My Romanian friend gave me a choice of two baked items as being typical of her country: cozonak (aka kozunak, an Easter bread) and cornulete. Since I’ve already done kozunak, under the banner of neighbouring Bulgaria, cornulete were the ones to go for. The dough is an unusual one, like a shortbread biscuit dough but with no sugar and lots of sour cream, whereas the construction is more common: cut your pastry into triangles, put in a dollop of your chosen filling and roll the whole thing up the way you would roll up a croissant.
It makes for attractive little pastries that are particularly nice if what you’re looking for is something tasty and flaky but not overly sweet.
By the way, you’ll see another name for these pastries, Rugelach, which I think is a Yiddish name: these and similar items are common in Eastern European Jewish communities.
The recipe I started from was this one, in Romanian and requiring the help of translation software. The desired filling is a thing called magiun, which is a jam made from plums in season and – crucially – little or no added sugar. It’s the wrong season for plums here, so I made do with what I could find, which was good quality apricot jam.
250 g plain flour
150g sour cream
150 g butter
Generous pinch of salt
Vanilla essence to taste
Take the butter out of your fridge and cut it into small cubes.
Put everything into the bowl of your food processor or stand mixer and process until fully blended. However, don’t overmix the dough – apparently, it will go tough.
Shape the dough into a flattened disc, wrap in cling film and leave in the fridge for at least an hour or two. Due to a series of unfortunate events, mine ended up being left overnight, which was just fine.
Filling and baking
Plum or apricot jam – you’ll use 100g-200g worth
16 walnut pieces (between 2-4 whole walnuts)
What happens next depends on what size you want your cornulete to be. The original Romanian recipe expects you to divide the dough into four, which is going to get you some very small cornulete unless you’re incredibly good at rolling the dough very thin. I’m hopeless at rolling dough into exact circles, so I went for the simpler approach of just rolling the whole lot into a singe circle. You choose…
Preheat oven to 170℃ fan.
Prepare a baking tray lined with a Silpat sheet (if you have one) or baking paper.
Roll your circle of dough as flat as you can manage. Mine rolled to about 30cm diameter. Trim it to a circle: as you can see from the photos, I used an inverted tart tin to do this.
Cut the circle into segments (they join at the middle of the circle, so you’re basically making triangles. I did 16 segments, using a steel bread scraper; several recipes recommend using a pizza cutter.
Separate out a triangle and put a dollop of jam onto its thick end. Place a walnut piece on top of the dollop of jam.
Starting from the thick end, roll up the pastry triangle into the traditional croissant shape. Transfer to the baking sheet.
Repeat for the remaining cornulete.
Bake for around 15 minutes until golden but not dried out or tough.
Leave to cool for at least 15 minutes before eating.
Mexicans are serious about corn. There are dozens – possibly hundreds – of varieties in a blaze of different colours. Elote (“Mexican street corn”) is massively popular everywhere in Mexico and way beyond its borders, but perhaps the most important thing that Mexicans do with corn is to make it into tortillas, and the list of things you can make with a corn tortilla is nearly infinite.
You don’t really bake a tortilla as such: rather, you dry-cook it in a ceramic pan called a comal. But I’ll stretch a point to include it in this series, because the archetypal Mexican dough-based food is the tortilla and the archetypal thing you can do with a tortilla is to turn it into tacos. As to what you put on/in your taco, Mexican restauranteur and chef Gabriela Cámara asserts that you can really put anything you like. Having watched a bunch of her videos on masterclass.com (it’s a great site, albeit not cheap), I’ve had a go at a considerably simplified version of her recipe for a Mexico City street dish called tacos al pastor.
Before moving on to the fillings, let’s consider the tortillas. We’re making and cooking tortillas de maíz (corn tortillas). To do this, you need to start with the flour, which Mexicans call the masa. Making your own masa is non-trivial: you have to start with a process called nixtamalisation – soaking the corn kernels in lime before grinding them. I wimped out of this, not least because I wouldn’t have expected to be able to find the right quality dried corn. Fortunately, there’s good quality masa available from Mexican online grocers – I used Harina PAN. It comes in two colours – white and yellow: so far, I’ve only tried the white, but I have a packet of yellow which I’ll try some time.
To get your tortillas properly thin and absolutely evenly flat, you should really use a tortilla press – which I don’t have, or at least not yet. To cook them traditionally, you should really use a comal, which I don’t have either. So I’ve had to improvise. To flatten the tortillas, I’ve put a ball of dough between sheets of plastic (cling film doesn’t work, according to Cámara) and pressed it between a heavy wooden chopping board and the butcher’s block on my kitchen worktop. I can get them down to about 3mm thickness that way, and I’ve then stretched them a bit more with a rolling pin. For most people, the likely replacement for a comal will be a skillet: I happen to have a ceramic pan which was bought as a Tarte Tatin dish which seems to do the job fine – since a comal is a clay item, I figure that this was a close equivalent.
