Although Kaab el Ghazal literally translates from Moroccan Arabic as "gazelle ankles," these crescent-shaped cookies are famously known as Gazelle Horns, or Cornes de Gazelle in French. They're frequently served at special occasions.
Almond paste scented with orange flower water and cinnamon is enclosed in a delicate pastry, molded into a crescent, and then baked until barely golden. A dip in orange flower water followed by a dusting of powdered sugar is optional – in that case, the pastries are referred to as Kaab el Ghazal M'fenned.
- ----- For the Almond Paste -----
- 1 1b. (about 500 g) blanched (skinned) almonds
- 1 1/3 cups (275 g) sugar
- 1/3 cup (75 ml) orange flower water
- 1/4 cup (60 g) unsalted butter, melted
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- tiny pinch of mastic or gum arabic powder (optional)
- ----- For the Pastry Dough -----
- 3 cups (375 g) flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 small eggs (or 1 1/2 large eggs)
- 3/4 cup (170 g) unsalted butter, melted
- 4 to 5 tablespoons orange flower water
- ----- For the Optional Egg Wash -----
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon orange flower water
- ----- For Optional Kaab el Ghazal M'Fenned -----
- orange flower water, for dipping
- powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)
Make the Almond Paste
Pass the blanched almonds several times through a meat grinder to form a paste. (OR, grind the almonds in a food processor for five minutes or longer, until a moldable paste has formed.)
With your hands, thoroughly mix the ground almonds with the sugar, cinnamon, orange flower water and gum Arabic powder into a smooth, moist paste. If desired, a little more sugar, cinnamon or orange flower water can be added to taste.
Take a small portion of the almond paste mixture and shape it into sausage-like sticks about the size of your small finger. Repeat with the remaining almond paste, cover, and set aside. (The prepared almond paste can be refrigerated at this stage for up to several days.)
Make the Pastry Dough
Mix all ingredients together to form a soft dough, and knead by hand for 20 minutes or longer, until the dough is very smooth and elastic. (OR, mix the dough in a food processor with a dough attachment, or in a stand mixer with a dough hook. Knead the dough in the machine for 5 to 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.)
Divide the dough into 4 to 6 portions, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to rest for 15 minutes or longer.
Shape the Kaab el Ghazal
Very lightly dust a work surface with flour. Roll a portion of dough until quite thin, about the thickness of a very thin piece of cardboard. Lift up the dough and reposition it several times as you work to facilitate the rolling-out.
Lay a stick of paste near the top of the dough. Fold the top edge of the dough snugly down around the almond paste to conceal it, allowing a slight overlap of dough. Press the folded dough to seal it tightly around the almond paste. (Depending on the width of the dough you've rolled out, you might be able to arrange two or more sticks of paste in a row before folding over the dough. Allow about 1 1/2 inches between the sticks of paste when doing this.)
Use your fingers to pinch and mold the concealed almond paste into a crescent shape with the outside of the curve facing you, as in the letter "U". Further mold the crescent into the traditional kaab el ghazal shape, tapered at the tips and wider along the base. Keep in mind that the cookies will swell slightly when baked, so it's okay to mold the cookies so that they appear a bit narrow.
Carefully cut out the crescent using a pastry wheel or knife – a fluted pastry wheel offers the nicest edge. Check to be sure the cut edges are sealed together; if not, pinch the dough to properly enclose the almond paste. Transfer the cookie to an ungreased baking sheet.
Repeat with the remaining dough and paste. Keep any dough not being used under the plastic wrap. As you work, gather up the dough scraps, shape them into balls, and return to the plastic to rest before rolling out again.
Bake the Cookies
If time allows, leave the shaped cookies to rest, uncovered, for an hour or longer before baking.
Preheat the oven to 350° F (180° C).
The optional egg wash gives an appealing sheen to the baked cookies. Make the egg wash by beating together 1 egg with 1 tablespoon of orange flower water. Lightly brush the wash onto the cookies. Then, with a long pin or needle, prick two or three holes in the ridge along the top of each cookie.
Bake the cookies in the middle of the preheated oven, one baking sheet at a time, for about 12 minutes, or until barely golden. (Avoid over baking, as this will harden the pastry and toughen the almond paste.)
Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool thoroughly before storing in a plastic container.
Optional Kaab el Ghazal M'Fenned
While the baked cookies are still warm, quickly dip them in orange flower water, shake off the excess, and roll them in powdered sugar.
If you don't want strong orange flower water flavor, sprinkle the cookies with orange flower water instead and then roll them in powdered sugar. Or, eliminate the orange flower water and simply roll the warm kaab el ghazal in powdered sugar.
Kaab el Ghazal keep well at room temperature when stored in a plastic container. They can be frozen for up to several months.