Assuming I would have some new-found confidence in my baking skills, I offered to bring the dessert to Todd’s and my quarterly-ish dinner club. The hosts pick a country and they are responsible for the appetizers and main entrée. The two other couples battle it out for choice of either the side or dessert. Okay, I exaggerate about battling it out, but interestingly, none of the three women (or any of the men for that matter) in the dinner club embrace baking and have generally reluctantly agreed to bring the dessert. I’m wondering if this is a generational thing?
However, knowing that this dinner club would be focused on Morocco, which has a long history with France (and my pastry class is all about French fundamentals), I was certain I would have an ace in the hole. I was thinking there must be Moroccan eclair versions or Moroccan tarts. Guess what? There aren’t. Instead, the most traditional of Moroccan desserts is “snake cake.” What? Yes, snake cake. The country was occupied by the French for 44 years and snake cake is what they eat for dessert? This couldn’t be. But, it is. Using my expert Googling skills, I confirmed this from numerous sources. And the internet doesn’t lie. The other choice was gazelle’s horns. What is with these people, seriously? So, since snake cake is much more fun to say, snake cake it would be. So much for putting to use my budding new skills and confidence.
Snake cake is actually known as m’hanncha in Moroccan, but m’hanncha is the Moroccan word only for snake (and I have no idea how to pronounce m’hanncha so you’re on your own on that). So why isn’t it called m’hanncha plus the Moroccan word for cake? Granted, the dessert looks like a big snake coiled up, so maybe they consider it self-explanatory. But if I see the word snake under the dessert section of a menu, I am not ordering it. I’m sorry, I just won’t do it . Whatever, we’ll let them worry about that.
Snake cake consists of an orange-almond paste that is wrapped in phyllo dough, coiled around into said snake shape and then baked. Once baked, it is then covered in an orange flower water-honey syrup. It’s quite easy, really. And, I think it tastes similar to baklava, in case you are wondering if you would like it.
The recipe I followed was one I found on Epicurious. Thankfully, I cross-referenced it with one I also found on ifood.tv, which I will tell you why in a little bit. The ifood.tv recipe also included a video by Cooking with Alia. At first glance it seemed rather goofy, but Alia saved my snake cake’s butt in the end. If you are thinking about making snake cake, I recommend you watch the video. I also recommend that you continue reading to see how Alia’s video saved my snake cake.
First, the Epicurious recipe does not mention that phyllo dough dries out very quickly. Well, it does. As shown in the video, keep the dough moist by covering it with a damp towel while you work with it.
Second, the Epicurious recipe calls for making three coils using four phyllo sheets per coil (a total of 12 sheets). Based on the amount of almond paste made by the recipe, I found that the coils had too much almond paste in each coil and were difficult to roll up. In the ifood.tv video, Alia uses only three sheets of phyllo. The next time I make this, I’ll use the Epicurious recipe, but I will make four coils, instead of three, and will use three sheets per coil (still a total of 12 phyllo dough sheets).
The third, and final, reason Alia’s video saved my snake cake is the baking time. The Epicurious recipe calls for baking the snake cake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. At 25 minutes, I was getting annoyed. At 30 minutes, I was getting worried. At 32 minutes, I watched the video again and wished I wouldn’t have fast forwarded it right at the baking segment the first time I watched it. Turns out, Alia was right again. It takes a solid 35-40 minutes to get the coils all nice and golden brown. (Note to self: Add a snarky review to the Epicurious recipe and specifically point out the vastly incorrect baking time.)
One more thing, the Epicurious recipe doesn’t call for the orange flower-honey syrup, but the ifood.tv recipe includes it. I went ahead and did it, and I think it added another dimension to the cake. I’d recommend taking that extra step – it’s a simple one.
So, there you have it: m’hanncha. Snake…Cake.