Moroccan Almond + Semolina Coconut Cookies / When Words Fail

Moroccan Coconut + Almond Cookies, made w/ semolina and orange blossom | Ruby Josephine
Moroccan Coconut + Almond Cookies, made w/ semolina and orange blossom | Ruby Josephine

Since learning to write poetry at a young age, I have fallen in love with the beauty of words. I get a strong satisfaction of certain sounds merging in humming perfection and meaning something that has the power to effect emotional change. However, while I will always keep that love and curiosity about the way letters can come together, something happens when you move to a foreign country and all at once find that your beautiful words fail you. Suddenly a shimmering and complex vocabulary is actually a hinderance, not a benefit, because no one will understand. 

“The irony of acquiring a foreign tongue is that I have amassed just enough cheap, serviceable words fuel my desires and never, never enough lavish, impudent ones to feed them."
-Monique Truong, The Book of Salt

What do we do when words fail?

In Becoming Wise, Krista Tippett writes a whole chapter on the power of words, saying at one point, “We are starved, and ready, for fresh language to approach each other.” Sometimes this fresh language that is needed, however, doesn’t involve words at all, especially in the face of language barriers. We have to find other beautiful ways to communicate through gestures. We must get creative in explaining things with our hands, smiling more, and twisting our faces into obvious expressions of understanding or lack thereof. In teaching dance and yoga in a foreign tongue, I have come to realize the importance of a well placed hand with a bit of applied pressure- sometimes this can say more than a flowery descriptive image. 

Ruby Josephine | Gesture

It is interesting that in my own choreographic work, I have always loved using and playing with gestures- little, simple motions that somehow each person who watches understands, even if in different ways. My first three pieces I ever made had distinct and recognizable hand motions that people would repeat back to me while saying “This was your dance, right?” 

As a result, the way people who speak different languages manage to communicate fascinates me. I take note of the motions, the facial formations that express eagerness, worry, or can simply say lovely to meet you, with only a small but warm smile. While words can be used in a variety of capacities, sometimes we can use them as shields against what we truly want to say underneath the surface. Body language and gesture do not have this same ability to create facades. We are forced to be vulnerable. Our gestures most often give us away, which is why cultivating an understanding and awareness of them is imperative, and not just in a foreign country. 

Moroccan Coconut + Almond Cookies, made w/ semolina and orange blossom | Ruby Josephine

A gesture encompasses not only body language, but can also be the act of giving a gift, token of appreciation, or crafting something with your own two hands to give to someone you care about. A cookie, for instance. I have found that a lot can be expressed through baked goods and sugar-laced mouthfuls. These treats can say I’m sorry, I care about you, thank you, and even I love you, all in a single bite. I strongly believe that baking is an emotional act, as well as a creative one, and the gesture of baking something for someone in particular can say a lot. 

These cookies are my own twist on Moroccan mlouwza (which I have made before on this blog) and were crafted for my sister-in-law and her new husband as a gesture that says warmly, “congratulations, I truly wish you all the happiness and sweetness of life.” 

Made with semolina and almond flours, these lovely little bites are light, lemony, perfectly chewy on the inside and crumbly on the outside, and given added flavor with orange blossom water and coconut. I love hand-making cookies like this, relishing in the tactile and repetitive gestures of rolling, sugar-coating, pressing a thumb down and delicately placing almonds on top. The result is a batch of sweets where each one has been given careful love and care. Believe me, you can taste it. 

Moroccan Coconut + Almond Cookies, made w/ semolina and orange blossom | Ruby Josephine
Moroccan Coconut + Almond Cookies, made w/ semolina and orange blossom | Ruby Josephine

Moroccan Almond + Semolina Coconut Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen small cookies, adapted from Live Love Food {dairy-free}

  • 1 3/4 cups (300g) semolina flour
  • 1 3/4 cups (175g) almond flour (grind raw almonds in a food processor to make your own)
  • 1/4 cup (25g) dissected coconut 
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tbsp melted coconut oil
  • 2 tbsp olive or canola oil
  • 2 tsp orange blossom water
  • about 1/3 cup powdered sugar for rolling
  • 1/2 cup (50g) blanched almonds for topping

Preheat your oven to 375ºF (190ºC). In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, coconut, baking powder and salt. Set aside and in a larger bowl, infuse the sugar with lemon zest using your fingers or a fork, then beat in each egg until frothy. Continue mixing while you add the oils and orange blossom water. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in three batches, mixing until it comes together evenly in a sticky but solid dough. Roll a piece of dough into a ball in your hands (about 1-1.5" wide), coat in powdered sugar and place onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Carefully press your thumb into the center, reforming the ball a bit if the edges crack too much. Set a blanched almond in the center and repeat with the remaining dough. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the bottom edges are golden brown. The cookies may still feel soft to the touch, but they will harden as they cool and you don't want them to be rock solid. Cool for just about 5-10 minutes before enjoying.