After that lengthy preamble, it turns out that making tacos is really quite easy. In the selection of side dishes/fillings, I particularly like the salsa verde. The quantities here served six people.
You’ll most probably need to get some of the ingredients from a specialist Mexican store: those will be the masa, the chipotle peppers, the tomatillos and the refried beans (and possibly the jalapeño peppers).
Marinating the pork (start this the day before)
900g pork fillet/tenderloin (probably two fillets)
160g chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
Juice of 1 orange
Chop the pork fillet into bite side pieces (perhaps 1.5cm cubes) and put them into a bowl. Any bigger and it’s going to be even harder than usual to get a taco with any form of structural integrity.
Blitz the tomatoes and add them to the bowl with the orange juice and the chipotle peppers.
Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge overnight.
The Salsa Verde Cruda
767g can tomatillos
30g coriander leaves
30g lettuce leaves
1 garlic clove
1 avocado (around 150g)
Green chilies to taste – I used two small medium heat finger chilies
Salt to taste
Put everything into your food processor and blitz until you have a very smooth paste. Add water as necessary to get the texture right – you want something more like whipped cream than like toothpaste. Adjust the amounts of salt and chili until you like the taste.
The onion salsa
10g dried oregano
juice of 1 lime
40g olive oil
Chilies to taste – I used three fresh jalapeño peppers, but you can use habanero or Scotch bonnet chilies if you want to up the firepower. (If you’re doing that, use gloves).
Halve the onions lengthways and slice thinly.
Slice the chilies.
Mix the other items, then put the onions and chilies into the mixture to marinade. Make sure that you turn them many times to ensure that everything is coated in the marinade.
salt to taste
Peel the pineapple and remove the eyes.
Cut the pineapple into quarters and remove the toughest part of the inside stem. Cut each quarter into small bite-sized chunks.
Heat butter in a skillet, add the pineapple and give it a generous sprinkling of salt.
Fry, turning all the pieces occasionally, until nicely caramelised on all sides.
Cooking the pork
Heat a griddle or skillet. Depending on its size, you will probably need to do the pork in two or three batches.
Transfer pieces of pork from the bowl to the skillet, shaking off most of the marinade. You can also transfer some of the whole chipotle peppers.
Cook the pork, turning occasionally. Make sure it’s cooked through, but try not to dry it out such that it becomes tough.
Optionally, pour the remaining marinade into your skillet, cook for a few minutes to reduce and pour it over the pork.
Keep the meat warm while you make your tortillas.
Making the tacos
The quantities here are for two 60g tacos each, which worked out about right for us. It’s a simple one-to-one ratio of masa to water, so multiply by whatever you want.
360g masa harina (see above)
Start heating your comal (or skillet or improvised substitute) on your hob – basically, you want it as hot as you can get.
Put the masa harina and water into a bowl and mix until you have an even dough.
Divide the dough into balls (in this case, 12 of them) and cover the bowl with a tea towel to stop the dough drying out while you make the tortillas.
Place a ball of dough between two sheets of plastic (a re-used plastic bag works fine) into your tortilla press – whether purpose-built or improvised – and flatten the ball of dough to a disc. Finish it off with a rolling pin if you have to. Cámara says the ideal tortilla is about 3mm thick, but I felt that was a bit thick and aimed for 2mm.
Peel the tortilla off the plastic and place it on the hot comal. Cook for a minute or two on each side – the tortilla should be thoroughly dried out and if you taste a piece, there should be no residual taste of raw flour.
Repeat for all the tortillas, keeping them warm and covered.
To repeat what Cámara says, you can put anything into a taco. As well as the pork, pineapple, salsa verde and onion salsa, I went for sweetcorn, refried beans (proper ones from the Mexican grocery, as opposed to the distinctly indifferent supermarket-bought stuff) and some green salad. But truly, use whatever you feel like.
The idea is to put lots of items of filling into your taco and fold it into a U shape, in the hope that it will stay in one piece as you lift it to your mouth and take bites out of it. However, no-one I know has ever succeeded in doing this with any taco – home made or commercially bought: structural integrity just isn’t part of the programme. So I predict that you will suffer an epic failure and the collapse of your taco. But that’s all part of the fun – just remember to lean forward so it happens on top of your plate!
As we get close to 80% of the way round the world on this journey, I have to admit, dear reader, that some of the bakes have been getting a bit on the obscure side (and there are more of those to come). Baklava, however, isn’t one of those: the nut-filled, syrup-infused flaky pastries feature on the dessert menu of just about every Turkish, Greek, Persian or Middle Eastern restaurant on the planet, not to mention innumerable cafés.
Although scholars point at recipes for vaguely baklava-like desserts going all the way back to ancient Greece, the dish as we know it today probably showed up in the kitchens of the Ottoman Empire. So essential is the dish to Turks today that during Ramadan in 2020 – in the eye of the storm of the Covid-19 pandemic – baklava bakers were granted specific permission to stay open on the grounds that this was an essential commodity (if you don’t believe me, check out the New York Times article).
