Victoria’s Semolina Cake Love

My friend, Victoria, says this cake is the love of her life. It is an Arab Semolina Cake, sometimes spelled harissa or harisa or haresa. I was happy to make it as part of her family cookbook project.

Trust the instruction that has you mixing with your hands – it is the easiest way to incorporate everything, so embrace your inner child and get your hands busy! It definitely helps to measure out all the ingredients first, so you don’t make too big a mess. And press it down well – it won’t hold together unless you make sure you compress it to 1 inch thick (again, best results from using your hands).

Arab Semolina Cake


Cake
3 cups semolina
3/4 cups (1 1/2 sticks) butter, melted
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup grated coconut
1/2 cup whole almonds or slivers for decoration

Syrup
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 tablespoon orange blossom water

Preheat oven to 400˚F

Mix yogurt and baking soda in a bowl and wait until yogurt doubles in size.

In a large bowl, mix all other cake ingredients together with wet hands.

When the yogurt has almost doubled in size, pour it on top of the semolina mix and use your hands to mix well.

When the mixture is well combined, press it tightly into a buttered 9×13 pyrex baking dish. The unbaked cake shouldn’t be more than 1 inch thick, so press it well.

Cut diamond or square designs with a butter knife and place an almond on top of each piece.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until dark brown.

Mix sugar and water together in a saucepan, bring to a boil, stirring regularly. Reduce the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until it coats the back of a spoon. Add orange blossom water and stir well.

Pour boiling syrup on a very hot cake.

Let cool down before serving.

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Miryam’s Amazing Strudel

I have to say I was a little intimidated when Victoria gave me this recipe. I once saw strudel being made and they had stretched this piece of dough until it was as big as a dining room table and thin enough to read the newspaper through. However, her mom’s method had the dough being divided into four pieces, so it didn’t have to be stretched so much. I found stretching it 18 by 12 inches was sufficient to make thin layers. And, because, I was dividing it into fourths, I decided to add a classic apple filling to half of them (leaving the others with her mom’s classic cinnamon raisin nut version).

Most recipes I read recommended using a high gluten bread flour, so I did that, as the original recipe only specified flour. I also soaked the raisins to soften them for about 5 minutes in hot water before draining them and patting them dry. As I’m allergic to walnuts, I used pecans instead but left walnuts in the recipe.

I used a food processor to make the dough, although you can mix everything together in a bowl and knead until a smooth dough forms. I also divided my dough in half before resting – I did half the dough after the four hour rest and the rest for brunch the next morning.

Sesame coated cinnamon raisin nut strudel

Miryam’s Amazing Strudel

Strudel Dough

4 cups bread flour
1 stick butter, melted
1 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons white vinegar

 

Cinnamon Raisin Nut Filling (makes two)

1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup grated coconut
1/2 cup crushed walnuts
1/2 cup plumped, well drained raisins
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup butter (half a stick), melted

  

Apple Nut Filling (makes two)

3 medium apples, peeled, cored and grated
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup plumped, well-drained raisins (optional)
1/4 cup butter (half a stick), melted

  

Strudel base

1 stick butter, melted

  

Toppings

1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup cinnamon sugar
1 egg

  

Place butter, water and vinegar in a bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the flour and and process until the dough is smooth. Remove to a well buttered bowl and cover. Let rest in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight. If you let it rest overnight, let it warm on the counter for an hour or two before attempting to roll out.  

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

For Cinnamon Raisin Nut Filling: Combine all the filling ingredients together.  

For Apple Filling: Toss the prepared apples with the lemon juice. Stir together with the rest of the ingredients. If it is super liquidy, add 1 tablespoon corn starch and stir well.

Divide each filling into two portions and set aside while you prepare the dough.

Divide dough into 4 parts. Take off any rings, bracelets and watches and have your arms bare to the elbow. Pat the dough into the shape of a rectangle. Set the piece of dough on the center of your work surface and roll out in each direction with a rolling pin. Let the dough rest for a few minutes. Lifting up a section, gently stretch the dough out on the sides, using the back of your hands and working your way around the entire rectangle. It should be semi-translucent in some places, but be careful not to tear it. Don’t worry too much if you do, though, as the many layers will hide the rips.  

