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.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Orange-Sour Cream Twists

During the many months I haven't been able to blog, I was busy baking. I remember diagnosing a "yeast deficiency" in Our Patisserie a while ago. Well, things have changed drastically since then. Nowadays, I cannot bake enough with yeast. Those long waiting times that deterred me from baking anything with yeast, now bring the sweetest anticipation with them. I love feeling the smoothness and silkiness of the dough as I work it. I agree that bread-baking is therapeutic. I am a late believer, and in order to make up for all that time lost, I bake nonstop: breads, rolls, buns, pinwheels... Judging by the number and intensity of my previous kitchen crazes, this, too, will phase out. I just hope that I can learn how to make puff pastry --my symbol of ultimate kitchen achievement-- before that happens.

I found this recipe in Califoria Culinary Academy's Bread book. I had to substitute coarsely chopped pistachios for the sliced almonds which I did not have; but otherwise, I was pretty faithful to the recipe. The twists were mildly sweet with an irresistable orange aroma, and cutting cold butter into the flour resulted in a flaky, light pastry. This was our favorite amongst the yeast recipes I tried last week.
  • 1 package yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
  • 1/4 c warm water
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 2 1/2 c flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 eggs, seperated
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp grated orange peel
  • 1/2 c sour cream
  • 1/4 c butter, melted
  • 1/4 c sliced almonds
  • Confectioners' sugar if desired
  • Orange Sugar (recipe below)
Combine yeast, warm water and sugar in a medium bowl and let stand for about 5 minutes or until starts to foam.

In your mixer's bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut 1/2 c of cold butter into the flour using a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Add egg yolks, sour cream, vanilla and orange rind to the yeast mixture and blend well. Gradually add the yeast mixture into the flour mixture, stir until uniformly mixed. Transfer the dough onto a floured surface and knead just until smooth. Shape into a flattened ball, wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 hours. (I rested mine overnight.)

During the resting period, you can prepare the Orange Sugar and melted butter. Have two lightly greased baking sheets ready. When ready to proceed, divide dough into two equal portions. You will work with one at a time, and keep the other one in the refrigerator. Roll the dough on a floured surface to a rectangle of 12" by 18". Brush with half of the melted butter and sprinkle with half of the Orange Sugar. Fold the rectangle in half so that you get a 9" by 12" rectangle. Cut it into 1" by 9" strips. Transfer one of the the strips to a baking sheet. Hold one end in place, while you twist the other end and form into a ring. Seal the ends with water and pinching them together. Repeat with the other strips.

Now cover the rolls lightly with waxed paper and let rest for 25-30 minutes or until they look puffy. Meanwhile preheat your oven to 350F. Beat the reserved egg whites with a tablespoon of water, and brush on the rolls lightly. Sprinkle them with half of the sliced almonds.

Bake the rolls until they are golden brown (20-25 minutes). Transfer them to racks to cool. Dust lightly with powdered sugar if desired.

Repeat with the second half of the dough. (makes 18 twists)

Orange Sugar
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1 tbs grated orange peel

Stir the ingredients pressing hard with the the back of a metal spoon so that the orange oil infuses the sugar.