There are many variations as to the choice of nuts, the make-up of the syrup and the way the final product is shaped, but roughly, it comes to this: the Greek version is likely to be filled with walnuts and soaked in a honey based syrup, whereas the Turkish version is more likely to use pistachios with a lemon-infused sugar syrup. That’s a very broad brush distinction – you’ll find plenty of exceptions, mixtures and different ideas.
I’m going to assume that in common with 99.99% of home cooks on the planet, or at least outside the Middle East, you have no intention of making your own filo pastry. On that basis, making your own baklava is relatively straightforward, albeit time-consuming – it depends on how quick you are at laying out sheets of filo and brushing melted butter over them, which you’re going to be doing a lot of. I ended up with a kind of amalgam of recipes from The Spruce Eats, The Mediterranean Dish and Cleobuttera. The key thing to remember is to pour cold syrup over the hot baklava and then leave it to soak for a substantial amount of time.
750ml water (see note below about quantities)
Juice of ½ lemon (around 30ml)
Optional: 10g liquid glucose, which is supposed to help prevent your syrup from crystallising
Optional: other flavourings such as orange blossom water, orange extract or cloves – I didn’t use any
Put all items into a small saucepan and mix
Bring to the boil and simmer until you have a thick syrup, around 104℃
Take the saucepan off the heat
The quantities in this recipe seems to be set so that you leave the syrup on for the whole time you’re making the baklava, reaching the right stickiness around the time you finish. This kind of worked, but next time, I think I’ll use a third of the amount of water and just get it done in adavance, with a fraction of the time boiling down.
The main thing
Ideally, you want a baking dish the same size as your filo sheets, at least 2.5 cm deep.. Mine was 37 cm x 27 cm, which was around 3 cm too narrow, so I had to trim down the filo. A word of warning, though: you will be cutting the baklava in the dish before it goes into the oven and, most likely, again when it is baked. This will probably gash any non-stick coating on your dish (it did mine). You can probably help matters by lining the tray with a single piece of baking paper so that you can lift the whole lot out after baking, which at least means you’ll only wreck it once rather than twice. Alternatively, a Pyrex dish might be a better choice.
The diamond shape I used is pretty traditional, but you can, of course, try many different ideas: baklava is often sold in squares or rectangles.
The quantities assume that your filo comes in 250g packs, each of which has around 15 sheets. This lets you make three layers of 10 sheets each. Adjust the number of sheets accordingly: you want to use around ⅔ of a pack for each layer. Some recipes, by the way, just use two layers of filo with one layer of nuts – that’s fine too.
Next warning: filo dries out easily. Keep it covered with a tea towel at all times other than the minimum few seconds you need to peel a sheet off the block.
400g shelled, unsalted pistachios
250g ghee (use clarified butter if you prefer or if you can’t get ghee)
500g filo pastry (fresh or frozen)
Preheat oven to 200℃ fan.
Blitz the pistachios in a food processor until they are mostly powdered but still have a coarse texture with lots of small pieces.
Transfer to a small bowl, add the sugar and mix. Reserve 50g for garnish after the baklava is baked.
Melt the ghee.
Spread your baking dish with ghee, and scatter a thin layer of pistachios.
Now work quickly. Peel a layer of filo off your block and place it on your dish. Cover the block with a tea towel. Spread the layer with ghee. Repeat around 10 times (see note above).
Spread half the pistachio sugar mix evenly over the dish. You may need to shake the dish to get it even.
Repeat steps 6 and 7.
Repeat step 6 for a third time to get your top layer of filo.
Brush the top of your pastry with the remaining ghee. If there isn’t enough for a generous amount, melt some more: you don’t want dry filo at the top.
Cut the baklava into a diamond pattern – around 5 strips along the shorter side and around 8 along the longer side. This gets you 40 generously sized baklava – you can go smaller if you want.
If your syrup is still boiling, wait until it’s reached the right stickiness and you’ve taken it off the heat.
Bake until golden brown, around 40 minutes.
Remove the dish from the oven and place it on a rack. Pour the syrup evenly over the whole dish, then sprinkle evenly with the reserved pistachio mix.
Cover with foil (otherwise, you’ve just created the world’s biggest attraction for the local insect life) and leave to cool.
When it’s cool enough, put it in the fridge and leave for at least 8 hours (or overnight). Freshly made baklava just doesn’t have the right consistency (we checked this).
Many countries have their own versions of a cake made of a large number of very thin layers: the Hungarian Dobos torte is probably the most famous, the Czechs have Marlenka (originally from Armenia), the Croatians have Mađarica, there are various Asian versions like the Indonesian kek lapis. The Ukranians go for a multilayered honey cake called Medovik (which is originally Russian and popular in much of Eastern Europe).
Medovik consists of alternating layers of cake and a cream filling. Recipes for the cake are fairly consistent: they come out closer to a biscuit or pastry than to a normal sponge cake. Recipes for the filling vary more: the base ingredient can be sour cream or whipped ordinary cream or an egg custard.
