Making Mufleta, History’s Oldest Jewish Pastry, for the Holidays
The discovery happened as I was sifting through medieval cookbooks of the Iberian Peninsula. The recipes were all in Arabic, written during the period when Spain was ruled by the Islamic empire of the Moors, but I was studying them looking for highlights of Spanish-Jewish culinary heritage. That was how I discovered what is probably the first recipe for mufleta, also sometimes called mofletta, a pastry prepared by Moroccan Jews on Mimouna, the festive celebration marking the end of Passover.
The oldest known cookbook written in Arabic under Muslim rule of Spain, is the anonymous Andalusian Kitāb al-Tabīẖ, [The Cookbook]. That The Cookbook unexpectedly includes six Jewish recipes is all the more interesting as it is the only cookbook from the Iberian Peninsula to contain any explicitly Jewish dishes.
I identified two recipes in The Cookbook that correspond to the famous mufleta, “Murakkaba” and “Murakkaba Layered with Dates.” This sweet dish is “composed” (the meaning of the word murakkaba in Arabic) of alternating layers of dough “glued” to each other.
The Cookbook does not say anything about Jewish methods of preparation, which may be attributable to the fraught historical context in which the Kitāb al-Tabīẖ was written—a time when Jews were sometimes forced to hide their culinary practices. On the other hand, it may show the impossibility of establishing clear demarcations between Jewish and Muslim cuisines. Only an attentive review of the 462 recipes of dishes in The Cookbook allowed me to discover this innovative Jewish recipe—the first-ever recipe for mufleta, which is prepared until today by Moroccan Sephardic Jews.
This dish is also important as an illustration of Jewish culinary heritage in the Middle Ages. Recipe titles may have varied throughout the ages, ingredients may have been modified, but culinary techniques have remained intact—one of the main identifying markers of Jewish dishes.
One of my culinary creations shared here is based on the “Murakkaba” recipe of The Cookbook. As a pastry for Rosh Hashanah, I have incorporated apples into this mufleta.
The first layer of dough is fried in oil and afterward coated with a layer of tender apple strips sprinkled with chopped dates and sugar. It is then covered with a new layer of dough. We flip the whole preparation and add on top the apple and date strips which are then covered with a third layer of dough, and so on. This forms a tower of layers “composed” of dough, apple, and dates “glued” to each other.
Once finished, drizzle the tower with melted butter and hot honey. Shanah Tovah!
Rosh Hashanah Mufleta
Time: 30 – 45 minutes
Yield: 4 – 6 servings
0.18 ounce fresh yeast
1 cup extra fine semolina
2 ¾ cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup water to dissolve the yeast
1/8 cup sugar
1 cup water
Neutral oil for frying
Sugar to sprinkle
1 cup honey
½ cup butter
Apple and Date Mixture:
2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
5 apples cut into very thin strips
10 dates cut into small pieces
1. Peel the apples and cut them into thin strips
2. Boil water with cinnamon
3. Add the apple slices and allow them to cook for 7 minutes
4. Drain the apples and put them aside
1. Chop the dates into small cubes and set aside
1. Dissolve the yeast in lukewarm water
2. In a bowl mix all the ingredients of the dough then add last the dissolved yeast
3. Mix to food processor for 5 minutes at medium speed
1. Heat the neutral oil in a frying pan
2. Take a piece of dough (like a Ping-Pong ball) and spread it in a thin circle about 7 inches in diameter
3. Place this dough circle in the oil and cook for 2 minutes
4. Return it to the pan and immediately cover with apple slices, 1 spoonful of dates, and 2 teaspoons sugar. Lay over another circle of dough. Press lightly and return the stack to the pan.
Add 2 teaspoons of water with cinnamon used to cook the apples.
5. Top with a layer of apple slices and 1 spoonful of dates, sprinkle with sugar. Add a new dough circle, press lightly and return to the frying pan. Add 2 teaspoons of water and cinnamon used to cook the apples.
6. Add a little oil if necessary.
7. Continue in the same way until the ingredients are exhausted.
8. For the last dough circle, sprinkle sugar on top before returning it to the pan.
9. When finished, put the dish on a plate.
10. Make a hole in the center of the tower with a baguette (optional) and pour in the melted butter and hot honey.