. However, a lot of people nowadays also use cookie cutters to cut the dough into the shape and size they wanted. In short, Mkhabez is similar to almond cookies but is also covered in royal icing. After cutting out the shapes, the Mkhabez cookie is baked for about 15 to 20 minutes. Once the time is up, the Mkhabez will be taken out of the oven and left to cool down completely. If they are warm, the royal icing will melt and lose its shape.
The next important part of making Mkhabez is to make the royal icing. Mkhabez is not Mkhabez until they are covered with icing. Although the process of making Mkhabez’s icing is not too complicated, there is a special ingredient that makes the icing special, orange blossom water. The orange blossom water will bring the sweet aroma of the orange grove to the cookies. By mixing together milk, cooking oil, powdered sugar, orange blossom water, and lemon zest, you will have your royal icing. Next, you can decorate your icing with whatever food colors you like. Put some of the icing into piping bags to decorate the Mkhabez later. Once the cookies are completely cooled down, dip them into the icing then let them dry on a cooling rack. This may take some time but it is worth the wait. After the icing has dried, decorate your Mkhabez with your own designs. It can be flowers, butterflies, leaves, or just simply drizzles.
In Algeria, there is always Mkhabez on special occasions such as weddings, festivals, birthday parties, etc. The most important occasion that you will always see the Algerian people put Mkhabez on the table is Eid al-Fitr, meaning the “Festival of Breaking the Fast”. This is a very important festival celebrated by Muslims worldwide at the end of a month-long dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan.
If you want to try Mkhabez, you can make them at home since the recipe does not require any special ingredients that we cannot buy. Surprise your friends or family at your next party with the lovely and delicious Mkhabez.