Author: davidkarlin

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.55: Hard dough bread from Jamaica

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.55: Hard dough bread from Jamaica

Jamaicans swear by Hard dough (or Hardo) bread as being the perfect base for all manner of snacks and sandwiches: avocado, salt fish, whatever. Hardo bread is generally made in an oblong tin (aka a Pullman tin); it should be pillowy soft and airy, but with a dense enough texture to stop your sandwich filling leaking through. It may look on the surface like a simple enough white bread, but it takes a level of skill and care to get that perfect texture.

If I do a bit of extrapolation, the history goes like this: French bakers take pain de mie to the Far East, where it’s taken up by Chinese bakers, who then migrate to the Caribbean. From there, West Indian workers take it to Africa, where something very similar turns up in Nigeria in the shape of Agege bread.

Like Agege bread, commercial hardo bread is often made using a dough brake – a set of rollers through which the dough is forced as part of the kneading and forming process. Following this video from Keshia Sakaria, I’ve approximated to the dough brake by rolling the dough out with a rolling pin in between its first and second rises.

It’s fair to say that there’s less than general agreement on the recipe. Most recipes call for white bread flour, but all-purpose and wholemeal flour get used. Some recipes use butter; others insist that vegetable shortening is the only way to go. Some use milk, others don’t. Wikipedia quotes authoritative references stating that hardo bread is usually brushed with sugared water before baking, but I haven’t seen any current Caribbean recipes that do this. And proportions are highly variable – I’ve gone for the less sweet end of the scale.

I’ve sized my recipe for my 30cm x 10cm x 10cm loaf tin, gone for strong white bread flour to try to get the springiest texture, and used butter and milk. I’ve also added a generous grind of black pepper for flavouring – a trick from Apollonia Poilâne’s pain de mie, which probably isn’t in any way authentic but which I’m confident Jamaicans would approve of.

  • 320 ml milk
  • 35 ml lukewarm water
  • 8g dried yeast
  • 25g sugar
  • 600g strong white flour
  • 15g salt
  • 60g butter
  • Optional: a generous grind of black pepper, to taste
  • Sunflower oil for greasing
  • a small amount of beaten egg for the egg wash
  1. Warm the milk to around 40℃. If it goes hotter, let it cool to 40℃ before using, or you’ll kill the yeast.
  2. Weight out the yeast and sugar into a jug or small bowl, add the water and the milk and leave for a few minutes until it all goes frothy.
  3. Cut the butter into small cubes; put it with the flour, salt and pepper into the bowl of your stand mixer and rub the butter into the flour with your fingers to blend nicely. 
  4. Add the wet mixture and mix until you have a smooth dough: it should come away from the sides of the bowl.
  5. With the dough hook, knead for around 7-10 minutes until the dough is nice and elastic. You may also want to knead it by hand for a minute or two to make sure you have the right level of springiness.
  6. Form the dough into a ball and put it into a greased bowl covered with cling film; leave to rise for around 60-90 minutes until doubled in size.
  7. Grease your loaf tin
  8. Flour a surface and roll out the dough to a rectangle that’s about 2cm thick and whose width roughly matches the length of your loaf tin.
  9. Roll the dough tightly into a sausage; fold the ends under to tidy them up; brush a little oil over the whole loaf and place it carefully into the tin.
  10. Cover the loaf tin and leave to rise for another hour.
  11.  Half an hour in, preheat your oven to 200℃ fan. If you have a dutch oven that your loaf tin will fit into, put a couple of cm of water into it and put in the oven now.
  12. When the loaf is risen, brush it with beaten egg and put it in the oven.
  13. Bake for 20 minutes, then take the top off your dutch oven and bake for another 20 minutes – the top should be golden and the inside should be dry when tested with a skewer.
  14. If you don’t have a dutch oven or a cover for your loaf tin, just bake the loaf open for 20 minutes and then cover it with foil for the rest of the baking time.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.54: Basler Kirschenbrottorte from Switzerland

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.54: Basler Kirschenbrottorte from Switzerland

The German (or, in this case, Swiss-German) habit of running nouns together does sometimes lead you to a recipe that does exactly what it says on the tin: Basler Kirschenbrottorte (cherry-bread-cake from Basel) is, er, a cake whose two main ingredients are bread and cherries. And which comes from the city on the triple border between Switzerland, France and Germany. It’s surprisingly light for something which is not so far from a bread pudding, it’s fruity, cinnamon infused and bursts with flavour. This recipe comes from the food blog Helvetic Kitchen, where it’s accompanied by a nice family story to go with. I’ve halved the quantities.

To state the bleeding obvious, it isn’t cherry season in London right now, so I’ve gone for a 500g pack of frozen black cherries. This seemed to do the job OK, with the advantage that the cherries arrive already stoned, albeit with care needed to ensure that they were properly defrosted and with most of the surplus water dried off. However, I’m going to suggest that if you have fresh cherries growing anywhere near you, the way to go is definitely going to be to make this in season.

Warning: this recipe uses a lot of bowls. I can’t see an obvious way around this.

