“These cookies are one of the sweets I remember most from my grandmother, Simi Elfsi,” says Eva Kadosh, cook and owner of the blog “Eva the Cooking Pot Whisperer”. “Grandma lived in Morocco in a house with no money. She was widowed when she was 34 and had seven children to raise. She wanted to give them everything that others had, so she worked a lot of jobs, among other things she made these cookies for Jewish celebrations,” Ava recalls. The cookies are made from dough spiced with almond extract, which are fried as tiny balls and caramelized to give them the shape of nuts “They were meant to simulate the nut candies that were very expensive. Families who couldn’t afford to buy nuts, would create them.”
Ingredients for Halva del Ajin
For the dough:
- 2 cups (280 grams) flour sifted
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons (24 ml) olive oil
- ¼ cup (60 ml) water
- 2 teaspoon (10 grams) baking powder (1 packet)
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1⅔ tablespoons (20 grams) vanilla sugar (2 packets)
- neutral - flavored oil for deep frying
For the syrup:
- 2½ cups (500 grams) Sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
Prepare the dough:
1. Put all the ingredients in a bowl and knead with your hands until the dough starts to come together. Transfer the dough to a work surface and knead for about 5 minutes until you get a uniform and smooth dough. Turn the bowl over the dough and let it rest for about 10 minutes.
2. Generously flour the work surface and roll the dough into a circle about ¼-inch (½ cm) thick. If the dough resists and shrinks, allow it to rest for a few minutes and roll it out again. Cut the dough into thin, uniform strips about 23½" (60 cm) wide using a sharp knife or a multi-wheel pastry cutter.
4. Heat the oil in a deep pan. Put a square of dough in the oil - if bubbles immediately form around it, the oil is hot enough, if not, heat the oil for another minute or two.
5. As soon as the oil is hot, take a slotted spoon and put about a quarter of the dough squares in it. Put the spoon gently in the oil and stir a little so that the squares don't stick to each other. Fry until golden.
6. Remove the dough squares from the oil to a wide strainer placed over a plate or bowl lined with parchment paper, and let them rest for a few minutes so that the excess oil drains. Fry another quarter of the dough squares in the same way (and after that, one after the other, the remaining two quarters).
Prepare sugar syrup and coat the dough
7. Spread a kitchen towel on the work surface and greased parchment paper on top.
8. Put sugar in a medium saucepan with a thick bottom and caramelize until an amber color is reached. Add water and lemon juice and mix well. Immediately add the dough balls and mix until they are completely covered in syrup.
9. Transfer the balls of dough to the prepared greased parchment paper, and spread into an even layer. Place additional parchment paper on top and continue to flatten gently into a uniform sheet with a rolling pin. Cool until the caramel hardens.
10. Break into uneven pieces with a sharp knife, place on a tray lined with parchment paper and serve. Keep in a box.
In December 2021, we launched the first festival of its kind in the country, which aims to revive home baked goods that are disappearing from the landscape to ensure that they will remain with us for many years to come. We started by researching and locating nine bakers from different ethnicities who prepare traditional pastries that are now extinct, we connected them to 9 selected bakeries from around the country and launched the festival of lost pastries: ten days in which each bakery prepared one pastry and offered it for sale.
About the bakery:
Rosella Yona, pastry chef of Biscotti Bakery, is a member of a Tripolitan family that grew up in Libya and Rome. She chose the halva del ajin because it reminded her a little of the pastries she grew up on: “The use of almonds, walnuts and sugar syrup (which we call honey) is an integral part of the sweets tradition in Tripolitanian cuisine,” she says. “We have the boca de dama, the macarodes, the abamber (soft almond cookies that resemble amaretti), or the debella – fried and caramelized dough cookies. “There is something terribly beautiful in the creativity behind the halva del ajin that was born out of a need to compensate for poverty and gave birth to something new and delicious.”