Moroccan Christmas: M’hencha and More

Grab a cup of coffee or tea because it’s a long post today.  For what I believe is my favorite family tradition (yes, even more than fourth of July fireworks), we have an ethnic dinner every Christmas eve.  This year the choice was Moroccan.  I made an appetizer, a chili sauce, and this dessert:  M’hencha with orange and pine nuts.

moroccan mhenchaThere were themes in our dinner – there were a few dishes with couscous, a few with cilantro, a few with almonds or other nuts.  This is my cousin’s Seffa – beef couscous topped with nuts, cocoa powder and powdered sugar.
couscousMy mother made a lamb tagine with carrots and potatoes.beef tagineTo go with Mom’s tagine, I made a spicy harissa sauce. I also made a quick appetizer, which is basically a roasted and cooked salsa called taktouka.  Kyle was kind enough to make a quick run to the store for flatbread, which he toasted under the broiler to make some flatbread chips to eat it with.
moroccan taktoukaThere were lots of other dishes that I don’t have photos of, but rest assured we were well-fed that night and it was all very delicious.  Some of the other dishes include salmon cakes, carrot-ginger soup, spiced nuts and apricots, and cinnamon orange slices.  The recipe I would like to share with you is one of our desserts: m’hencha.  Basically it is phyllo dough wrapped around an almond paste, topped with honey, orange zest and toasted pine nuts.
moroccan mhenchaI started out by making the almond paste.  Almonds, sugar and cinnamon.
IMG_4214abPut it all through a food processor until ground.  Mine was a bit grainy, but I don’t think that adversely affected the texture of the end product.
IMG_4218aAdd some egg yolks and butter (I didn’t have the orange flower water) and mix thoroughly, then refrigerate for at least an hour.  Then separate into 8 equal pieces.
 IMG_4220aNext we get right into final assembly.  Because I was working with phyllo dough, I was moving fast, so all photos were taken by Kyle.  That also means they were all taken in the kitchen, where we have the WORST lighting.  Anyway, phyllo dough dries out quickly, so I kept a damp towel over my stack of phyllo sheets on deck.  I took the sheets, two at a time, and brushed some melted butter between them.
IMG_4243aIt was easiest to brush the butter in two steps, so that I didn’t mess up the alignment between the sheets.  I lifted up half of the top sheet, brushed the butter, then put them back together again.  Then I’d lift up the other half of the top sheet, brush the butter, then put them back together.  Hopefully that makes sense.
IMG_4253abAfter the two sheets were buttered together, I used an egg wash along the bottom edge of the phyllo dough, because that becomes the seam when it is all rolled up.
IMG_4232aAfter that, I took one of the eighths of almond paste and rolled it into a rope that was almost as long as the phyllo dough.  My tip:  make the almond paste roll JUST as long as the phyllo dough.  I thought I might want some leeway there, but I really didn’t need it.
IMG_4231aNow roll it all up…
IMG_4235a…and start making the coil.
IMG_4237aContinue until all the almond paste is used up.
IMG_4260aNow use the remaining butter to coat the whole coil.
moroccan mhenchaBake for half an hour until golden brown.moroccan mhenchaThe coils on the outer diameter spread apart a little bit, and then the almond paste leached out and burned.  This could have been avoided by using a round pan with sides, however I did not know what size the final product would be (and I don’t have a pan big enough anyway). 
moroccan mhencha with almond fillingNow the whole thing gets coated in honey and orange zest.
moroccan mhencha with almond filling 1And sprinkled with roasted pine nuts.
moroccan mhencha with almond fillingThe whole thing was really delicious, not overly sweet or almondy, and the phyllo dough got nice and crunchy.  I am really happy with the final product.  If I were to make it again, I would have made two smaller coils instead of one big one.  I would probably make two different fillings as well.

Moroccan M’hencha

Moroccan M’hencha

Moroccan M'hencha is a dessert made of delicate phyllo pastry with a sweetened cinnamon-almond filling. M'hencha means 'coiled like a snake,' which is reflected in the coiled appearance of the dessert.


  • 2 1/2 c. almonds
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 c. butter (2 sticks)
  • 2 eggs, separated into yolks and whites
  • 16 sheets phyllo dough
  • 1/3 c. honey
  • zest of one orange
  • 2 tbs pine nuts, toasted*


  1. Process the almonds, sugar and cinnamon in a food processor until finely ground. Add 1/2 cup of butter (1 stick) and the egg yolks. Mix well and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Divide the almond mixture into 8 equal pieces.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Put a sheet of parchment paper over a large cookie sheet. Prepare a clean tea towel by dampening it with hot water. Melt the remaining 1/2 cup of butter. Have the egg whites on hand.
  3. Put two sheets of phyllo dough on your work surface, then cover the remaining phyllo dough with the damp towel to keep from drying out. Brush melted butter between the two sheets of phyllo dough. Take an eighth of the almond mixture and roll it into a rope that is the same length as the phyllo dough. Place the rope at the top long edge of the dough, then brush the egg wash along the opposite edge. Starting at the almond mixture end, roll the phyllo dough up. Coil the roll into the center of the parchment paper. Continue this process with the remaining phyllo dough and almond mixture, until it is one continuous coil on the parchment paper.
  4. Brush the coil with any remaining butter. Bake at 375 for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
  5. Mix the honey and orange zest, then warm them up (30 seconds in the microwave should be sufficient). Drizzle the honey mixture over the coil. Top with roasted pine nuts.
  6. Serve at room temperature. I garnished mine with the orange that I had zested.

*To toast pine nuts, place them in a dry pan over medium heat on the stove. Give them a quick stir every twenty seconds or so, until they start evenly browning on all sides. Take them off the heat and let them cool. Pine nuts are optional, so if you don't have any, feel free to sub in some almonds or just skip the nuts entirely.

recipe barely adapted from taste

moroccan mhencha with almond fillingHappy Holidays to all!

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