  • 500g cherries
  • 250 g leftover bread (in my case, this was the last of my Antiguan Sunday Bread)
  • 200 ml milk
  • vanilla paste or extract to taste
  • 100 g biscuit crumbs – I used Digestive biscuits; in the US, one would probably go for Graham Crackers.
  • 60 g butter
  • 100 g sugar
  • 3 large eggs (around 200g total)
  • pinch of salt
  • 50 g ground almonds
  • 10 g flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • kirsch or fruit schnapps to taste
  1. If using frozen cherries, defrost them.
  2. Preheat oven to 180℃.
  3. Cut the bread into 1 cm cubes and put in a bowl.
  4. Put the milk and vanilla into a saucepan and scald until very warm (80-90℃). Take off the heat and pour into a bowl to cool.
  5. Remove the stones from the cherries, if this hasn’t been done for you already
  6. Prepare a 20cm springform tin: line the bottom with baking paper, grease the sides generously with butter. 
  7. Once the milk is at room temperature, pour it over the bread and squeeze it down so that all the bread has soaked up some milk.
  8. Blitz your biscuits to a powder. Take about half the crumbs and spread them evenly over the base of the tin.
  9. Cream the butter and sugar together.
  10. Separate the eggs, pouring the whites into a bowl of your stand mixer, and the yolks into the butter-sugar mixture.
  11. In yet another bowl, mix the remaining biscuit crumbs, ground almonds, flour, cinnamon and salt; stir until blended evenly.
  12. Add the bread mixture into the butter-sugar mixture and mix.
  13. Add in the flour mixture and mix until everything is very even.
  14. Add the cherries and kirsch and mix.
  15. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold in.
  16. Pour the cake mix into your tin and bake for 40-45 minutes. If the cake looks like browning too far before the middle is cooked, cover it with foil for the last 5-10 minutes.
  17. Remove and cool on a rack.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.53: Kozunak – Bulgarian Easter Bread

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.53: Kozunak – Bulgarian Easter Bread

Most Christian countries have some form of enriched bread that they bake for Easter: there’s the Greek Tsoureki, Italian Pane di Pasqua, German Osterbrot, Russian Kulich, English Hot Cross Buns, Paraguayan Chipa – there are dozens more. Since it’s coming up to Easter and I needed a country that I haven’t yet visited on this round the world trip, I’ve gone for Kozunak, the version that’s popular in Bulgaria  (and, indeed, in Romania, Serbia and other Balkan countries.

This is a braided loaf, not so far off a Jewish Challah, but sweeter and with the addition of  lemon and rum-soaked raisins. It’s not massively difficult in essence, but set aside a good amount of time for the three rises that will be needed. I’ve started with a recipe from The Spruce Eats (another of Barbara Rolek’s), halved the quantities as best I could, and broken the recipe up into several stages so that it’s easier to see which ingredients you need for which stage.

My one moan about this recipe is that it uses heroic numbers of small bowls. If you hate washing up, this probably isn’t one for you, or you might want to reshuffle the exact order of the processes a bit.

The raisins

  • 1 lemon
  • 30 ml rum
  • 50g raisins
  1. Grate the lemon zest into a small bowl
  2. Juice around half the lemon and add it to the bowl (I ended up with about 30ml)
  3. Add the rum and raisins to the bowl and mix
  4. Leave to stand until needed

Yeast mix

  • 90ml milk
  • 1 egg (you’ll use half at this stage, half later)
  • 7g yeast
  • 10g sugar
  1. Warm the milk to just below boiling – say 80℃. Pour it into a small bowl. (Note: it’s sensible to put this straight into the bowl of your stand mixer, which I didn’t do)
  2. Beat the egg in a small bowl
  3. Once the milk has cooled to around 40℃, add the yeast, sugar and around half the beaten egg. Keep the rest of the egg: you’ll be using it shortly.
  4. Leave to stand for 20-30 minutes until the mixture is frothy.

The dough and final baking

  • 120ml milk
  • 100g sugar
  • 30g sunflower oil, plus some more for greasing
  • 30g butter
  • 2 eggs, plus the half left over from earlier
  • vanilla essence to taste
  • 600g flour
  • 10g salt
  • 20g flaked almonds
  1. Put the milk and sugar into a saucepan; warm until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat.
  2. Melt the butter and mix with the oil (I use 20 seconds in the microwave, but if you don’t have one, you’ll want to use a  pan).
  3. Separate one of the eggs: reserve the yolk in a small bowl, add the white and the other egg to the half a whole egg that you had left over earlier. Add some vanilla essence and beat them together. Keep the yolk aside, covered: you’ll use it for a wash before baking.
  4. Once your sweetened milk is cool and the yeast mix is frothy, you can get started on the dough. With the yeast mixture in the bowl of my stand mixer, I used the standard beater and set it going at low speed.
  5. Add the milk mixture.
  6. Add the butter/oil mixture.
  7. Drain the raisins and add them.
  8. Add the flour and salt. Mix until all the ingredients are combined.
  9. Switch to the dough hook and knead for around 5 minutes until the dough is very elastic
  10. Grease a bowl with oil.
  11. Form your dough into a ball and transfer it to the bowl. Coat the dough in oil, either by turning it or by brushing some more oil over the top.
  12. Cover with cling film and leave to rise until doubled in size – probably 1-2 hours.
  13. Punch the dough down and leave to rise again – probably 1-2 hours.
  14. Preheat oven to 190℃ fan (I used 200℃, and my crust is too dark)
  15. Separate your dough into three parts (actually, as many parts as you fancy for your favourite braid: now create your braid as shown in this video.
  16. Cover and leave for another 30 minutes.
  17. Spread the loaf with your beaten egg, scatter the almonds over the loaf and put in oven (photo disclaimer: I forgot the almonds!)
  18. Bake for around 25-30 minutes
Around the world in 80 bakes, no. 52: Murtabak from Saudi Arabia

