Before I say anything about this recipe I want to go ahead and let you all know; this was the most delicious dessert I have ever made. Most of you know by now, I do not have a sweet tooth and making desserts is more of a chore, a labour with no fruit, because I rarely eat any of the desserts I make. But this was different, something I not only enjoyed making but without a doubt will be making regularly because the taste was THAT phenomenal.
M’hencha is a flaky Moroccan pastry filled with an assortment of fillings. The word M’hencha (or Mhencha) is derived from the Arabic word hench meaning serpent, referring to the spiralled tube-like shape of this pastry. For an Almond M’hencha phyllo sheets are filled with an extremely delicious almond paste, flavoured with orange blossom water, giving it a citrusy fragrance and just a hint of tasteful bitterness. Once baked crisp golden, M’hencha are dipped in bubbling honey. In Moroccan cuisine making M’hencha is an art. Sheets of phyllo pastry are overlapped side by side to make one huge rope like pastry. Keeping in mind the delicacy of the task in hand and my amateur status, I settled for making smaller individual sized pastries.
This spiced ground almond filling which is remarkably like Frangipane has my heart. The orange blossom water added to bind the ground almonds into a pliable paste adds depths of flavour and leaves a lingering citrusy taste on the palette. It was a challenge trying not to eat the filling before it went into the pastry.
I believe I have sold this dessert enough! Before moving onto the recipe, I close my argument by stating, you are missing out on incredible experience if you do not try this.
What is Orange Blossom Water?
Orange Blossom Water or Orange Flower Water is the transparent, sweet scented by-product of the extraction of fresh bitter orange flowers for essential oil. It is used to add aroma to traditional Mediterranean desserts. It is easily available at leading grocery stores and Moroccan shops.
How can I substitute Orange Blossom Water?
Since Orange Blossom Water is made with flowers from bitter orange, there is no 100% substitute than using the original flowers. However, if you cannot find it use the following recipe. For 1 tablespoon of Orange Blossom Water combine 1 tablespoon of distilled water with 2 drops of orange oil/essence and 1 drop of bitter almond essence/oil OR combine 1 tablespoon of distilled water with 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest.
- Blanched Almonds 2 cups
- Castor Sugar 3/4 cup
- Cinnamon Powder a pinch
- Orange Blossom Water 3 tbsp.
- Melted Butter 1 tbsp.
- Salt a pinch
- Phyllo Pastry 8-9 sheets
- Honey 1 cup
- Melted Butter ½ cup (to brush sheets)
Preheat oven to 180 ℃. To make the almon paste blitz almonds, sugar, salt and cinnamon in a food processor or grinder until it forms a moist powder. Add Orange blossom water and melted butter and blend again until it forms a soft dough.
Remove almond filling onto a plate and divide into 8 equal portions. Roll each portion into a long cylinder. The length of your rolled almond filling should be equal to the long side of your phyllo pastry. I am using a 30 cm x 15 cm piece of pastry, so I have rolled each portion of Almond filling into 30 cm long cylinders. I have attached step by step pictures and a video for clarity.
Carefully lay 1 sheet of phyllo on a work surface. Brush the whole sheet carefully with melted butter. Place the rolled almond filling along the edge of the phyllo sheet. Start rolling until you reach the edge. The fold the phyllo covered almond filling into a spiral. Do not roll too tightly as the phyllo will start to break. Transfer rolled spiral of M’hencha onto a lined baking tray. Brush melted butter on top. Repeat process until all phyllo sheets and filling are used up.
Bake M’hencha in preheated oven till they are crisp and golden, which will take around 15-20 minutes. In the meantime, heat honey in a small pan. Once the honey starts bubbling switch heat to low. Once M’hencha are done baking, transfer hot M’hencha into simmering honey for 2 minutes. Do this step in batched to avoid breaking these delicate pastries. Transfer M’hencha onto a serving platter and allow to cool a bit before digging in.