Cooking classes are one of the best ways to get to know a culture.
When I was in Morocco, my riad recommended a baking class at Amal Non-profit, an association dedicated to “empowering women through culinary skills.”
Learning to bake Moroccan goodies and getting to empower women? I was sold!
Amal Baking Class
The baking classes at Amal cost 350 dirham per person.
The price includes 2 hours of baking, a mint tea ceremony, working with Moroccan women and a 250g box of pastries to take home.
Classes run from 2-4pm.
You get to choose which pastry you make: gazelle horns, ghriba, beghrir or msemmen. (I recommend googling them ahead of time to pick which one you want to make.)
Getting to Amal
The baking class takes place outside of the Medina. You’ll have to catch a cab to get there from the centre of the city.
It doesn’t cost much.
Have your riad or hostel help you get a cab. At Amal, they will call a cab for you before you leave if you ask them to. I gave them about 20 minutes notice before I left so the cab had time to get out to us.
My Baking Adventure
I got a solo class by accident since no one else had booked to join me that day. That meant that I got to work with two lovely women: a chef and my English translator, Fatima.
Fatima shared stories with me as the other woman (whose name I have unfortunately forgotten) taught me how to roll the almond ghriba cookies in my palm.
Apparently, I’m very back at making ghriba.
She kept rerolling all of my attempts.
Ghriba are interesting because they are baked on what looks like an upside-down muffin tin. The ghriba are placed on top of the rounded bumps to give them an indent on their bottoms. This seems to also help the top of the cookies crack, which is the distinctive look for the ghriba.
There are no formal recipe cards, which was the only downside of my experience. I would have loved to have a concrete recipe to take home with me. Instead, I wrote down the rough estimates of what we used to be able to try to recreate at home (which I still haven’t done).
Our cookie baking hadn’t taken very long with just one person for them to instruct, so I got to play around with extra dough. Fatima and the chef let me cut out sablis for the kitchen and roll out the dough with what looked like a pasta press.
Again, it turns out I’m not great at this.
Apparently my expert cookie skills were exaggerated during our Christmas cookie baking evenings with my cousins.
With both cookies in the oven, Fatima took me around the grounds to learn more about Amal.
The Amal Center works to help disadvantaged women by giving them English lessons and restaurant training. Amal provides women with special skills classes and cooking lessons to help them start careers in the food industry in Morocco. Through 6 month placements, these women are trained to be able to make a living that will allow them to help support their families.
Taking a class with or dining at Amal helps support these endeavours.
Amal has two locations: one in Gueliz and one in Targa. My baking class took place at Targa – their second center.
Fatima took me around Targa to see the major kitchens that are used to serve the restaurant. I got to peek into a classroom where the women are taught special skills, like English. We wandered past a traditional berber mud oven and the outdoor restaurant seating.
The center is a mix of traditional and modern with its berber oven outside and modern ovens inside. It’s an interesting blend of old and new Morocco; much like the women are. These women are traditional Moroccan women who are taking on modern careers in restaurants and hotels to support their families.
The center is a small example of what’s going on throughout Marrakech: the blend of old with the new.
Moroccan Mint Tea Ceremony
Amal grows their own herbs in a backyard garden where I was able to handpick mint for my mint tea ceremony.
Fatima sat with me on a Berber carpet to teach me to make the traditional Moroccan mint tea. She taught me how to measure out the ingredients and never to stir the sugar (a mistake I almost made).
The tea is poured into the glass and returned to the pot repeatedly to mix the sugar through the tea.
You are meant to pour the tea from high up to show your respect. If you pour it low, it can be a signal to turn down a marriage offer or snub someone.
With my tea, Fatima served some of the cookies I’d made as well as some extra gazelle horns from the restaurant. After trying the sweet orange-flavoured pastry, I was much happier with my almond cookies.
Fatima and I chatted for a long time about her desire to become a lawyer in Morocco. I munched on cookies while she regaled me with tales of her family.
Fatima is Berber, an indigenous culture in Morocco. They have their own language and are known for their incredible carpet designs. Before I left, Fatima wrote “thank you, Nina” in Berber for me to take with me.
I left Amal with a massive box of cookies and my Berber sign, extremely happy with my experience.
Amal offers the unique ability to interact with Moroccan women in their own domain. I would not have been able to have made such a connection if I hadn’t gone to Amal for my baking class. Even the other cooking class I did inside the Medina lacked the personal touch that Amal has.
The fact that it benefits local women just makes it that much more extraordinary.
During your time in Morocco, check out Amal Non-profit for an incredible baking adventure that also benefits the local community.
If you aren’t into baking, try their cooking class or dine at their restaurant.
No matter what, you’ll get delicious, home-cooked food and be empowering Moroccan women.
Have you ever done a local cooking class?