A Pastry of Regional Christian Celebration
A traditional pastry, the Saint Barbara Maakron fills the Christian Lebanese homes, on the 4th day of every December, with the aroma of baking semolina and Anise.
Although connected to a religious celebration, this particular pastry is available in most pastry stores nationwide, and loved by all regardless of religions.
For the Christian communities all over Lebanon, the 4th of December is a day for the Maakron making. “It’s the Berbara! I am making Maakron!” is what you most hear that day.
As I mentioned in my 10 Best Lebanese Pastries, the reason of the Maakron being connected to the Christian martyr Saint Barbara (300 A.D.) is not documented. Traditions speak of the correlation of the recipe’s wheat with her miracle in the wheat field. Hence, the Maakron is made in her memory.
Pastry with a Partner
For this special celebration, the Maakron partners with the Burbara, another traditional wheat-based dessert that is deliciously healthy. In many localities, it is mostly known as Amhiyeh, a derivative of Ameh (Wheat).
It consists of boiled wheat with added pomegranate, raisins, nuts, shredded coconut, blossom water and sugar. It is served in bowls, and consumed with a teaspoon.
A Pastry with a Long Tradition
Both the Maakron and the Burbara are offered that day to children – and children at heart – as they pass by the houses, in disguise. The streets would fill with them singing cheerfully Eid El-Berbara, Eid El-Berbara, meaning Feast of the Barbara.
A famous slogan you hear them singing is Hashli Berbara, wel ameh bel couara, which translates into “Flee away Barbara and the wheat is in the bowl.”
It is important to emphasize that the disguise of that day has nothing to do with the Western Halloween, which started much later in the North American culture. Ours is a tribute to the celebrated martyr who had to disguise herself in order to flee torture and death at the hands of the pagans.
My best memories of the Saint Barbara go back in time to the town of Jeita in particular. After the evening mass, the streets filled with groups of both children and adults in disguise, all singing and cheering. Families kept their doors wide opened to receive them, offer Maakrons, and share blessing wishes.
Maakron is also part of the Saint Barbara’s celebration of the Christians in many of our neighboring countries, like Palestine, Jordan, and Syria.
The Maakron Pastry Rolls
The main feature of the Maakron Pastry is its squashy texture: Crunchy from the outside, soft from the inside.
It is made of fine semolina and wheat flour, mixed with sugar, vegetable oil, baking powder and and infusion of anise and fennel seeds. Fried or baked, it is then soaked in sugar-syrup for a heavy sweetening.
Not to confuse with the French cookie “Macaron”. It is neither a Lebanese version of the French Beignets.
In fact, the name Macaron of the well-known French cookie is nothing more, or less, than a softer phonetic of the Arabic term Maakron, meaning “Squashy”.
Some different versions of the Maakron pastry surged in the region, notably in Egypt and Syria. They look similar to ours, but of different recipes and names. I cite:
- Assabe’h Zainab, which translates into Zainab’s Fingers (Egypt)
- Balah El-Sham, which means The Date of Damascus.
However, the late has no date fruit in its recipe. It was probably named as such to refer to its similarity to the size and form of the date fruit.
Back to our Saint Barbara Maakron, I am providing you with a recipe that is easier, lighter, and healthier to certain extent.
Enjoy it! And Share it if you like it!
Maakron Al-Barbara Pastry
- 1 tbsp Anise
- 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
- 2 cups Flour unbleached all-purpose
- 1 cup Fine Semolina
- 1/2 cup White Sugar
- 2 tbsps Fennel Seeds
- 1/2 cup Vegetable Oil
- 3/4 cup Water
For the Lebanese Syrup
- 2 cups White Sugar
- 2 cups Water
- 1 tsp Orange-Blossom Water or Rosewater, as desired
- 1 tsp Fresh Lemon Juice
- 1 Grater or similar to shape the rolls
- Sieve or Strainer
Making the Dough
In a small saucepan, add the water, the fennel and the anise, mix and bring to a boil on medium heat.
Remove from heat, cover and leave it for 15 minutes, then strain the water.
In a separate recipient, mix the flour with the semolina, the sugar, the baking powder and the oil.
Knead the dough, and start pouring gradually the infusion of anise while kneading.
When you get a moist yet firm dough, leave it for 30 minutes to rest.
Preparing the Syrup
Over medium heat, mix water and sugar in a casserole.
When the sugar melts, stir in the lemon juice, and lower the heat.
Leave it to simmer for about 10 minutes or until it thickens.
Remove from the heat, stir in the orange blossom water, and set aside.
Rolling and Shaping the Dough
Divide the dough into small balls of about 2 inches.
Roll each between your palms to get longer shape, and set aside.
It's now time to preheat your oven at 180°C (356°F)
Press each dough piece on the grater while rolling it, then make a small vertical cut along the back of the dough piece.
As you do the above, place the rolls side by side in a non-stick baking pan.
The original recipe requires that you deep fry the rolls in hot oil until they become golden in color (about 3 minutes). If you opt for this less healthy version, make sure to drain them from the excess of oil when you remove them from the oil and before you move to the next step: soaking them in Syrup.
Bake and Soak
Bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden and soft crunchy.
Remove them from the oven, and soak them at once in the Syrup for about 15 minutes.
Remove the Maakrons from the Syrup one by one and place them on a serving plate of your choice ,by layers, on top of each other. Refer to the photos for inspiration. Be creative in the presentation: From a round cambered mount to an oval display, they always look very appealing!
This pastry could be eaten warm or at room temperature.
I do not recommend placing them in the fridge as you will end but with hardened rolls!