Around the world in 80 bakes, no. 52: Murtabak from Saudi Arabia

Travellers to Saudi Arabia report that the street food par excellence is Murtabak: a rectangular parcel made with paper thin dough and packed with a variety of flavourings, savoury or sweet  (the name مطبق is the Arabic word for “folded”).

Murtabak (or Muttabak or Muttabaq – there are many transliterations) probably originated in Yemen and has found its way to vast tracts of the Middle East, then to India and further. I first came across it in Singapore back in the 1980s, where it was brought by the Tamil community and is a standard item in hawker stalls: the sight of a Murtabak man flinging his circles of dough into the air to stretch them to translucency was always joyous.

Savoury fillings are more common, with minced lamb probably the most popular. Eggs are usually involved, either folded into the filling, as I’ve done here, or spread over the pancake before adding the filling (as done by the Tamils). I’ve gone for diced chicken; the recipe here is something of an amalgam of various Saudi and Yemeni sites: the spicing is authentic-ish, but truly, you have a lot of latitude for putting in your personal favourites.

Any dough that you’re trying to roll to translucent thickness takes a lot of skill and practice to do really well: strudel dough, the warqa dough used in Bastillas or home-made phyllo are all examples of this. Murtabak dough is no exception, but it’s worth mentioning that it’s fairly forgiving in the sense that if you get it wrong by tearing it or making it a bit misshapen, the world really doesn’t end – you’ll still get a thoroughly tasty result.

This recipe makes 3 murtabak. A whole one makes a very generous meal for one or, cut into pieces, a lovely component of a meze spread.

The dough

  • 240g strong white bread flour
  • 4g salt
  • 90ml water
  • 40ml sunflower oil, plus more for covering
  • 1 egg (optional, but you’ll need to adjust flour quantities if you don’t use it)
  1. Mix the ingredients together until they have come together into a smooth dough.
  2. Some recipes suggest that you should knead the dough for a few minutes. Confession time: I forgot to do the kneading, and it didn’t seem to matter.
  3. Oil your hands. Divide the dough into three balls of equal weight, coat them with oil and leave to rest. Recipes suggest anything from 30 minutes to three hours: about 75 minutes worked fine for me.

The filling

  • Oil for frying: I used olive, but you can use whatever you like
  • 150g onion
  • 10g root ginger
  • 20g garlic
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp Aleppo chili flakes (or whatever form of chili or paprika you fancy, but these worked particularly well for me)
  • 400g chicken breast
  • 70g spring onions
  • 1 tomato (mine was 100g)
  • 5g fresh coriander (or flat leaf parsley, or your other favourite herbs, optional)
  • 2 eggs
  1. Chop your various ingredients. The garlic and ginger need to be very fine. The onion, tomato and spring onion should be reasonably fine. The chicken should be small dice, perhaps 5mm or so. The coriander, if you’re using it, can be anything you like.
  2. Heat oil in a pan over medium heat and add the onions and some salt, fry for a couple of minutes
  3. Add the garlic and ginger and fry until the onions are translucent
  4. Add the spices and stir until nicely combined
  5. Add the chicken and stir fry until you can’t see any raw meat
  6. Add the spring onions, tomato and coriander; keep stir-frying until the chicken is cooked through
  7. Beat the eggs, add them to the pan and stir until everything is blended
  8. Set the pan aside

Putting it together

 The best video I found showing you how to do this comes from a site called Sheba Yemeni Food.

  1. Thoroughly clean a large space of work surface and spread it with a little oil.
  2. Take one of your balls of dough and press it flat.
  3. This is where you need to have faith. Pick up your circle of dough in both hands and throw the loose end away from you (a bit like when you’re shaking sand off a towel). Once the dough has landed on your surface, use your fingers to flatten out any thick bits around the edge and get it to as close to a rectangle as you can manage.
  4. Repeat this as often as you dare until the dough is thin enough to be translucent. Obviously, you can’t go too far or the dough will tear.
  5. Spoon a third of your filling into a rectangle in the middle of your dough. Fold the dough over the filling from each of the four sides.
  6. Carefully transfer the completed parcel onto a board so that you can repeat for the next two.
  7. Warm up a griddle or skillet to medium heat. Brush it with a little oil, then fry your murtabak for about 3-4 minutes on each side, until they have a medium brown pattern but aren’t burning.