There are two keys to Medovik, one of which is easy and one of which is decidedly not so. The easy part is to remember, when you’ve made your layers, to give the cake a long time in the refrigerator during which each wet cream layer soaks into the relatively hard biscuit layer below it, which is what results in a delightfully spongy feel to the whole assembly. The hard part is rolling the cake dough out as thinly and evenly as possible. You need to keep your rolling pin constantly floured to stop it lifting the dough, you need a careful touch to maintain evenness and you need to do your best to create a circle rather than the heart shape that I always end up with when I’m not concentrating. Picking up a finished circle is an impossibility, so I rolled my dough directly onto a silicone sheet: I suspect that it might be easier if I put a layer of cling film on top before rolling, but I didn’t try this.
I used the batter and the basic technique from a recipe on Ukrainian website ukrainefood.info, and used a simple sour cream and condensed milk filling as recommended by Smitten Kitchen (which may or may not change the cake’s name to smetannik – “sour cream cake” rather than “honey cake”).
Most of the recipes I’ve seen expect you to frost the sides of the cake in order to produce a beautiful round cylinder. I can’t see the point of doing this, so I made less filling and just put it between layers and on the top of the whole cake. I still had plenty to spare.
The cake layers
350g flour, plus plenty more for rolling
1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
Vanilla essence to taste
Improvise a double boiler by using a metal bowl over a pan of boiling water.
Put the honey, butter and sugar into the double boiler. Cook it until smooth, stirring continuously.
Add the bicarbonate of soda and vanilla, and cook for another minute.
Remove from the heat and leave to cool for around 4 minutes. You are about to add eggs and you don’t want them to be scrambled.
Beat two eggs in a jug with a spout. Add the beaten egg very slowly to the mixture, continuing to beat as you go.
Add the flour and stir until mixed thoroughly.
Preheat oven to 200℃ fan.
Form the dough into a ball, wrap with cling film, and place in a freezer for around 15 minutes.
Remove the dough from the freezer, cut into 8 equal pieces (make the weights as even as you can, they should be around 90g each). Form each piece into a ball, cover with cling film and replace in the freezer for another 5-10 minutes.
Have a pile of flour ready to flour your rolling pin.
Remove the dough from the freezer. Place a ball of dough out on a silicone baking sheet and roll it out until it is larger than a 20cm circle. The dough will be very thin, so you really need to take care that the rolling process doesn’t cause it to tear – although you can patch it and re-roll if you have to.
Cut out the circle and set aside the offcuts from around the edge (the best way of doing this is to use the base of a springform tin as a template).
If you have two silicone sheets, do another one.
Place the sheet(s) in your oven and bake for around 5 minutes until golden.
Cool on a rack. When sufficiently cool, place in a pile.
Repeat until all 8 sheets are done. Roll out the offcuts of pastry and bake them alongside your last cake layer (or couple of cake layers, if you have a lot). You may want to put the unused balls of dough back in the freezer occasionally to keep them cool during the process.
600ml sour cream
400g condensed milk
Whisk the sour cream and condensed milk together until smooth.
Cut a circle of baking paper somewhat larger than your cake – perhaps 24cm in diameter. Place it on your cake plate, and dab a small amount of filling in the middle.
Place a cake layer in the middle, then spread it thoroughly with frosting. This will dribble down the sides – that’s why you made the paper larger than the cake.
Repeat until all the layers are done.
Blitz the offcut pastry to crumbs (I didn’t have enough, so I supplemented mine with ordinary biscuits). Scatter crumbs over the top of the cake.
Cover (I have a plastic cake plate with a matching cylindrical cover, which was ideal) and leave in the refrigerator overnight.
Around 30 minutes before serving, take the cake out of the refrigerator and tidy up the edges, cutting the baking paper to the size of the cake and removing the surplus frosting which has dribbled down.
Serve with coffee. OK, the coffee isn’t technically essential, just highly desirable.
Like most of East Asia, Korea doesn’t really have a long-standing baking tradition – it’s to do with the relative scarcity of slow-burning fuel, which means that cooking is more likely to be done fast, at high temperature in a wok. However, Western baking has found its way to Korea (by way of Japan, in this case), where it has adopted a decidedly Korean accent. If you visit Seoul, I can vouch for the fact that their bakeries and patisseries are extremely popular and of super-high quality – even a relatively mundane chain bakery in a Seoul subway seems capable of turning out mouth-watering croissants.
In the case of gyepi-manju, the cookies that I’ve made here, the Asian accent comes in the form of sweetened bean paste and the specifically Korean accent is their love of sesame seeds. They’re pleasant, not over-sweetened cookies: some Westerners will want to add more sugar.
I started with a recipe from New-York based Korean cook Maangchi. While this isn’t the hardest bake in the world, there’s definitely room for error – and I made a few, which are visible in the photos. The first of these: Maangchi expects you to take the skins off your broad beans *before* boiling them, which I forgot to do. Taking them off afterwards is fine, but you need a much longer boil. The second is that I ran out of sesame seeds, so I substituted some decidedly un-Korean poppy seeds in my last few gyepi-manju (they were fine).