Drip butter onto the dough – it is too delicate to brush with butter. Place dollops of one portion of filling on the buttered dough and gently spread out, being careful not to tear the dough. Brush exposed ends with melted butter, fold in sides of dough, then gently roll dough into a cylinder. Seam should be on the bottom.

Score the top of the strudel in portion-sized sections before you put it in the oven. The knife marks will make a clean slice easier after the strudel is baked.

Brush an egg mixed with 1 tablespoon of water on top of the cylinders. Sprinkle with sesame seeds on the cinnamon raisin nut filled ones and with cinnamon sugar for the apple filling.

Bake on a greased baking pan for 30 minutes, rotating once midway through baking. Begin rolling out the dough for the next strudel while one is cooking. Follow above directions for filling and rolling and baking.

Slice when hot. Serve with ice cream or with coffee/tea and it is even better served cold the next day.

 

Cinnamon sugar coated apple strudel

Remembrance Cookies

It is All Hallows Day. While we remember loved ones who have transitioned, we might as well enjoy a cookie or three, too. Even though we made them in the shape of skulls, the recipe below isn’t for the traditional Mexican sugar skull cookies for Day of the Dead.

Instead, we made Rosemary Remembrance Cookies. Rosemary is an herb that has long been associated with memory and fidelity and is a symbol for both weddings and funerals. As Ophelia recites:

“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.”
William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5

The original recipe is by Callie Watts with the addition of more rosemary as regular readers know I’m mad about the rosemary!

We had fun finger painting them after they cooled

Remembrance Cookies

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons chopped rosemary
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large bowl, beat sugar, butter, egg, vanilla, almond extract, and rosemary until creamy. In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt.

Fold flour mixture into sugar mixture, a 1/2 cup at a time until combined.

Beat until dough forms, refrigerate for an hour. After the rest, remove from the fridge and divide in three pieces.

Roll out one portion to 3/16 of an inch on a floured surface. Use biscuit or cookie cutters to cut out shapes and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Repeat rolling and cutting until all the dough is used.

Bake for 7 minutes. Cool on wire racks before eating as is or using decorator icing to make designs. Store in an airtight container.

 

Chocolate Coconut Pecan Joy

After I had bought Halloween candy, my sweetie mentioned how her favorite treat is Almond Joy (of course, not one of the ones I purchased). So we decided to make a homemade version. I used a chocolate macaroon recipe I had in my files (I think it came from Martha Stewart Living) and we made the chocolate bittersweet, the coconut sweetened, switched creme de cacao with the vanilla and added pecan pieces (plus a single semi-sweet morsel for whimsy).

Chocolate Coconut Pecan Joy

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups shredded sweetened coconut
3 large egg whites
1 teaspoon creme de cacao
Pinch of salt
20 whole pecans

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a double boiler, stir until chocolate is melted, and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, combine cooled chocolate, cocoa, sugar, coconut, egg whites, vanilla, and salt. Use your hands to mix well, completely combining ingredients.

Dampen hands with very cold water. Form 1 1/2 tablespoons of mixture into a ball and place on prepared baking sheet with a whole pecan on top. Repeat with remaining mixture, placing macaroons 1 inch apart.

Bake until just firm to the touch but still soft in the middle, about 20 minutes. Remove baking sheet from oven to a wire rack, and let cool on baking sheet.

Sweet and Nutty Turkish Cigars

Along with the savory recipes (see previous post), I also made some sweet versions. In some Middle Eastern cultures, these are known as Bride’s Fingers instead of Turkish Cigars. Not a fan of the name but definitely a fan of the finished product. Unlike baclava, which is a mess to make and eat, these are easier all the way around.

By the way, eating syrup and honey is believed to make life sweeter. Not sure what adding the chocolate means, other than chocolate makes everything better.