Serve as soon as you can. The Tamils serve these with a briyani sauce, but for me, a simple green salad or other Middle Eastern salad works fine.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.51: Melomakarona, Christmas cookies from Cyprus

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.51: Melomakarona, Christmas cookies from Cyprus

Many countries have taditional Christmas cookies. Melomakarona (μελομακάρονα) are the version from Cyprus (the Greek bit, as well as being from Greece). They’re laden with the flavours of orange and spices, dipped in syrup and dusted with nuts. They’re really delicious, so when the cookie jar is empty, why wait for Christmas?

I started with a recipe from food blog Afrodite’s Kitchen, but there are plenty of others which vary in terms of choice of nuts, choice of spices and various other details. So everyone agrees that you dip the cookies in syrup, but some people cool the syrup first and others specify hot syrup. And I made my melomakarona round and dimpled, but other recipes are clear in preferring more of an egg shape.

I’ve halved the quantities in the original recipe and simplified things a bit. My dough came out a bit too floury, so I have reduced the amount of flour slightly here. Add a bit more flour (or, in the opposite direction, orange juice or water) if you think you need it.

The cookies

  • 1 orange
  • 80g almonds
  • 50g hazelnuts
  • 150ml sunflower oil
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 4g (1 tsp) cinnamon
  • 1g (¼ tsp) nutmeg
  • 1g (¼ tsp) ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 6g (¾ tsp) baking powder
  • 6g (¾ tsp) baking soda
  • 3g (½ tsp) salt
  • 400g OO flour
  1. Preheat oven to 175℃ fan.
  2. With a potato peeler, take a couple of thick pieces of rind from the orange and reserve. Grate the rest of the zest of the orange and juice it (expect around 80ml of juice). 
  3. Put the almonds and hazelnuts on a baking tray. When the oven is up to temperature, roast them for around 10 minutes until they’re a medium brown colour. Remove and leave to cool until you can handle them. Meanwhile, you can get on with making the cookie dough.
  4. Put the sunflower oil, orange juice and zest, icing sugar and spices into a bowl.
  5. Once the nuts are cool, reserve around 20g of each (you’ll be using them later for dusting). Blitz the rest to a powder (but don’t overdo it: you don’t want the oil coming out of the nuts).
  6. Add the nuts to the oil and spice mixture and whisk until smooth.
  7. Put the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl, stir until even; add these to the wet mix.
  8. Mix thoroughly and knead until you have a smooth dough which is the consistency of a thick paste.
  9. Divide the dough into balls of around 30g each (my dough made 27 cookies). Press each ball into your choice of a dimpled circle or an oval.
  10. Place on a baking sheet and bake for around 20 minutes
  11. Leave to cool

The syrup, and final assembly

  • 240ml water
  • 200g sugar
  • 120g honey
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 cloves
  • 2 thick pieces of orange rind (from above)
  • Almonds and hazelnuts (from above)
  1. Chop the toasted nuts finely. You can use your food processor, but don’t blitz the nuts to a powder as you did with the others.
  2. Combine water, sugar, honey, cinnamon, cloves and orange rind in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to simmer.
  3. Dip each cookie into the simmering syrup. Afrodite’s Kitchen says 10-15 seconds max, but I found it needed 20 to get enough syrup to soak in: this probably depends on the exact texture of your dough.
  4. Sprinkle the cookies with the chopped nuts.
  5. You can leave them to cool at this point, but you don’t have to…
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.50: Tabun or Pita bread, from Jordan

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.50: Tabun or Pita bread, from Jordan

This blog post is a two-in-one, because these two flatbreads are the same for the whole process up to the final bake, where different techniques get a different structure. I’ve labelled them as Jordanian because the first recipe I looked up claimed to be from Jordan, but in all honesty, you’ll find these all over the Arab world. I was actually making them to eat with lamb shawarma, in a recipe from Sami Tamiri’s wonderful Falastin.

If your idea of pita bread is the small oval slices of cardboard bought from supermarkets, think again. Freshly made pita crisps and puffs up like a ball, perfect for stuffing with the filling of your choice: shawarma, falafel, muhamarra or any other Middle Eastern goodies. Tabun (or taboon) is softer and flatter: use as open sandwich rather than trying to stuff it. (The tabun is the name of the wood-fired open-topped oven in which the bread is traditionally baked, similar to the indian tandoor.)

Since  I don’t have a tabun, I’m improvising, using one of two techniques. For pita, I’m putting a pizza stone in the oven and winding the temperature as high as I can get. The sudden heat applied to the dough makes the moisture in the centre evaporate, resulting in the characteristic pocket. For tabun, I’m approximating to the stones on which the bread would traditionally be made by pouring ceramic baking beads into a frying pan (or skillet), and laying the flatbread over the top and using a lower temperature oven (you could also do this on the hob).