As usual, I’ve gone for metric quantities and ingredient names from the UK. I’ve shown the way I did the beans, since it worked fine. Go to the original if you prefer.
The bean paste
200g butter beans
100g sugar (1 cup)
A pinch of salt – perhaps 1g
Vanilla essence to taste
Put the butter beans in a bowl and cover with a lot of cold water: soak overnight.
Transfer the beans to a saucepan, cover in water and boil until soft, skimming off the worst of the scum that will accumulate at the top.
Drain the beans and leave until cool enough to handle.
Remove the tough outer skin of the beans and discard, placing the peeled beans in the bowl of food processor.
Add sugar, salt and vanilla, and process until very smooth (this takes longer than you expect).
Put into a covered bowl and refrigerate while you make the dough.
15 g butter
80g condensed milk
5g baking powder
Vanilla extract to taste
Melt the butter and pour into a bowl
Add the condensed milk and stir
Add egg, baking powder, salt and vanilla and stir
Add the flour and mix until you have a smooth dough
Cover in cling film (or put in a sealed bowl) and leave to rest for at least an hour – I actually ended up doing this overnight, which was fine.
Final assembly and baking
Generous amounts of sesame seeds (black, white or half and half) – perhaps 1-2 tablespoons
1 egg yolk
flour for rolling
Generous amounts of ground cinnamon – perhaps 1-2 tablespoons
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan until fragrant. Set aside.
Beat the egg yolk in a small bowl. Set aside.
Flour your board
Separate the bean paste into two halves. Separate the dough into two halves.
Form a half of the bean paste into a ball.
Roll half of the dough into a circle big enough to be wrapped around the ball.
Roll your assembled ball into a log.
Repeat for the second half of the bean paste and dough.
Spread cinnamon powder over a space of your board that’s been cleared of flour.
Brush water over a log of dough and roll it in the cinnamon so that it’s thoroughly coated. Keep adding cinnamon if you have to – it’s hard to overdo. Repeat for the second log.
Cut your log into individual cookies (I made 12 each for a total of 24). Array them on a baking sheet lined with baking paper (or, better still, a Silpat sheet).
Brush the tops of the cookies with beaten egg, and scatter generous amounts of sesame over them.
Bake for around 20 minutes until golden brown. Take out and leave to cool.
Tunisia grows a lot of oranges. Over 550,000 tonnes, according to The Guardian, in what was admittedly a freak year – apparently, 200-400,000 is more normal. Anyway, you have to do something with all that fruit, and one of things the Tunisians do is to make orange cake – or “Khobzet borgden”, as it’s called in Arabic.
If you look up English language recipes for Tunisian Orange Cake, you tend to get something different, often involving stale breadcrumbs and a lot of ground almonds. These are also very good – my wife has been making her mother’s orange almond cake recipe for years and it’s a winner – but I can’t find any evidence that they’re authentically Tunisian: the closest I got was a recipe where the cake was decorated with flaked almonds.
So I’ve gone for one of the many recipes for Khobzet borgden on Tunisian websites, generally in French. Variations include choice of fat (butter / olive oil / vegetable oil) and how to treat your oranges: the most extreme one I’ve seen involved blitzing whole oranges – skin, pips and all – and adding the resulting purée to your cake mix. Just about all the recipes involve drizzling your finished cake with an orange syrup. I’ve started with one from tunisienumerique.com (translation: digital Tunisia), which uses oil (I chose olive – it doesn’t specify) and lots of orange zest as well as decorating the top of the cake with slices of orange.
A couple of notes on my adaptation: (1) the suggested baking time of 20-25 minutes wasn’t even close. Either their oven or their baking tin is very different from mine. (2) my cake domed hugely in the middle. The original recipe specifies one sachet of baking powder, and I have no idea how much you get in a Tunisian baking powder sachet. So I went with around 12g, which may have been a bit excessive.
300g plain flour
12g baking powder
150g granulated sugar
100g olive oil
Preheat oven to 180℃ fan.
Grease with butter a 20cm springform tin (or other cake tin of similar size).
Sift your flour and baking powder into a bowl.
Zest at least two of the oranges (all three if you really want a bitter orange flavour).
Slice one of the zested oranges into rounds (I needed five rounds to fit onto my 20cm springform tin). Squeeze the juice out of the rest of this orange and the other two: you should get around 200ml. If the yield is substantially less, you might want to add some orange juice from elsewhere (or from a fourth orange if you have one).
Put the eggs and 100g of granulated sugar into the bowl of your stand mixer and mix at high speed until well blended.
Add the orange zest and 100g of the orange juice and mix until well blended.
Add the oil and mix until well blended.
Add the flour and baking powder and mix until you have a smooth batter.
