Filo dough experts, this cake is for you.
Everyone else, this cake is for you, too.
I definitely fall in the latter group — me and filo dough, we’re not so much the bffs. It’s one of those out-of-balance relationships, where I like filo (a lot) more than filo likes me (not at all).
But I keep trying, and someday, I might just win filo over. In the meantime, there’s this cake.
Almond and pistachio paste scented with rose water and citrus zests — classic Moroccan flavors — wrapped in filo and coiled like a serpent. It’s amazing and wonderful, and no one will care that the filo is cracked.
It looks impossibly difficult, but is surprisingly easy. The almond paste comes together quickly — without machinery — and even the filo isn’t terribly hard to manage. You’re just rolling it up, not forming adorable little purses or pouches. Which is where I draw the line. Or rather, filo draws the line with me.
My special gift is tearing filo sheets in all the places where tears absolutely shouldn’t be — I’m positive y’all will do a much better job of it.
I came across this recipe while watching a Jamie Oliver video earlier this year, and was left completely gobsmacked by this dessert. I had to make it immediately, even though I knew I would make a mess of the filo dough. I did, and it really, truly doesn’t matter. Just patch and move on.
I hesitated for a long time, posting this here on the blog in all its imperfection — the tube should be more, um, tubey, so that the coils are clearly visible when the cake is sliced — but in the end, I just had to post it anyway. It’s too good not to share.
And, it’s okay if it doesn’t turn out perfectly (I have to repeat this to myself every time I reach for the box of filo).
But for you filo experts out there, it will and it’ll be all the more fabulous with perfect coils.
(The section on the snake cake begins at about the 3:00 minute mark.)
M’hanncha – Moroccan snake cake
adapted from Jamie Oliver Food Escapes – Marrakesh Part 2
Jamie’s demo of the snake cake is around the 3:00m mark in the video. The recipe here is for a slightly smaller cake (about 2/3rds the size of Jamie’s – 8 to 10 slices), and I’ve converted the measurements to imperial.
1/2 cup butter, softened to room temperature
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 cups almond flour*
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons rose water
zest from one lemon
zest from one orange
1/3 cup pistachios, chopped or roughly ground
9 sheets of filo dough (plus extra for repairs)
granulated sugar, for sprinkling
rosebuds, for garnish (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs. The mixture will look quite broken and curdled. Stir in the almond flour, which will pull everything together quite nicely.
3. Add the all-purpose flour, rose water and zests, stirring to incorporate. Finally, add the pistachios to the almond paste.
4. On a long, clean work surface**, line up five of the filo sheets, lengthwise, end-to-end (short ends touching). Lay the remaining four sheets on top, staggering so that the center of each top sheet lies on the seam of two bottom sheets.
5. Spoon the almond paste down the length of the filo sheets, along the edge nearest you, about 2 inches from the edge. Sprinkle sugar over the almond paste.
6. Working quickly, roll the filo around the paste, like a cigar – one rotation at only at this point – moving down the length of the filo. With the first roll entirely complete, continue rolling until you’ve created a tube. Starting at one end, begin coiling the tube flat along the work surface, taking care not to crack the filo too badly as you roll. Repair any cracks with the extra filo brushed with melted butter.
7. Transfer to a baking sheet (I always used a rimmed sheet) and bake for 40 minutes. Remove, and allow to cool.
8. Dust with extra confectioners’ sugar and garnish with small rose buds (if using)
*You can grind fresh almonds to make your own almond flour. Use about 2 heaping cups of almonds (as measured before grinding).
**To keep the cracking to a minimum, I lay out the filo sheets on parchment paper, with the last piece lining a rimmless baking sheet. I find the parchment paper to be a good aid in making that first roll, getting the filo up and over the almond paste. Plus, I always seem to make a mess of things, getting almond paste everywhere. In the video, Jamie recommends doing this on your dining room table. I would not. After the coil is formed, I lift the coil and the parchment paper, transferring the whole thing to a rimmed baking sheet — if the filo cracks (and mine always does), almond past will ooze out.