Here’s an updated round-up on the list of flatbreads in this blog:

  • Aish baladi (Egypt): the wholemeal version of pita or tabun
  • Focaccia (Italy): flavoured with olive oil, salt and other ingredients such as rosemary, olives or tomatoes. Thickness varies from one baker to another (it can be very thick)
  • Lavash (Armenia): similar dough to tabun, but rolled or thrown to be wafer thin before baking
  • Naan (India): between a tabun and a focaccia in thickness, often flavoured with ghee, nigella seeds or other ingredients.
  • Pita: thickness somewhere between lavash and naan, baked quickly at high heat to puff up into a pocket for filling.
  • Tabun: thickness starts similar to pita, but baked more slowly for a more pillowy texture.
  • Finally, there’s Persian flatbread (Nan Barbari), which is probably my favourite of the lot of them, which has the generous softness of a focaccia but with Middle Eastern flavours instead of the oil. I’ve already done a Persian bake in this series, so I’ll just point you at Sabrina Ghayour’s Persiana as the source of a fabulous Nan Barbari recipe. The Afghans do their own version (Nan Afghani), so this may appear in a future post – but first, when I stop being worried about lockdown, I want to go and watch them at the Afghan shop a few km from my home.

The dough

The quantities here make four flatbreads.

  • 5g dried yeast
  • 10g sugar
  • 200g lukewarm water (around 40℃)
  • 25g olive oil
  • 300g strong white flour
  • 10g salt
  1. Combine yeast, sugar and water, leave for a few minutes until frothy.
  2. Combine flour and salt. Add the wet mixture and the olive oil and mix until smooth.
  3. Knead until stretchy. I found these quantities too small to work properly with the dough hook in my stand mixer, so I did the kneading by hand. If you double the recipe, the stand mixer should work fine.
  4. Leave to rise until doubled in size (1-2 hours depending on ambient temperature and the temperature of the water you used).
  5. Divide the dough into four, roll into flat circles of around 5mm thick. Personally, I seem to be incapable of rolling a perfect circle, so mine tend to end up oval, heart-shaped or some crazy irregular alternative. This doesn’t seem to matter too much.

The Pita version

  1. Place a pizza stone in your oven and preheat the oven to 250℃ fan
  2. When you’re ready to bake, give a circle of dough an extra roll (it’s probably shrunk a bit).
  3. Working quickly, open the oven, take the stone out, place the circle of the dough on the stone and put back into the oven. If you have space for two at a time, great.
  4. Bake for around 8 minutes (you can turn the bread half way if you want, but that’s not essential) until puffed up and crisp.
  5. Repeat for the remaining flatbreads.

The Tabun version

  1. Pour baking beads into a skillet. If using an oven, preheat it to 200℃ fan. If using the hob, heat your skillet until everything is very hot.
  2. When you’re ready to bake, give a circle of dough an extra roll (it’s probably shrunk a bit).
  3. Lay the circle of dough over the beads. If using the oven, put the skillet back in.
  4. The flatbreads should each take around 10 minutes to cook. You’ll want to turn them over half way.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.49: Vaisių pyragas, fruit cake from Lithuania

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.49: Vaisių pyragas, fruit cake from Lithuania

Time for a different kind of bake altogether: a yeasted fruit cake, which is a lovely afternoon snack somewhere between a cake and a bread. This one is from Lithuania and comes to us all via food writer Barbara Rolek: the same recipe seems to surface in lots of different US websites. I first spotted it on The Spruce Eats; I’ve halved and metricised the quantities, as well as tweaking a few things.

The result is a bit like a giant, fruit studded cinnamon bun. It’s great for slicing and storing in the freezer for a ready supply of snacks. The recipe doesn’t need excessive amounts of work, but it needs a lot of elapsed time – there are multiple rises which can each take a couple of hours, depending on the temperature of your kitchen. Start early.

A couple of caveats, especially if you’re looking at the photos:

  • You can use pretty much any dried fruit you like. I couldn’t get glacé cherries, which looked nice in the original recipe. 
  • The dough on mine came out very stiff indeed, so you may find you want to increase the amount of milk.
  • I used bread flour, which was probably a mistake. I’d stick with plain flour next time.
  • Also next time, I’d probably start by activating the yeast in some warm water (or milk) and sugar. The recipe doesn’t suggest this, but not doing it meant that my dough took an eternity to rise.

The dough

  • 8g yeast
  • 120g sugar
  • 180 ml milk
  • 550g plain flour
  • 4g salt
  • 60g butter
  • 1.5 large eggs
  • 180g mixed fruit
  • 120g raisins
  • 40g walnuts
  • 30 ml rum
  1. In your stand mixer, combine 300g of the flour, 60g of the sugar, the yeast and milk and mix until reasonably smooth. Cover and leave to rest for an hour.
  2. Melt the butter. Add it to the mix with the eggs, the salt and the rest of the sugar and the flour. With the dough hook, knead for 5-7 minutes.
  3. Add the fruit, raisins, walnuts and rum. Mix thoroughly.
  4. Leave to rise until doubled in size. Expect this to take an hour or two.

