Halwa Chebakia (sometimes spelled chebbakia or shebakia) is a Moroccan sesame cookie which is shaped into a flower, fried and then coated with honey. Also known as mkharka, it's usually served during Ramadan and for special occasions.
Chebakia is time-consuming to make. Most Moroccan women enlist the help of a sister, mother or friend for the preparation of a large quantity.
This is my sister-in-law's recipe. I've reduced her normal quantities by half to make the batch more manageable for those cooking alone.
- About 4 cups flour (plus additional if necessary)
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 soup bowl full of golden unhulled sesame seeds (toasted)
- 1 1/2 tsp. ground anise
- 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. saffron threads (crumbled)
- 1/8 tsp. Moroccan yellow colorant (or 1/2 teaspoon turmeric)
- Pinch of mastic or gum arabic grains, mixed with 1/4 tsp. of sugar and crushed into a powder
- 1 extra-large egg
- 1/4 cup butter (melted)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup vinegar
- 1/4 cup orange flower water
- 1 tsp. yeast dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
- About 5 cups (4 lbs.) honey
- 2 tbsp. orange flower water
- About 6.5 cups vegetable oil (for frying)
- 1/2 cup golden unhulled sesame seeds, toasted (for decorating)
Toast Sesame Seeds for the Chebakia
Ahead of time, pick through the sesame seeds to remove any debris.
Spread them on a baking pan and toast the sesame in a 400 F (200 C) oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the sesame seeds are crunchy and nutty-flavored.
Allow them to cool thoroughly, and then store in an airtight container until ready to use.
Make the Chebakia Dough
Grind one bowlful of toasted sesame in a food processor until it turns powdery. Keep grinding until the powder becomes moist enough to press or pack.
Mix the ground sesame with the flour and other dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Add the remaining ingredients and mix with your hands to form a dough. Add more flour if necessary to achieve a dough that is rather stiff but pliable.
Knead the dough by hand for seven to eight minutes or in a mixer with dough hook for four to five minutes.
Divide the dough into four portions, shape each into a smooth mound, and place the dough in a plastic bag to rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
Roll and Cut the Dough
The rolling out and folding process is described below.
Take one of the portions of dough, and roll it out to the thickness of a thin piece of cardboard. Lightly flour your work surface if necessary.
Use a pastry cutter to cut the dough into rectangles approximately the size of your palm.
Make four evenly spaced cuts lengthwise in each rectangle. These cuts should be almost the length of the rectangle, but should not cut through to the edges of the dough. The resulting rectangle will have five strips of attached dough.
Fold the Chebakia
Take a rectangle, and thread the middle finger of your right hand through alternating strips of dough. This enables the rectangle to drape over your finger.
With your left hand, pinch together the outer corners of dough which hang over the tip of your finger. This will form the center of the flower shape.
While holding the pinched corners with your left hand, allow the strips of dough to slide down off your right finger while gently turning them inside-out around the pinched portion. Gently pinch the opposite corners closed once the dough is turned inside out. If done correctly, you'll have formed the dough into an elongated flower shape.
Place the folded piece of dough on a baking sheet or tray. Repeat the process with the remaining rectangles and mounds of dough. Gather together the scraps of dough as you work, mold them together into a mound, and return them to the bag to rest before you try rolling them out again.
Use up all of your dough in this manner. Cover the trays of folded dough with a towel until ready to fry.
Frying the Chebakia
Heat one inch of oil in a large, deep frying pan over medium heat.
At the same time, heat the honey almost to boiling in a large pot. When the honey is frothy but not bubbling, add the orange flower water to the honey and turn off the heat.
When the oil is hot, cook the chebakia in batches. Adjust the heat as necessary to slowly fry each batch of chebakia to a medium brown color. This should take about 10 minutes if the oil is the correct temperature. If the oil is too hot, the chebakia will color quickly but the insides will not be cooked crispy.
Soaking the Chebakia in Honey
When the chebakia are cooked to a medium golden brown, use a slotted spoon or strainer to transfer them from the oil directly to the hot honey. Gently push down on the chebakia to submerge them in the honey, and allow them to soak for 5 to 7 minutes. They'll turn a rich, glossy amber color as they absorb the honey. In the meantime, you can begin frying another batch of cookies. (Note: The longer you soak the chebakia, the more honey they will absorb, and the sweeter and less crispy they become. How long to soak them is a matter of personal preference. However, too short of a soaking will result in pale-colored chebakia that eventually lose their glossy coating.)
When the chebakia have finished soaking, remove them from the honey to a strainer or colander, and allow them to drain for only a few minutes.
Gently transfer them while hot to a large platter or tray, and sprinkle the centers with sesame. As you finish soaking other batches of chebakia in the honey, simply drain and add them to the platter in a mound, garnishing each batch with sesame. (Note: If the honey cools and thickens before you've finished making all the cookies, simply reheat it briefly over medium-low heat. This can be done even if some chebakia are in the pot soaking.)
Storing and Serving the Chebakia
Allow the chebakia to cool for several hours before putting them in an airtight container for storage. They'll keep at room temperature for a month or longer, and will freeze well for four or five months.
Serve chebakia with harira, at iftar for Ramadan, or with tea or coffee.