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!
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
600g strong white flour
Optional: a generous grind of black pepper, to taste
Sunflower oil for greasing
a small amount of beaten egg for the egg wash
Warm the milk to around 40℃. If it goes hotter, let it cool to 40℃ before using, or you’ll kill the yeast.
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.
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.
Add the wet mixture and mix until you have a smooth dough: it should come away from the sides of the bowl.
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.
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.
Grease your loaf tin
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.
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.
Cover the loaf tin and leave to rise for another hour.
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.
When the loaf is risen, brush it with beaten egg and put it in the oven.
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.
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.
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.
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
If using frozen cherries, defrost them.
Preheat oven to 180℃.
Cut the bread into 1 cm cubes and put in a bowl.
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.
Remove the stones from the cherries, if this hasn’t been done for you already
Prepare a 20cm springform tin: line the bottom with baking paper, grease the sides generously with butter.
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.
Blitz your biscuits to a powder. Take about half the crumbs and spread them evenly over the base of the tin.
Cream the butter and sugar together.
Separate the eggs, pouring the whites into a bowl of your stand mixer, and the yolks into the butter-sugar mixture.
In yet another bowl, mix the remaining biscuit crumbs, ground almonds, flour, cinnamon and salt; stir until blended evenly.
Add the bread mixture into the butter-sugar mixture and mix.
Add in the flour mixture and mix until everything is very even.
Add the cherries and kirsch and mix.
Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold in.
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.
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.
30 ml rum
Grate the lemon zest into a small bowl
Juice around half the lemon and add it to the bowl (I ended up with about 30ml)
Add the rum and raisins to the bowl and mix
Leave to stand until needed
1 egg (you’ll use half at this stage, half later)
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)
Beat the egg in a small bowl
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.
Leave to stand for 20-30 minutes until the mixture is frothy.
The dough and final baking
30g sunflower oil, plus some more for greasing
2 eggs, plus the half left over from earlier
vanilla essence to taste
20g flaked almonds
Put the milk and sugar into a saucepan; warm until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat.
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).
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.
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.
Add the milk mixture.
Add the butter/oil mixture.
Drain the raisins and add them.
Add the flour and salt. Mix until all the ingredients are combined.
Switch to the dough hook and knead for around 5 minutes until the dough is very elastic
Grease a bowl with oil.
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.
Cover with cling film and leave to rise until doubled in size – probably 1-2 hours.
Punch the dough down and leave to rise again – probably 1-2 hours.
Preheat oven to 190℃ fan (I used 200℃, and my crust is too dark)
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.
Cover and leave for another 30 minutes.
Spread the loaf with your beaten egg, scatter the almonds over the loaf and put in oven (photo disclaimer: I forgot the almonds!)
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.
240g strong white bread flour
40ml sunflower oil, plus more for covering
1 egg (optional, but you’ll need to adjust flour quantities if you don’t use it)
Mix the ingredients together until they have come together into a smooth dough.
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.
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.
Oil for frying: I used olive, but you can use whatever you like
10g root ginger
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)
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.
Heat oil in a pan over medium heat and add the onions and some salt, fry for a couple of minutes
Add the garlic and ginger and fry until the onions are translucent
Add the spices and stir until nicely combined
Add the chicken and stir fry until you can’t see any raw meat
Add the spring onions, tomato and coriander; keep stir-frying until the chicken is cooked through
Beat the eggs, add them to the pan and stir until everything is blended
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.
Thoroughly clean a large space of work surface and spread it with a little oil.
Take one of your balls of dough and press it flat.
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.
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.
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.
Carefully transfer the completed parcel onto a board so that you can repeat for the next two.
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.
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.
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
Preheat oven to 175℃ fan.
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).
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.
Put the sunflower oil, orange juice and zest, icing sugar and spices into a bowl.
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).
Add the nuts to the oil and spice mixture and whisk until smooth.
Put the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl, stir until even; add these to the wet mix.
Mix thoroughly and knead until you have a smooth dough which is the consistency of a thick paste.
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.
Place on a baking sheet and bake for around 20 minutes
Leave to cool
The syrup, and final assembly
1 cinnamon stick
2 thick pieces of orange rind (from above)
Almonds and hazelnuts (from above)
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.
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.
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.
Sprinkle the cookies with the chopped nuts.
You can leave them to cool at this point, but you don’t have to…