In the central market of Casablanca,
I found a Bastila sheets maker and was mesmerised by the whole process. This laborious and time consuming process of skillfully making individual paper-thin sheets that are then used in the making of Morocco’s most prestigious dish Bastila (as pronounced by the locals, otherwise known as Bastilla, Pastilla or Pastille) is a craft that is passed through the generations, taught by parents and carried on by the new generation. The Moroccans believe that this is one ingredient that has to continue; as it is one heavily used in Moroccan cuisine – besides their use in the making of Bastila, these sheets are also used in the making of Moroccan Briwat (stuffed pastry parcels) and other rolls enclosing a variety of fillings, as well as in the making of some desserts including the sweet Bastila with pastry cream…etc.
For such a heavily used ingredient, I could not help but ask “Do people make these themselves?”
I learnt that like all things time consuming and demanding, nowadays, most people buy ready made Bastila sheets, but some still insist to make these at home and teach this recipe to their children (the future Moroccan cooks). I have also learnt that back in the day, Bastila was left to special occasions due to its demanding nature, and therefore was always tied with special occasions, extravagance and going all out; thus the connotation of prestigious.
Don’t let the simple method in the video above fool you, as this is a fairly new method that made making Bastila sheets so easy, like a walk in the park. The traditional way of making Bastila is more complex (watch the video below).
With that said, it is really great to find ways to make a very laborious and technical recipe become easy and attainable, so that we continue to have the food we love, when not so easily available in the market; and without having to earn a professorial degree in the required skill!
The Traditional Warka
Bastila sheets are essentially made from a sticky dough that is transformed into thin sheets by continuously being tapped over a heated flat metal top (traditionally placed over burning coal). Each time the dough is tapped over the metal a small portion sticks to the surface, so the tapping of the dough is done very fast and each tap is closely adjacent to the next in order to end up with one uniform sheet as you can see in the picture above. The sheets are prepared individually and are then kept wrapped in order not to dry and break.
While traditionally these sheets are made over a metal griddle placed over burning coal, another way that promises very tender results is making the sheets over boiling water instead of coal/wood. The heat of the steam heats up the metal sheet, over which the sheets are to be made, to an ideal temperature that produces more tender sheets that are less flaky than those prepared over coals. The second method had therefore become the most preferred method for making Bastila sheets and the one that you are most likely to find being used in the markets of Morocco.
But since Warka is not always readily available in markets outside of Morocco, and because Bastila is so delicious, I was curious to find a way to make these sheets should the need ever arise. I guess you too don’t want to miss out on this treat – be it the dessert option (my fave) or the savoury/sweet option – So I had done some research and tried a few recipes and found Paula Wolfert’s Recipe for Warqa to be really the simplest and easiest way to make these at home. So I am now using her recipe in making these sheets. Her method includes some cheats as to what I have seen originally made in Morocco, however, and I must say they turn out so good that you would think I was a Bastila Sheet expert! With that said, now that I have found the first video in this post, making warka at home is just as easy as flipping pancakes, in fact, it is way easier than flipping pancakes!
Paula Wolfert’s Warqa Recipe
Because this is not my recipe, I am explaining the method without giving precise measurements. You can find the full recipe with exact measurements in her amazing book “The Food Of Morocco”, which I highly recommend and believe to be the best that’s ever been written about Moroccan Cuisine.
Paula Wolfert’s method is simple. Basically starts with a basic bread dough: the flour, salt and water. However, she mixes 2 types of flour (3/4 parts extra strong white bread flour, needed for its high gluten content and 1/4 part fine semolina) which she seasons with salt and pulses in a processor to aerate and mix. While the mixer is still running, she then adds acidulated water about a cup and a half and once a smooth ball of dough forms she adds about 1 tbsp oil in a thin, steady stream while continuing to process the dough. Then follows with 3/4 cup more water and continues to process until she achieves a smooth batter. This batter is poured into a container and refrigerated overnight.
The next day the batter is ready to use. Snugly fit in a large non-stick frying pan over a pot of boiling water. Grease the pan lightly and wipe any excess with a kitchen towel.
Using a thick pastry brush, stir the batter in the container and lift the brush filled with batter and quickly brush evenly over the whole surface of the hot pan in a circular motion, making sure the layer is very thin. Cook for 2 minutes or until it turns completely white and curls around the edges while still supple. The leaf is cooked on only one side, and is then removed to a kitchen towel, with shiny side up and immediately brushed with cooking oil. Cover with another sheet of kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil and leave the sheet over the Bastila Sheet.
Repeat this process until all sheets are done. Once done, place the sheets, separated by the kitchen paper inside a well sealed plastic bag and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
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