Claudia Roden’s M’Hencha

Moroccan Almond Snake

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Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Serves

    30

Appears in

The Feast of Christmas: Origins, Traditions and Recipes

The Feast of Christmas

By Paul Levy

Published 1992

  • About

Originally this would have been made with the Moroccan pancake pastry called ouarka, but bought filo pastry is just fine.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 kg (3 lb) ground almonds
  • 1 kg (2 lb) caster (fine) sugar
  • 2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 200-250 ml (7-8 fl oz, up to 1 cup) orange-flower water or diluted rosewater
  • 500 g (1 lb) filo pastry
  • 75-125 g (3-4 oz, up to 1 stick) butter, melted 2 egg yolks

To garnish

  • icing (confectioner’s) sugar
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon

Method

Make the filling simply by mixing the ground almonds, sugar and cinnamon with your fingers and adding orange-flower water until the mixture feels like moist sand; work into a paste, using your hands. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F, gas mark 4).

Keep the sheets of filo stacked and covered with a damp cloth; they dry out quickly, so remove only one sheet at a time. Brush the top sheet of the stack lightly with butter. Take balls of the almond paste, roll them into thick fingers and place them end to end so as to have a line of paste as thick as a fat thumb; place this about 2.5 cm (1 in) from one of the long edges of the filo sheet.

Roll up the pastry tightly over the almond filling. Press the ends of the roll towards the centre, like an accordion, so that it becomes crinkled (this ensures that the pastry does not tear when you curve it round). Carefully lift up the roll and place it on a large sheet of foil on a large baking tray. (The foil will make it easier for you to remove the finished pastry from the tray.)

Starting from the centre of the tray, curve the almond-filled roll into a tight spiral. Repeat with the rest of the filo, until all the filling is used up. Place each new roll at the end of the spiral until you have made a long, coiled snake.

Brush the top of the pastry with a wash made of the egg yolks beaten with I Tbsp of water and bake in the preheated oven for about 45 mins or until crisp and brown.

Dust with icing sugar and sprinkle lines of cinnamon in the shape of a cross — or whatever motif you like. You can serve the snake hot, but Claudia Roden thinks it’s better at room temperature.