Algerian breakfast…not what you might think

October 18, 2009 § Leave a comment

“A line of cheap speed and a shot of Pernod, usually taken as a pick-me-up after a rough night” is how Urbandictionary.com  defines an Algerian breakfast.  Hmmm I’m not even quite sure what speed is let alone how to procure it cheaply in Altrincham.  I had in mind something rather more civilised.

Algeria is a former French colony (think Zinadine Zidane, Albert Camus and the French Foreign Legion) becoming independent in 1962. The French left behind, amongst other things, the legacy of their bread so a crusty baguette was the first item to be chosen.  I still baulk at tackling a loaf of French bread at home so this was purchased fresh from the boulangerie.  With the baguette, unsalted butter and a jar of home-made jam – the one I chose was an amber coloured plum jam made by friend Nadia who is into preserving big-time at the moment.  Nadia takes the trouble to crack open the plum stones and add the almondy kernels to the jam which is something you’ll never find in the shop-bought stuff.

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To drink, café au lait in bowls, plus glasses of deep purple pomegranate juice (I’m not sure whether the juice is authentic but I wanted to bring some eastern exoticism onto the breakfast table on this chilly October morning).

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The pièce de resistance was a plateful of Makrout el Assel freshly deep fried, a kind of Algerian almond doughnut, the whole plateful doused in warm honey.

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All of us spent the next couple of hours bouncing off the walls on a sugar, white bread and caffeine-induced high.  Who needs cheap speed and Pernod with a breakfast like this!

I found the Makrout recipe on http://www.la-cuisine-marocaine.com French language website – yes I realise this means Moroccan but the given derivation was most definitely Algerian.  Here’s the recipe translated as best I could.

Recipe for Makrout el Assel

Ingredients

Dough
500g medium semolina
125g melted smen (clarified butter)
pinch salt
orange-flower water
10cl warm water

Filling
250g ground almonds
150g caster sugar
orange-flower water

Oil for deep-frying

Place the semolina and salt in a bowl.  Mix.  Add the melted clarified butter and rub with the palms of your hands to mix well and incorporate the fat into the semolina.  The mixture should be sandy in texture.

Add the warm water plus a little orange flower water gradually to the mixture and bring it together to form a dough without over-working.  Once you have a supple dough, leave it to rest in the fridge.

Mix together the ground almonds and sugar and add a little orange flower water to form a paste.  The mixture should not be too moist.

To form the Makrout, take a good-sized piece of dough, roll it out and hollow out a groove in the middle without going right through.  Form with your hands a fat rope shaped piece of the almond filling and place it into the groove.  Bring up the edges to seal in the filling and roll the whole thing, flattening it a little until it is 3-4cm thick. Cut the flattened roll into lozenges and place them on a plate until you are ready to fry them.  Expect to repeat this exercise 3-4 times to use up the dough and filling.

Take a paintbrush, dip it into lightly beaten egg white and brush over the cut surfaces of the individual lozenges to seal in the almond filling before frying.

Fry in hot oil, preferably in a deep-fat frier with a basket, until golden brown.  Drain on absorbent paper and serve with warm honey.

Note on semolina. I have semolina in my cupboard (for baking middle-eastern type cakes not for making the milk pudding of school-dinner induced nightmares) but have never been entirely sure what it is.  Trusty Harold McGee  in “On Food & Cooking” explains that semolina is “milled durum endosperm with a characteristically coarse particle size (0.15-0.5mm across) thanks to the hard nature of durum endosperm (finer grinding causes excessive damage to starch granules).  So now you know.

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