Maamoul: Fragrant Middle Eastern Pastries

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A plate of Mahmoul showing the fillings inside

How a cake or a biscuit or a loaf looks is important to me. Maybe not as important as how it tastes, but almost. So if I see a recipe that requires a special mould or tin or contraption to make it I find it very hard to resist the temptation to rush out and buy it. This is all too clear from my collection of madeleine and friand trays, biscuit and moon cake presses, and tins for bundts, pandoro, angel cake, milk loaf, and more. At present I am trying very hard not to buy a set of copper cannelé moulds. I might succeed. I might not. Watch this space.

Anyway, when I saw David Lebovitz’s post about the glorious pastries on offer at Al Bohsali in Lebanon, I knew I just had to buy a Maamoul mould. That, as it turned out, was quite a challenge in the UK. Using the thing was quite a challenge too. But more of that later.

These fragrant little pastries are found in Lebanon and several other countries of the Middle East and beyond. A filling of nuts, dates or figs is enclosed in a beautifully sculpted case of crumbly semolina pastry. I won’t lie; they are not the easiest or quickest things to make. But they are definitely rather special, and well worth the effort. Continue reading

“Persian Bowl” Loaf

The top of my first "Persian Bowl" loafThis loaf was inspired by the pattern on a pair of ancient Persian silver bowls, dating from about 500BC, which I saw on a recent visit to the British Museum. I haven’t been able to find a picture of them on line, so you will have to make do with my rather fuzzy picture, shown below, which does still convey the simple elegance of the design that so appealed to me. I’m sure the execution of the bowl was anything but simple, not least because the surface of each is divided into fourteen segments. I went for the much simpler option of having only twelve in my loaf. Continue reading

Cottage Loaf

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Cottage Loaf made with 57% hydration white yeasted doughI have fond memories of this classic British bread form from my childhood, but I don’t recall seeing it in bakeries recently. I was inspired to try my hand at it by a stunning photograph posted on Twitter by Karl Bowyer.

Although my version is not as spectacular, I take heart from the words of Elizabeth David (in English Bread and Yeast Cookery):

“Cottage loaves, as all professional bakers writing for their colleagues readily admit, are notoriously difficult to mould and bake…”

And her recipe doesn’t even include the slashes that seem to me to be so characteristic of this loaf – but do add to its difficulty. So if you want to omit those you are in good company! Continue reading

Couronne Bordelaise

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Couronne Bordelaise - using oil between the top disc and the ballsThe Couronne Bordelaise is a beautiful bread form that has the appearance of having been artfully scored, whereas it is all actually done by shaping. This suits me perfectly as my scoring skills are still, to say the least, rudimentary.

Couronne means crown or wreath in French, and at its best this loaf has a spectacular crest of dough at its centre which really does look like a crown or diadem, surrounded by six or eight rounded buns.

However I have found this effect surprisingly difficult to achieve. Continue reading

Delightful…! Preposterous…! Brioche Feuilletée

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Brioche Feuillete 13 10 13 (51)bWhen I first got my iPad, I became addicted for a while to a game called Cruel Jewels. It was very amusing the way a kind of posh butler would comment with increasing excitement on how well you were doing. A good move might earn a “Delightful!”, a better one a more enthusiastic “Splendid!”, but if you had done particularly well he would work himself up to an almost hysterical “Absurd! Preposterous!! INCONCEIVABLE!!!”

I fear that some people might view this Brioche Feuilletée recipe in the same light. For it takes a dough that is already very rich, packed as it is with eggs and butter, and adds yet more butter in the form of a croissant-style lamination. The dough is then wrapped around a rich nutty filling, and finally the loaf is glazed with apricot jam, drizzled with icing and sprinkled with more nuts. Continue reading

Pudding Semolina Bread

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Bread made with Semola di grano duro rimacinata (l) and pudding semolina (r)

Bread made with Semola di grano duro rimacinata (l) and pudding semolina (r)

Semolina is very confusing, as the same word is used to refer to a number of quite different things. In the UK it generally refers to a yellow, slightly grainy flour made from durum wheat, which is primarily used for making a simple but tasty milk pudding. It is not usually considered to be suitable for making bread, except when added as a small proportion of the total flour. But as you will see below, I have found that you can make beautiful bread using as much as 75% pudding semolina. It makes a lovely bread, with a primrose yellow crumb, a crunchy crust and a distinctive flavour. Continue reading

Saffron Bread Revisited

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Saffron Chelsea Buns with Cardamom, Apricot and Orange Nota per lettori italiani/e: troverete una versione italiana della ricetta qui.

I was delighted that Anna and Ornella, the lovely organisers of Quanti Modi di Fare e Rifare decided to use my Three Kinds of Saffron Bread for their baking challenge this month.

Although I was only too happy to revisit the rich and colourful world of saffron bread, I did not want to repeat myself and so I decided on another two variations on the theme. Continue reading

Pane allo Zafferano per Quanti Modi di Fare e Rifare

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Saffron Knotted RollsAn English version of this post will be found here.

Mi ha fatto tanto piacere che Anna e Ornella, le carissime organizzatori di Quanti Modi di Fare e Rifare abbiano deciso di utilizzare il mio post Three Kinds of Saffron Bread (Pane allo Zafferano) per la sfida di questo mese.

Non volevo ripetere la stessa ricetta, quindi ho deciso di fare ancora due variazioni sul tema. Continue reading

Tsoureki – Greek Easter Bread

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Tsoureki - Greek Easter BreadTsoureki is a traditional Greek Easter bread. It is very fragrant and flavoursome, with a texture almost like brioche, and has a distinctive aroma and taste, coming mostly from the characteristic Greek flavourings of mahleb and mastika. I must admit I’m not sure how traditional my version is, as there are a few added ingredients that I suspect are not very orthodox. I have also left out the 3 bright red hard boiled eggs with which it is often adorned to symbolise the Holy Trinity and the blood of Christ. But for all that, it is a beautiful thing, both in appearance and flavour. Continue reading

Torta Colombina – Almond Crusted Orange Cake

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Torta Colombina - an intensely orangey cake with a crust of almonds and sugarClandestine Cake Club Cookbook CoverToday sees the publication of the beautiful Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook, and I am thrilled to say that on page 116 it contains one of my recipes.

Torta Colombina, as I have called it, is an intensely orange-flavoured cake, with a topping of almonds and sugar that is crunchy on top and slightly squidgy underneath. It was inspired by the Italian Easter bread, Colomba Pasquale, which is similar to panettone, but baked in the shape of a dove. The real thing uses a brioche-like dough, and whilst it is certainly worth the 18 or more hours it takes to make, I wanted to devise something that evoked some of its flavours and textures but was quicker and easier to make.

Continue reading

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