© Linda Pugliese
Cornes de gazelle
Classic confections that'll transport you to the Middle East
These almond-filled cookies are baked until just set but not coloured so that they remain delicate, breaking as soon as you bite them and then melting in your mouth.
Even though every self-respecting Moroccan cook knows how to make cornes de gazelle — French for “gazelle’s horns” — they are often purchased from specialists.
The pastries are normally offered at the end of fancy dinner parties known as diffa (from diyafa, meaning “hospitality” in Arabic), or served throughout the day alongside mint tea.
For the almond filling
3¾ c. (500 g) blanched almonds
¾ c. (180 ml) superfine sugar
¼ c. (60 ml) orange blossom water
2 tbsp. (30 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 to 8 small grains mastic (see note below), crushed in a small mortar with a pestle to yield ½ tsp. (2.5 ml) powdered mastic
For the pastry
1½ c. (375 ml) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. (30 g) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for rolling out the pastry
6½ tbsp. (100 ml) water
Put the almonds in a medium heatproof bowl. Pour in enough boiling water to cover and soak for 30 minutes. Drain the almonds and dry them well on a clean kitchen towel.
In a food processor, working in batches if necessary, process the almonds and superfine sugar to a very fine paste, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the orange blossom water, butter and mastic; mix with your hands until you have a homogeneous paste. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and set aside.
Put the flour in a large, shallow mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the melted butter and slowly add the water as you gradually stir the butter into the flour with your hand or a spatula. (Some cooks use orange blossom water instead of regular water, but that makes for very fragrant pastries). Knead the mixture in the bowl for 15 minutes, or until a smooth, malleable dough forms.
Divide the filling into 40 pieces, rolling each piece between the palms of your hands into a 2-inch (5-cm) ball. Shape each ball into a cylinder about 4 inches (10 cm) long, with tapering ends. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Smear your pastry board or work surface, rolling pin and hands with melted butter. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a rectangle measuring about 4 by 8 inches (10 by 20 cm). Roll out one half, turning it over once or twice, into a very thin strip about 5 inches (12.5 cm) wide and 20 inches (50 cm) long. Carefully stretch the dough with your hands to thin it out a little more and lengthen it to about 25 inches (60 cm).
With the dough positioned perpendicular to the counter’s edge, place a piece of filling along a short end, about 1 inch (2.5 cm) away from the edge. Fold the 1-inch (2.5-cm) edge tightly over the filling and pinch the filling, bending it at the same time to form a crescent with a thin triangular body and pointed ends; it should be a little wider than the initial cylinder of filling and flat on the bottom. Press the edges of the dough together and cut using a fluted pastry wheel, following the shape of the crescent and keeping very close to the edge of the filling. The crescent should measure about 4 inches (10 cm) wide by 1¼ inch (3 cm) high. Prick it with a toothpick in several places on both sides and set on a prepared baking sheet. Form more cornes de gazelle in the same way; you should have enough to make 20 crescents. Space them about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart on the baking sheet.
Bake until barely coloured, 15 to 20 minutes. Let the pastries cool a little and then carefully transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. While the first batch is baking, begin forming the second lot, and bake and cool in the same way. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days. Makes 40 cookies.
Mastic is a dried resin that seeps out of the bark of the Pistacia lentiscus (the same genus as pistachios), an evergreen tree native to the Mediterranean basin.
There are two kinds of dried mastic: clear, tiny grains called dahtilidopetres (flintstones) and the larger, spotted soft ones known as kantiles (blisters). The latter is the coarser grade. It is normally used for chewing — the resin is a natural chewing gum — while the finer grade is used in cooking. These days, however, it’s becoming more difficult to purchase “flintstones.”
Some mastic grains are very large. The grains used in the gazelle horns recipe should be smaller than half the size of a cannellini bean. Reserve a small mortar and pestle that you use only for mastic so as to not corrupt the flavour, and crush the grains on demand. If you crush more than you need, wrap your mortar with plastic wrap and keep until you next need the mastic, or transfer to a jar for storage. You can keep it in the refrigerator, but it’s not necessary. Mastic will keep for up to 1 year.
Editor’s note: Mastic is sold in Middle Eastern and Greek stores. It looks like little golden opaque crystals and is usually sold in bottles. Its flavour has been described as slightly piny or like cedar. Some cooks omit it entirely if it’s too difficult to find.
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