Often served during Ramadan and on special occasions, this deep-fried pastry from Morocco is bathed in honey and orange blossom water and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. Saffron, cinnamon and star anise are also key to giving these cookies their aromatic and nutty flavour.
This dessert does require a deft hand to form its signature rose shape, but it’ll be worth it when you bite into those sweet crisp layers.
You can buy mastic gum from Greek specialty food stores online.
Chebakia was the Technical Bake for Botanical Week in Season 6 of The Great Canadian Baking Show.
- 1⅓ cups (190 g) raw sesame seeds, plus extra for garnish
- ½ tsp active dry yeast
- ⅓ cup warm water
- ¼ tsp saffron threads
- 2 tbsp orange blossom water
- ⅛ tsp mastic gum (sold at Greek specialty food stores online)
- ½ tsp granulated sugar
- 2 cups plus 2 tbsp (300 g) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
- ½ tsp fine kosher salt
- ¼ tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp star anise powder
- 1 large egg
- 3 tbsp (42 g) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 tbsp white vinegar
- 3 quarts vegetable oil, for frying
- 5 cups honey
- 3 tbsp orange blossom water
Heat the oven to 375 F. Spread the sesame seeds on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until light golden brown, about 10 minutes. Cool completely. Turn off the oven.
In a small bowl, combine the yeast and warm water, and set aside. Crumble the saffron threads by rubbing them between your fingers, and place in a separate small bowl with the orange blossom water. In another small bowl, combine the mastic gum and sugar, and set aside. You can buy mastic gum from Greek specialty food stores online. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and star anise powder. Beat the egg in a separate small bowl.
When the sesame seeds have cooled, grind 1 cup (142 grams) in a spice grinder until it becomes a powder (you should be able to pack it together).
Add the ground sesame seeds to the flour mixture and whisk to combine. Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture, saffron and orange blossom water, mastic powder mixture, melted butter, egg and vinegar. Stir with a wooden spoon, starting in the center and pulling the dry ingredients in from the sides, until a rough dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it by hand until smooth and elastic, about 7 minutes.
Divide the dough into two even portions. Form each portion into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge to rest for 15 minutes. It will feel slightly more moist after resting.
In a 7-quart Dutch oven, heat the vegetable oil over medium-low heat until it reaches 315 F. (Take care to heat the oil slowly so it doesn’t overheat.) Maintain the temperature until the chebakia are ready to fry. When deep frying, always keep a pot lid and baking soda handy in case of flare-ups, and make sure your range hood is off.
In a medium saucepan, bring the honey to a gentle simmer over medium-low (if it gets too hot, it will boil over). Add the orange blossom water, and stir together. Turn off the heat and keep the honey mixture warm until ready to use.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly dust your work surface with flour.
1. Take one piece of dough from the fridge and roll it into a long rectangle approximately 32 by 4 inches and ⅛ inch thick. Using a ruler and fluted pastry wheel, cut the dough into eight rectangles, each measuring 4 by 3½ inches. Repeat with the second piece of dough. Gather the scrap dough into a pile and gently knead it together. Cover it with plastic wrap and a wet tea towel. (You can use the scraps as a backup.)
5. Gently pinch the ends to secure. You should have an elongated rose shape.
Repeat with the rest of the rectangles of dough. Keep the chebakia covered with a wet tea towel to prevent them from drying out.
Set wire racks in two baking sheets. Fry the chebakia in the heated oil, a few at a time, dropping them individually to prevent them from sticking together. Fry until golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes, flipping halfway through. Transfer the chebakia to a prepared rack and allow the oil to drip off for a few seconds. Then place them in the warm honey mixture and let sit for 5 to 7 minutes while you fry the next batch. (The longer you soak them, the sweeter they will be.) Transfer the chebakia to the second prepared rack and sprinkle with reserved sesame seeds.
Allow to cool for a few hours or even overnight to allow the flavors to develop. Chebakia can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for a few weeks or frozen for a few months.
Makes about 16 to 20 chebakia