The filling

  • 30g butter
  • 60g sugar
  • 6g cinnamon
  1. Melt the butter. 
  2. Mix with the sugar and cinnamon. Leave to cool somewhat.

Putting it together

  1. Grease a loaf tin.
  2. Flour a surface and roll out your dough into a rectangle. The width of your rectangle should be somewhat under the length of your loaf tin; the length around 1½ times the width.
  3. Spread your rectangle of dough with the filling. Don’t go too close to the edges – you won’t want filling leaking out.
  4. Roll up the dough into a thick sausage, ensuring the filling is sealed inside. Transfer the sausage into your loaf tin.
  5. Leave to rise until doubled in size. Again, this could easily take 1-2 hours. If this hasn’t happened after a couple of hours, give up and bake it anyway.
  6. Preheat oven to 200℃ fan
  7. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce temperature to 175℃, then bake for around another 40 minutes.
  8. Leave to cool on a rack. If you want, sprinkle with icing sugar (I didn’t).

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.48: Chicken, egg and almond bastillas from Morocco

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.48: Chicken, egg and almond bastillas from Morocco

Bastillas (or Pastillas) are Moroccan pies made with ultra-thin pastry. They’re unquestionably one of the country’s most famous dishes: you will find dozens of different types, with different recipes for each type. But be careful: there are some disappointingly bland recipes around. On the other hand, a really good, flavour-packed Bastilla can be dazzling, a huge crowd-pleaser. It’s complex, but it’s worth it.

I’ve chosen one of the most popular types: the chicken, egg and almond bastilla. I based my version on a combination of The Spruce Eats, My Moroccan Food and French-language blog Choumicha.ma and the results were outstanding. But you have lots of choices, which I’ll try to explain.

There are some constants: you’re going to make a chicken and onion stew with herbs (most probably parsley and coriander) and spices, which will definitely include ground ginger and turmeric. You’re going to scramble some eggs. You’re going to chop up some almonds. And you’re going to bake all of these in a shell of layered thin pastry. But beyond those basics, you’ve got several options.

The first crucial one is the size: you can make a single large bastilla or multiple individually size ones. I went for something in between: the quantities below make enough for six people (assuming that you’ve got some other side dishes of some sort), and I chose to do two bastillas for the two of us to have on separate days (with leftovers).

The next question is the type of pastry. If you’re going for the full-on Moroccan experience, you’ll want to freshly make your own pastry sheets: Choumicha has a really nice video showing you how it’s done. The Spruce gives the pastry a name, “warqa”, and shows a similar recipe. The warqa process is seriously weird, but works fine once you’ve got used to it. Since I wasn’t feeling super-confident, I made enough pastry for one of my two bastillas, and used supermarket-bought filo pastry for the other. The warqa version was a clear winner: it’s a time consuming faff, but the result is considerably superior and I won’t be going back to filo any time soon.

You have options on the spicing: saffron, cinnamon, ras el hanout and orange blossom water are just some of them. Some Moroccan recipes use smen, a fermented butter not dissimilar to the Indian ghee, either in place of the oil or in addition to it.

I went for chicken thigh fillets because there are better quality ones available than whole thighs at the supermarket I use. Cooking your chicken on the bone will get you a richer sauce.

Next, there’s the question of how to layer your fillings. I went for a three layer approach: chicken mixed with onion sauce, scrambled eggs, ground almonds. There are other possibilities (keep the chicken and the sauce separate and/or blend your eggs into the sauce when you scramble them).

Finally, there’s the question of icing sugar. I really don’t like things sweet so I ignored the two instructions to add icing sugar: one when grinding the almonds and one when the whole bastilla is finished.

That’s more than enough about the possible variations: let’s get down to the recipe I made.

The chicken filling

If you can, make your filling the day before. Like many stewed dishes, it tastes more intense when the flavours have had lots of time to infuse. Quantities of herbs are very approximate: I’ve never yet found a dish that gets spoiled by adding too many fresh herbs.

  • Olive oil for frying
  • 800g chicken thigh fillets (or around 8 large chicken thighs)
  • 500g onions
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tsp ras el hanout
  • A small pinch saffron
  • Salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 20g flat leaf parsley
  • 20g coriander leaves
  • ½ tablespoon honey
  1. Divide the chicken thigh fillets into two at the point where they’re nearly split anyway.
  2. Chop the onions reasonably finely (you don’t need to go overboard).
  3. Heat oil in a pan, add the chicken, onions, spices, salt and pepper.
  4. Fry on medium heat, uncovered, until the chicken is browned on all sides and the onions are transparent (around 10-15 minutes)
  5. Add the parsley and coriander and a small amount of water (perhaps 50-100ml), cover your pan and simmer until the chicken is cooked through.
  6. Remove the chicken and set aside. Discard the cinnamon stick. Add honey to the mixture, uncover your pan and cook until almost all the water has evaporated and you have a thick paste. You don’t want a watery sauce turning your pastry soggy.
  7. Meanwhile, if your chicken was on the bone, remove the bones and skin. Chop the chicken into small pieces, perhaps 5-10mm across.
  8. Recombine the chicken and the sauce and set aside.