Pour the batter into your tin. Arrange the orange slices over the top, pressing each slightly in so that it’s level with the batter.
Put your tin into the oven and bake for around 30-35 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.
Meanwhile, make a syrup: put your remaining 50g of sugar and 100ml (approximately) of orange juice into a saucepan, bring to the boil, stirring frequently.
Cook until the syrup is thick (if you’re using a sugar thermometer, aim for around 105℃).
When the cake is done, leave it to cool for a couple of minutes, then drizzle the syrup you should try to get the rest absorbed into the cake.
Take off the outside of the springform tin and then cool the cake on a rack.
Tunisians would accompany this with black coffee. Personally, I’d go for both black coffee and a scoop of pistachio ice cream. But the choice is yours…
You will find good rye bread everywhere around the Baltic Sea, but in Latvia, rye bread is virtually a national symbol, with a thousand stories surrounding it. There are many different types, but I’ve chosen one that packs a huge punch of flavour – Latgalian Rye Bread (Latgaliešu Maize). The starting recipe comes from Stanley Ginsberg, who styles himself “The Rye Baker” – his website is a real baker’s treasure trove, with rye bread recipes from all over Europe. His books sound great also.
Warning: this bread is something of a project. There are multiple steps lasting three days, and it’s fiddly as regards temperature control. There’s a Russian language Youtube video (remember, Latvia has a large Russian-speaking population) which is very similar and reminds you on several occasions that you shouldn’t attempt this if you’re a beginner. The techniques, using various scalds and pre-doughs, are similar to the full Russian recipe for Borodinsky (as opposed to the simplified version I did early on in this blog series). Because of the sheer complexity, I’m not sure that it’s a bread I’m going to be making again and again – but for a treat, it’s fantastic.
The point of the recipe is to encourage lots of fermentation and the creation of various sugars, acids and lactobacilli which impart the amazing depth of flavour. Interestingly, this multi-stage process isn’t the only possible method: other methods start with Bulgarian Yoghurt or kefir and I came across one blog post from an agritourism trip to Latvia which describes a traditional baker who left out much of the complexity but went for five days of fermentation in a bucket!
So here goes, largely paraphrasing Stanley Ginsberg and substituting ingredients when I couldn’t get his exact suggestions. I’ve given the exact times I used: obviously, you can shift them around to suit your own day and anyway, I’m sure the timings are by no means precise.
Day 1, around 9pm – “The scald”
320g dark rye flour
650ml hot water (65℃)
20g malt extract
5g caraway seeds
Preheat oven to 55℃.
Put all the ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer and mix thoroughly.
Cover your bowl and put it into the oven for around 18 hours.
Day 1, around 9pm – “The sponge”
20g rye sourdough starter
50g dark rye flour
30ml water tepid (40℃)
Mix all ingredients in a small bowl or tupperware. It will result in a very thick dough.
Cover and leave to stand at room temperature for around 18 hours.
Day 2, around 1pm
Inspect your two mixtures. They should both be smelling strongly and showing evident signs of fermentation. The scald will have gone very dark, and the sponge will have become, well, spongy in feel.
Lower the oven temperature to 55℃
Add the sponge to the scald mixture in your mixing bowl and combine thoroughly (I did this with a wooden spoon).
Cover the bowl and return to the oven.
Day 2, around 9pm
5g dried yeast
Remove your combined mixture from the oven.
Add the yeast and stir thoroughly.
Leave to ferment overnight at room temperature.
Day 3, around 9am
600g dark rye flour
Add the ingredients to your fermented mixture.
With the dough hook, mix at low speed for 7-10 minutes until thoroughly mixed.
On a floured board (I used light rye flour), form the dough into a rounded oblong and transfer onto a piece of baking paper.
For the full traditional look, use your fingers to make indentations into the loaf. By tradition, each area of Latvia had its own signature: I just went for a few bars on each side.
Brush the loaf with water, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise at room temperature for 60-90 minutes. You will need to brush water over the loaf regularly to stop it drying out – every 15-20 minutes or so.
Final bake and glaze
150 ml water
In plenty of time before your loaf has finished rising, preheat oven to 250℃ fan, with a pizza stone placed inside.
Brush your loaf with water one last time, then transfer it on its baking paper to the pizza stone.
Bake for 45 minutes.
Reduce the temperature to 200℃ fan. Keep baking until the internal temperature is around 95℃ – probably another 20 minutes (admission: I underbaked mine by a few minutes, so you can see from the photo that it’s a bit doughy. It still tasted fabulous).
Brush the glaze over the loaf, return to the oven and bake for another 5 minutes.
It’s time for a trip back to the Middle East to refill the cookie jar with what, according to Wikipedia and others, is the “national cookie of Iraq”: Kleicha (or Kleisha; as usual with Arabic, transliterations vary). Recipes also vary, particularly as to shape and choice of spices, but the most common appear to be a spiral of dough interleaved with a cardamom-infused date paste.
