Saturday, September 01, 2007

Mahlab-Sesame Rings

In Turkey, these crisp savory rings are traditionally made to celebrate the 5 special nights known as Kandil Geceleri. There, one can simply purchase them from a bakery; but some of us --who, being away from home, do not have that luxury-- learn to make them ourselves one way or the other. There are versions made with yeast as well as others leavened with baking powder; some recipes even incorporate yogurt and vinegar, but they all share the characteristic ingredient Mahlab -- a powder derived from the heart of cherry seeds that lends a distinct flavor and aroma to baked goods. Naturally, owing to my recently contracted yeast mania, the recipe I used had to have yeast. It is from Ayla Esen Algar's Classical Turkish Cooking. Ms. Algar writes that she learned to make these rings from a professional baker in Turkey, and I will add that I found them to be very authentic. The rings are delicious on their own, but they are also a great accompaniment to feta cheese and tea.

For the Sponge
  • 1 tsp yeast
  • A pinch of sugar
  • 1/4 c warm water
  • 1/4 c flour
For the Dough
  • 1 1/2 c flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt (I used a little more)
  • 1 heaping tsp ground mahlab
  • 11 tbs butter cut into small pieces (It should be at room temperature, but not too soft.)
  • 1 egg
For the Top
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1tbs cream or milk
  • Sesame seeds or nigella seeds for decoration
For the yeast, combine the yeast, water and sugar in a small bowl and let stand until frothy. Then add the flour, mix and cover. Let it rise for half an hour.

Sift the flour and salt together on your work surface. Make a well in the center and put the mahlab, sponge, egg and butter pieces here. First hand-mix the ingredients in the center, then work in the flour until the dough comes together. Knead it until it becomes smooth. Shape it into a ball and place into a buttered bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest in a warm place for 20 minutes. (This dough will not have risen drastically at the end of the resting period like a bread dough, so do not be alarmed.)

Take the dough to a floured working surface and divide into 10 equal pieces. (I divided mine into 20 equal pieces as I was baking for a crowd.) Shape each into a ball and let them rest under a clean kitchen towel for 15 more minutes.

Roll each ball into a 12" rope and form into a ring. Place the rings on a lightly greased baking sheet. Mix the egg yolk with cream and brush on the rings generously. Sprinkle them with seeds of your choice. Let the rings rest for another 15 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 375C. Bake your rings for 25 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. Enjoy them fresh from the oven, warm or at room temperature; you'll love them any way you have them.