During a food tour with Gemma of Souk Cuisine in the souks of Marrakech, Gemma led us through the narrowest allies and deepest corners of the souk and we tasted slowly braised lamb, the juiciest olives, fragrant honey and bread that had just been baked in the communal wood oven. I bought a bag of specially picked ras el hanout spices from her favourite spice shop. All the flavors and memories from my Marrakech trip came up again when I ground up my bag of spices for my variation of the vanilici cookie from Serbia. Ras el hanout means “the best of the shop” and is a mixture composed specially by each shopkeeper. The mixture can be made up of more than 20 herbs, but nutmeg, cumin, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, mace, cardamom and allspice usually form the base. For the filling, I made amlou – a mixture of argan oil, almonds and honey. During Gemma’s Moroccan cookie baking class I was given beautiful cookie cutters in the shape of the hand of Fatima and a rolling pin made out of lemon wood. I used them for this cookie and was transported back to the souks of Marrakech immediately.
Ras el hanout cookie
for about 30 cookies
250 grams (1 cup) of butter
125 grams (½ cup) of sugar
500 grams (4½ cups) flour
3 teaspoons ras el hanout
1 egg and 1 egg yolk
zest of 1 lemon
pinch of salt
200 grams (1½ cups) of almonds
150 ml (½ cup) argan oil
3 tablespoons honey
icing sugar to decorate
Beat the butter and sugar light and creamy with a mixer in about 5 minutes.
Add the egg and egg yolk, lemon zest and salt and beat well.
Add the flour and vanilla and quickly bring together into a ball of dough. Flatten into a disc, wrap in cling film and leave to rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 160°C / 325°F. Roll the dough out to ½ cm thick and cut shapes with a cookie cutter. Bring the dough together again, roll out and cut out more cookies. Repeat with the rest of the dough.
Bake in the middle of the preheated oven for 12-15 min. until done. The cookies should still be quite pale. Take out of the oven and let cool completely on the baking sheet.
Roast the almonds in a dry pan. Leave to cool and grind into a thick paste with the argan oil, the honey and a pinch of salt.
Spread almond amlou paste on half the cookies and cover with the rest of the cookies. Leave to stand in an airtight tin for about 2 days before you eat them. Decorate with icing sugar before serving.
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