Kleicha turn out to be trickier to make than I expected: most of the recipes I’ve seen produce an incredibly crumbly dough. On my first attempt, the dough was almost impossible to roll and the kleicha came out at an unpleasantly sandy texture. Fortunately, I persevered, because my second attempt was a real success: the flavour combination of date and cardamom being a winner. It only worked, however, by using hugely more water than in my base recipe, from 196flavors.com.
I couldn’t find ready-made date paste, so I made my own. Another pitfall from my first attempt was getting the texture wrong so I couldn’t spread the paste: second time round, it came out perfectly.
The quantities here were supposedly for 40 kleicha – I made 32.
The date paste
½ tsp ground cardamom (or 20 or so cardamom pods)
400g soft dates (choose Medjool or similar in preference to the harder Deglet Nour)
Milk as needed (a few tablespoons)
If the dates aren’t already stoned, take out the stones and discard
If you are starting from cardamom pods, pound them in a pestle and mortar to get the seeds out and get rid of the husks.
Put the dates and cardamom into a food processor and blitz for a minute or two.
Add a little milk and blitz some more: keep doing this until you get a puree the consistency of toothpaste.
15g caster sugar
10g dried yeast
170ml lukewarm water (around 40℃)
700g plain flour
15g nigella seeds
Melt the butter.
Mix sugar, water and yeast and leave until frothy.
In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine flour, salt and nigella seeds and mix evenly.
Add the butter and mix for a few seconds.
Then add the yeast/water mix and mix until you have a smooth dough. You may want to add more water than I’ve shown – the quantity shown here was barely OK.
Leave dough to rest for around an hour.
Putting it all together
1 egg and a bit of milk for a wash
Preheat oven to 180℃ fan.
Cut two sheets of baking paper, around 40cm long.
Divide your dough into four parts.
Form a ball of dough into a rectangle, place it between your two sheets of baking paper and roll it out as thinly as you can manage.
Take a quarter of your date paste and spread it evenly over your rectangle of dough.
Using the baking paper to help you, roll it up along the long end (Swiss roll style) as tightly as you can
Cut your cylinder into 8 pieces (or 10 if you want smaller cookies) and place on a baking sheet
Repeat for the remaining three parts of dough. You’ll end up with two baking sheets’ worth, which you can bake together or one after the other.
Beat the egg with a little milk to make a wash; spread this over your cookies. (I’m labelling this stage as optional because I forgot to do it, resulting in kleicha which weren’t as pretty as they might have been but tasted fine).
Bake until golden and thoroughly cooked – if you break off a bit of cookie and taste it, there should be no hint of raw flour. This took around 20-25 minutes in my oven – yours may differ.
Arepas are thick circular cakes made of cornmeal. They’re ubiquitous in Venezuela and Colombia and have been around in the area for at least 3,000 years. They’re served with myriad fillings, either as part of a main meal or as a snack – they’re a popular street food item.
The final parts of the arepa-making process – making the dough, forming the cakes, frying them and (optionally) finishing them in the oven – are straightforward enough for a non-native home cook. The beginning part – grinding the corn and the “nixtimalisation” process of boiling it up with lime – are best left to the professionals unless you’re really, really dedicated. The resulting ground meal is called masarepa and the most readily available brand in the UK (and, I suspect, elsewhere) is called Harina PAN. It comes in several varieties: I chose the plain white one, although I’ve also bought a packet of the yellow version for experiments yet to come.
I took my recipe for the arepas themselves from a post on healthiersteps.com: as well as your choice of masa, available variations include the addition of dairy products. All of butter, milk or quesito (white soft cheese) show up in recipes.
To go with the arepas, I could have picked dozens of different filling. I ended up, completely arbitrarily, by simplifying a recipe for vegan barbacoa (which is kind of a contradiction in terms, but I get the idea of emulating the smokiness of barbacoa while staying plant-based, and it turned out really delicious). As a side dish, I made an avocado, cherry tomato and crumbled white cheese salad, which I found in a recipe for Colombian arepas which I haven’t replicated here, but which is warmly recommended since it complemented the rest of the dish really well.
The vegan barbacoa filling
250g dried green or brown lentils
Oil for frying (I used sunflower oil)
3 cloves garlic
3 large carrots
2 tbs brown sugar
Salt and black pepper to taste
1½ tsp ground smoked paprika
2 tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground cloves
1½ tsp dried oregano
2 dried bay leaves
60g chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (see below)
Juice of one lime
Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce come in cans: I used around a quarter of a 220g can. It’s a strong flavour and you really need to calibrate how spicy you want the dish. Starting with zero knowledge, I think I got lucky: this amount was perfect for the people round the table who like their food spicy but not excessively so, and just about OK (but right on the edge) for those who don’t like their chili much.
Boil lentils in a saucepan in plenty of water until cooked (this took me around 45 minutes). You could, of course, use pre-cooked tinned lentils if you prefer. Drain and set aside.
Chop the onion and garlic very finely. Grate the carrots – if you have a food processor with a grater attachment, use it.