The almond filling

  • 200g blanched almonds
  • Olive oil for drizzling
  1. Preheat oven to 160℃ fan
  2. Spread almonds out on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil
  3. Bake in the oven for until golden: around 15-20 minutes
  4. Remove and leave to cool
  5. Blitz the almonds in a food processor until you have a coarse grain – you don’t want a fine powder or the oil will start coming out of the nuts.
  6. Set aside

The warqa pastry sheets

The amount here should be about right for a single large bastilla. If you’re making more smaller bastillas and/or you’re a bit heavy handed with your pancake creation, you might need to increase the recipe, up to double.

  • 160g flour
  • 240 ml water
  • 5g salt
  • Olive oil for brushing
  1. Whisk together flour, water and salt until you have a smooth, runny batter. In the Choumicha video, this is done in a blender, but a bowl and a balloon whisk work fine.
  2. Have a nylon or silicone pastry brush ready.
  3. Have a small dish of olive oil ready, with a different pastry brush (of any type you like)
  4. Prepare a double boiler by bringing water to the boil in a saucepan which should be just under the diameter of a non-stick frying pan that you place above it.
  5. On a work surface as near as you can get to the pan, spread a sheet of plastic or cling film somewhat wider than your pan. Have another one of the same size ready.
  6. Once the pan is warm, quickly paint an ultra-thin layer of batter across all of the bottom of the pan. The correct thickness is less than you think – you’ll hardly be able to see the batter because it’s just about transparent.
  7. After about 2-3 minutes, the pastry sheet will be cooked: you’ll know because the edges will start to curl away from the rounded sides of the pan. Now comes the scary part: pick the sheet up carefully by one of the edges and peel it off the pan.
  8. Transfer the pancake to your plastic sheet, brush olive oil over it, and put the second plastic sheet over it to stop it drying out. You’ll lift that second sheet off shortly before the next pancake is cooked.
  9. Repeat until you’ve run out of batter. If all goes well, you’ll hardly need to clean your frying pan, but if you’ve had a failure, just wash up the frying pan, put it back in double boiler position and wait until it’s properly warmed up again before continuing.

The egg filling

  • 5 large eggs
  • 10g butter (quantity very approximate)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Whisk the eggs with the salt and pepper
  2. Melt butter in a pan
  3. Add the eggs and stir over medium heat until you have a fairly dry scrambled egg mixture (like the chicken filling, you don’t want it making your pastry soggy).

Putting it all together

Ideally, you will have a round dish with shallow, slightly rounded sides to help form you bastilla into the traditional round shape. If, like me, you don’t, you’ll just have to go freehand on a greased baking tray.

  • Olive oil, melted ghee or smen for brushing
  1. Preheat oven to 200℃ fan
  2. If you’re going to make more than one bastilla, divide your fillings up into equal portions and repeat the instructions below for each.
  3. Place a few overlapping layers of pastry in a pattern big enough that once you’ve made your mound of fillings, you will be able to cover them in at least two or three sheets.
  4. Make a flattened mound of chicken filling in the centre.
  5. Spread the top with the scrambled egg.
  6. Spread the top with ground almonds.
  7. Fold a layer of pastry over the top. Brush it with oil (or ghee or smen).
  8. Repeat until all the layers have been folder over and you have a completed round pie, brushed across its top.
  9. Bake until golden, around 20 minutes. Take out and cool.
  10. Moroccans sprinkle the whole thing with icing sugar and cinnamon before serving. I didn’t.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.47: Black sesame cookies from Japan

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.47: Black sesame cookies from Japan

The Japanese may not have centuries worth of baking tradition: their traditional cuisine is more likely to involve steaming or cooking in a pan. But they’ve taken to the Western idea of baked desserts with a vengeance and added flavours that are characteristically Japanese. Green matcha tea cookies are a favourite for many, but as I’m not particularly fond of matcha, so I’ve gone for a different flavouring: black sesame seeds. These cookies (黒胡麻クッキー or Kuro goma kukkī) are very popular in Japan, they’re easy to make, not too sweet and have a distinct taste that I remember from trips to Japan but not from anywhere else. Thanks to Nami and her blog justonecookbook.com for the recipe.

I’ve followed Nami’s recipe reasonably accurately for my first effort (she gives an option of keeping the sesame seeds whole or grinding them – I went for keeping them whole). Next time, I might go for grinding them and using a few more to get a bigger hit of sesame flavour. I might also take the sugar down a bit, although these aren’t extremely sweet by any means. If you’re looking at the photos, it’s clear that I should probably have sliced the cookies a lot thinner to get a crisper result.

