North African Holiday Desserts | SAVEUR

5 Essential North African Desserts

Orange blossom, honey, and rose water give these pastries a sweet taste of home

Semolina Coconut Cake with Orange and Rose Water (Basbousa)

Matt Taylor-Gross

Growing up in France, while everyone else was having bûche de Noël for the holidays, Kamel Saci ate his mother and grandmother's basbousa instead. Drenched in an orange blossom syrup, the semolina cake was a fragrant reminder of the Ramadan and Eid desserts they'd grown up with in Algeria. “They made the cake for the Western holidays because it was fit for a celebration, any celebration,” says Saci, now head baker at Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria in Manhattan. His mother also made baghrir, thick but wonderfully light, yeasty crêpes. Cooked only on one side, they're pockmarked with holes—crannies for capturing melted butter and warm honey. They made a festive holiday treat. “Even now,” says Saci, “I make basbousa and baghrir around Christmas because we"re with family and we want things that make us feel connected to Algeria.”

Ghaya Oliveira grew up baking sweets with her grandmother in Tunisia. Now the head pastry chef at Daniel in New York, she finds herself returning to traditional Tunisian desserts this time of year. “Our holiday sweets are the tiniest bit of indulgence, made with the best quality ingredients like nuts and flower waters to perfume them with opulence.”

Kaber ellouz, tender marble-sized almond marzipan balls rolled in sugar, share her holiday table with fried desserts like makroud, semolina diamonds stuffed with dates, soaked in a bright orange blossom syrup, and covered with toasted sesame seeds, and exquisite pastries called deblah, spirals of thin dough fried to a crisp, drenched in lemon syrup, and showered with chopped nuts. “In Tunisia,” Oliveira says, “the holidays are all about giving this small edible gift to someone, a special bite made with care.”

Syrup-Soaked Pastries with Hazelnuts, Pistachios, and Pine Nuts (Deblah)

These crunchy pastry spirals are formed from a simple pasta-like dough, soaked in a light lemon syrup and sprinkled with a shower of mixed nuts. Get the recipe for Syrup-Soaked Pastries with Hazelnuts, Pistachios, and Pine Nuts (Deblah) »

Matt Taylor-Gross

Sugared Rosewater Marzipan Balls

A simple almond dough is scented with rose water and dyed before being braided, cut, and rolled for these whimsical treats. Get the recipe for Sugared Rosewater Marzipan Balls (Kaber Ellouz) »

Matt Taylor-Gross

1,000-Hole Crêpes

Drizzled with honey–butter, these chewy, yeasted crêpes are cooked only on one side giving them the mottled appearance from which they take their name.

Matt Taylor-Gross

Semolina Coconut Cake with Orange and Rose Water (Basbousa)

This elegant cake is soaked in a fragrant lemon syrup, perfumed by flower waters. The garnish is candied rose petals sprinkled with toasted coconut. Get the recipe for Semolina-Coconut Cake with Orange and Rose Waters »

Matt Taylor-Gross

Date-Filled Semolina Cookies

These crunchy fried sweets stand up to soaking in a fragrant honey syrup, adding moisture and lightening the dense pastry. Get the recipe for Date-Filled Semolina Cookies (Makroud) »

Matt Taylor-Gross

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