In a heavy pan with a lid, fry the onion and garlic on medium heat until transparent.
Add the carrot and fry for a few more minutes.
Chop the chipotle peppers finely – this isn’t in the original recipe, so I didn’t do it. Let’s just say that biting into a whole chipotle pepper was, er, an intense experience.
Add the lentils and all the remaining ingredients. Mix well and fry for a little longer.
Cover the pan and put onto the lowest heat you have for 40 minutes to an hour. Keep topping up the mixture with a little water to ensure that it doesn’t dry out.
300g masarepa (from Harina PAN or equivalent, see photo)
500 ml warm water
Coconut oil for frying
Mix the masarepa, salt and water and form into a ball of dough. Leave to rest for five minutes or so.
Form the dough into a cylinder and cut into circular cakes, around 2cm thick. I made eight cakes, which were a bit too small; the original recipe was for six.
Heat oil in a skillet and fry your arepas on medium heat until golden brown on both sides – turn each arepa over when it’s completely browned on the first side. The recipe said five minutes a side, but it took me around 15 minutes total.
Optionally, put the arepas in a 180℃ oven for a few minutes to make sure they’re absolutely cooked through. Perhaps because I used a relatively gentle heat, I didn’t need to do this step.
To serve, slice each arepa in half horizontally, fill and replace the lid. But don’t expect anyone to eat them with their hands!
As far as I can see, the real definition of a spring roll is “anything you like that has vaguely Far Eastern flavourings, wrapped in a cigar shape of very thin pastry”. However, this being a baking blog with pretensions of authenticity, I started off with an actual Malaysian recipe – and one that specifies how to bake them rather than the more usual deep fry. If like me, you try to steer clear of deep frying, the use of cooking spray – not something I’d come across before using this recipe – seems to work pretty well, getting a result that’s crisp, non-greasy and holds its filling, even if you don’t get the classic “golden all over” look of the fried version.
The recipe will be very forgiving as to quantities: shown here are what I had easily available. The original recipe specifies jicama, a root vegetable that I couldn’t get hold of, so I substituted with a couple of cans of water chestnuts. I believe that mooli (aka daikon) also makes a good substitute, but with a more distinctive flavour of its own.
500g lean pork mince
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
Ground black pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic
Oil for frying (I used groundnut oil, any neutral oil will do
450g water chestnuts
2 large carrots
3 spring onions
Combine pork mince, soy sauce and black pepper in a bowl, mix well.
Chop garlic and onion finely
Peel the carrots, grate them and the water chestnuts – I did this in a food processor.
Warm a small amount of oil in a wok, add the pork mixture and fry for a couple of minutes
Add onion and garlic, fry until the meat is browned and the onion is soft
Add the water chestnuts, carrots and cabbage, and keep cooking until the vegetables are cooked through and most of the water has been cooked out of them.
Chop the spring onions and add them.
Put the whole lot in a colander or sieve for ten minutes or so (or as long as you like) to allow more of the excess moisture to drain away.
Assembly and baking
Although I usually try to make my own pastry from scratch for this blog, I just couldn’t see a good reason for doing so here – and as far as I know, none of my Asian friends can be bothered either: the supermarket-bought wrappers are just fine. I couldn’t find fresh ones, so I bought a frozen pack: it was important to defrost them well in advance, because otherwise, peeling a wrapper off the frozen block would have been impossible without tearing it.
How many spring rolls this makes is a function of the size of your wrappers and how much filling you want to put into each. If you put a large amount of filling into each wrapper, you’ll have thinner pastry and a less carb-heavy dish; if you put less filling, you’ll have multiple layers of pastry, which will make it easier to get a crisper outside. I used wrappers that were 190mm square and put quite a lot of filling in, so the quantities here made about 20. Next time, I think, I’d go for two thirds of the filling I used here and make 30 rolls.
You want to work as quickly as you can manage, because the moisture from the filling will soak into the pastry faster than you would like.
1 packet spring roll wrappers (20-30)
Cooking spray (I used a sunflower oil spray)
Preheat oven to 225℃ fan
Have ready a baking tray with a rack above it – I used a rack that I would normally use for cooling cakes or biscuits. Also have ready a small bowl of water and a pastry brush.
Place a wrapper on a clean work surface so that you’re looking at a diamond rather than a square (i.e. the thing furthest away from you is a corner, not an edge).
Spoon some filling into a cigar shape in the middle of the wrapper, going left-to-right as you see it.
Tuck the corner furthest from you over your cigar of filling
Tuck the left hand right corners into the middle
Brush the remaining flat part of the wrapper with water, and tuck it over your filling to form the completed roll.
Repeat for half a dozen or so rolls, spray them generously with cooking spray, transfer them onto you rack, turning them outside down as you go. Now spray the other side.
Repeat until your rack is full. You’ll probably need to do the whole process twice: if you have a second pan and rack, you can bake them all at the same time; otherwise, you’ll have to wait until the first batch is backed.