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…
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!)
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…
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.
180 ml milk
550g plain flour
1.5 large eggs
180g mixed fruit
30 ml rum
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.
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.
Add the fruit, raisins, walnuts and rum. Mix thoroughly.
Leave to rise until doubled in size. Expect this to take an hour or two.
Melt the butter.
Mix with the sugar and cinnamon. Leave to cool somewhat.
Putting it together
Grease a loaf tin.
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.
Spread your rectangle of dough with the filling. Don’t go too close to the edges – you won’t want filling leaking out.
Roll up the dough into a thick sausage, ensuring the filling is sealed inside. Transfer the sausage into your loaf tin.
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.
Preheat oven to 200℃ fan
Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce temperature to 175℃, then bake for around another 40 minutes.
Leave to cool on a rack. If you want, sprinkle with icing sugar (I didn’t).
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)
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
Divide the chicken thigh fillets into two at the point where they’re nearly split anyway.
Chop the onions reasonably finely (you don’t need to go overboard).
Heat oil in a pan, add the chicken, onions, spices, salt and pepper.
Fry on medium heat, uncovered, until the chicken is browned on all sides and the onions are transparent (around 10-15 minutes)
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.
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.
Meanwhile, if your chicken was on the bone, remove the bones and skin. Chop the chicken into small pieces, perhaps 5-10mm across.
Recombine the chicken and the sauce and set aside.
The almond filling
200g blanched almonds
Olive oil for drizzling
Preheat oven to 160℃ fan
Spread almonds out on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil
Bake in the oven for until golden: around 15-20 minutes
Remove and leave to cool
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.
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.
240 ml water
Olive oil for brushing
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.
Have a nylon or silicone pastry brush ready.
Have a small dish of olive oil ready, with a different pastry brush (of any type you like)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Whisk the eggs with the salt and pepper
Melt butter in a pan
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
Preheat oven to 200℃ fan
If you’re going to make more than one bastilla, divide your fillings up into equal portions and repeat the instructions below for each.
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.
Make a flattened mound of chicken filling in the centre.
Spread the top with the scrambled egg.
Spread the top with ground almonds.
Fold a layer of pastry over the top. Brush it with oil (or ghee or smen).
Repeat until all the layers have been folder over and you have a completed round pie, brushed across its top.
Bake until golden, around 20 minutes. Take out and cool.
Moroccans sprinkle the whole thing with icing sugar and cinnamon before serving. I didn’t.
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
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.
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.
Remove the tin from the pan and leave it to cool.
Butter for greasing tin
10g baking powder
180g caster sugar
icing sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 175℃
Grease your tin with butter, then line it with baking paper, then grease the baking paper generously.
Separate the eggs into two mixing bowls.
Sift the flour and baking powder together.
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.
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
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.
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.
Bake for around 10 minutes. You do NOT want to overbake the sponge or you stand no chance of rolling it intact.
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.
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.
Very gently, pull off the baking paper almost all the way, then put it back in place.
Now roll the cake up as tightly as you can, and leave to cool for an hour or so.
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.
(Optional – I didn’t) dust the cake with more icing sugar.