Asma Samy Chabbi’s mother had just visited from Morocco, bringing fresh-pressed olive oil and salty cured black olives from the family farm west of Marrakech. She also brought homemade preserved lemons in her luggage, which then goes back filled with her daughter’s biscotti in a cross-cultural exchange.
Chabbi greeted me warmly in her Coral Gables home. Sweet green tea was brought in a little glass, and I was offered a plain biscotti, a sample of the type she sells. A whole tray of the decorated sweets appeared. Each was different, dipped in chocolate and topped with crushed walnuts, whole pecans, pine nuts, dried cranberries, raisins, shredded coconut and chocolate sprinkles, making it hard to choose just one.
Chabbi grew up in Casablanca and started baking for fun when quite young. Chabbi and her family moved to Miami in 1980 when her father got a grant at the University of Miami. They took a crash course in English. Chabbi, who also speaks Arabic, French and Spanish, started junior high here. Two years later the family returned to Morocco but her older brother stayed. In 1988 she returned, living with him.
After majoring in hospitality management at Florida International University, she discovered that hotels were not for her. She managed a Taco Bell in Miami for seven years and then started a catering company. A corporate client asked her to make holiday gift boxes and she filled them with baked goods, including the biscotti that evolved into the ones she bakes now.
Her biscotti, based very loosely on a double-baked Moroccan cookie called feggas, are enriched with butter, olive oil, eggs, ground sesame seeds, almonds, walnuts and pecans sweetened with sugar and orange blossom honey, and spiced with anise, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. Chabbi makes large batches of dough, forming plump batons that are baked for half an hour. They are allowed to set, then cut into thick slices that are baked at a low temperature for at least six hours, producing rich, crunchy, nutty cookies. They can be customized for special events and corporate parties. Savory biscotti flavored with harissa (Moroccan chile paste) and grated Parmesan cheese are in the works.
Available retail at Demetrio Café, 300 Alhambra Circle, Coral Gables; 305-448-4949; Samy Chabbi at
305-968-4262 or moroccanbiscotti.com.
FYI: Delivery is available within a 15-mile radius of downtown Miami.