  • 40g black sesame seeds
  • 160g plain flour
  • 40g ground almonds
  • 80g caster sugar
  • 2g salt
  • 120g unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  1. Toast the sesame seeds in a pan until fragrant, leave to cool slightly.
  2. In the bowl of your food processor, weight out the flour, ground almonds, sugar and salt. Stir until evenly mixed (or, if you dare, pulse the food processor briefly).
  3. Take the butter out of the fridge and cut it into cubes. Add to the food processor and run until you have an even crumbly mix.
  4. Add the egg and sesame seeds and pulse for a few seconds until everything is even.
  5. Now take the mixture out of your food processor into a bowl and bring together with your hands until you have a smooth dough.
  6. Form your dough into a long sausage. (Nami’s recipe says to cut the dough into two and do two sausages – I forgot). Wrap them in cling film and refrigerate for around an hour. Ideally, the sausage(s) should be round, but it’s fairly hard to avoid having a flat edge.
  7. Meanwhile, prepare two baking trays with baking paper (or silicone mats) and preheat oven to 175℃.
  8. Take the sausage of dough out of the fridge and cut it into circular slices around 5mm in width. Lay these out on your baking trays, allowing room for a bit of expansion.
  9. Bake for around 15 minutes until a light golden colour.
  10. Leave to cool on a rack for as long as you can manage without scoffing them.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.46: Brazo da Reina from Chile

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.46: Brazo da Reina from Chile

I have no idea why a Swiss Roll is called a Swiss Roll. I’ve travelled to Switzerland a lot and I don’t remember seeing one there. If Wikipedia is to believed, it doesn’t even come from Switzerland in the first place. But apparently, if you happen to be in Chile, at 5pm, it’s time for a coffee and a slice of Brazo da Reina – a rolled sponge cake filled with dulce de leche (caramelised condensed milk). The name in Spanish means “the Queen’s Arm”, which sounds to British ears more like a pub sign, which just goes to show that there’s no accounting for language. It’s not really clear where that name comes from either, and the same cake has other names in different bits of Latin America: Brazo de gitano (gypsy’s arm) or Pionono. Other countries also use different fillings.

The Chilean recipe I started from is notable for having a lot of eggs and no shortening whatsoever, which makes for an incredibly light, airy sponge cake. There are other recipes that use a small amount of oil.

The recipe I used tells you to fold the egg yolks into the beaten whites, then add the flour to the whole lot. That was a little too far outside my comfort zone, so I stuck to a more conventional scheme of mixing egg yolks, sugar and flour before folding, which worked very well.

The tricky part of making a roll cake – especially one as light an airy as this – is to roll it up without tearing. I wasn’t 100% successful, but it was good enough.

The last time I made dulce de leche, for Argentinian alfajores, I baked the condensed milk in an oven tray, which worked OK but was fiddly. For this recipe, I found the ultimate cheat method in the Brazo da Reina recipe in a blog called Curious Cuisiniere – just boil the condensed milk in its can. It’s close to zero effort and worked perfectly. Their advice for rolling up the cake seemed sensible too: this is the first time I’ve tried a roll cake, so I can’t speak for how well other methods work.

You’ll want a Swiss roll tin, around 30cm x 20cm.

The dulce de leche filling

  • 400g can of condensed milk
  1. Put the tin of condensed milk (unopened, but you may want to take the paper off) into a saucepan, pour water to cover it (with some spare, since it will evaporate), and bring it to the boil.
  2. Leave it to simmer for 2-3 hours (two will get you a light caramelisation, 3 will get you a more golden-brown and stronger tasting result.
  3. Remove the tin from the pan and leave it to cool.

The cake

  • Butter for greasing tin
  • 6 eggs
  • 240g flour
  • 10g baking powder
  • 180g caster sugar
  • icing sugar for dusting
  1. Preheat oven to 175℃
  2. Grease your tin with butter, then line it with baking paper, then grease the baking paper generously.
  3. Separate the eggs into two mixing bowls.
  4. Sift the flour and baking powder together.
  5. Beat the egg yolks and add half the caster sugar. Then add the flour and baking powder and mix until well blended. The mixture will be quite stiff.
  6. In the other bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, add the remaining caster sugar and whisk at high speed until you have a stiff meringue
  7. Add around a quarter of the meringue to your flour mixture and mix in until smooth. Do the same with another quarter, now taking care to keep as much air in the meringue as you can. Now fold in the remaining meringue, working really hard to keep the air in.
  8. Spread the mixture evenly into your tin. Ideally, use an offset spatula to get it really level (I don’t have one, so I just did my best.
  9. Bake for around 10 minutes. You do NOT want to overbake the sponge or you stand no chance of rolling it intact.
  10. Leave to cool for a minute or two, then run a palette knife round the edge to make sure the cake is not sticking to the edge. Sprinkle some icing sugar over the cake.
  11. Spread a tea towel over the cake, and then an inverted cooling rack. Turn the whole assembly upside down. As gently as you can, remove your cake tin. The cake should sit on its tea towel in one piece.
  12. Very gently, pull off the baking paper almost all the way, then put it back in place.
  13. Now roll the cake up as tightly as you can, and leave to cool for an hour or so.
  14. Unroll the cake (this is the part where it’s hard to stop it tearing), spread the filling over it, then roll it up again.
  15. (Optional – I didn’t) dust the cake with more icing sugar.