As mentioned before, cutting the filo sheets in half to form a square and then diagonally to form a triangle is the best way to prep. Use three layers of filo triangles per cigar, and a small amount of filling per cigar yields the best results. The cigars stay intact and the filling doesn’t burst through the center. By not going to the edge with the filling and folding in the edges there meant they looked like cigars without compromising filling integrity. I also found that buttering each filo layer individually was unnecessary. Brushing interior layer near the filling and the top of the cigar after rolling is sufficient.

Sweetly Nutty Cigars

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons orange blossom water
1/2 stick butter, melted
1 1/2 cup coarsely chopped nuts (pistachios, pecans, walnuts, almonds or a mix)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 stick butter, melted
1 lb filo dough, thawed

In a medium saucepan bring sugar and water to a boil. Stir well and continue to boil for 15 minutes. Bring the temperature up to 220 degrees F. Remove from heat and stir in the honey and orange blossom water. Set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine nuts, cinnamon and the orange honey syrup in a large bowl.

On a clean work surface roll out the thawed sheets of filo dough. My sheets measured 9×13, so I cut the sheets in half to form squares and then cut each half on the diagonal to form triangles. Start by taking out three pieces of the filo dough. Cover the rest of the dough with a damp kitchen towel (otherwise they will dry out and be impossible to work with).

Place three sheets of filo triangles on a flat work surface. Brush with melted butter. Place about 1 tablespoon of the nut mixture on the fat end of the triangle. Tuck in the edge and roll up like a cigar. Place the rolled pastry seam side down on a baking sheet. Brush the top with melted butter.

Transfer to oven, and bake until crust and nuts are evenly golden, about 30 minutes. Remove pan from oven and cool

Chocolate Cigars

1/2 cup pistachios
1/2 cup chocolate (I used Andes creme de mint baking chips but any kind of chocolate such as white or dark or milk chocolate can be used)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 stick butter, melted

Filo Pastry Sheets, thawed

Coarsely grind pistachios, sugar and chocolate in either a food processor or blender. Set aside.

Thaw the filo sheets as per the package instructions. Place three filo sheet on a clean working surface. Brush with melted butter. (Note: As you are working with one filo sheet at a time, cover the remaining sheets with kitchen towel to prevent drying.)

Cut the sheets in half to form a square and then each half along the diagonal to form triangles. You will have four sets. Place 1 tablespoon of chocolate-nut powder on the fat end of one set. Tuck in the edge and carefully roll the sheet towards the narrow edge. Place on greased baking sheet. Continue until all sets are used and then repeat with another three sheets.

Brush the cigars with melted butter. Bake at 350 degree F for 20 to 30 minutes or until the filo turns golden brown.

Middle Cake from Miryam Levy

Here is another delicious recipe from Miryam Levy. It was missing a few amounts but I had a recipe in my files for a chocolate, date and walnut cake from which I was able to crib. As I’m actually allergic to walnuts, I used pecans but I kept walnuts in the recipe list for authenticity. Also, if you don’t have self rising flour (and what good Southern biscuit maker doesn’t lol), sift together 1 cup flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Victoria tells me the name “Middle Cake” comes because her family would sit around the table with spoons, eating the middle first, leaving the delicious crusty edges for last. For best results let the cake cool in fridge, but she told me “good luck with that. The smell filling the house is so intoxicating, you can’t stop the lurking kids from eating it hot. Mom threatened to put a lock on the fridge, but it never helped…”

Middle Cake from Miryam Levy

2 tablespoons cognac
1/2 cup raisins
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
1 stick butter, softened
4 eggs
1 cup self rising flour
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9×13 pan and, instead of flouring the pan, dust with a little bit of cocoa and shake to coat the entire interior. Knock out excess cocoa.
Place cognac in a bowl with the raisins and let soak.
Melt chocolate, cocoa, sugar and water over stove, stirring regularly until it becomes creamy. Allow to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, cream the butter. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Alternately add the flour and chocolate mixture, starting with 1/2 cup flour. Mix just until combined, scraping down the bowl at least once. Stir in raisins and all the cognac and the nuts.
Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the pan midway through cooking. Bake until a crust has formed on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
For best results let the cake cool in fridge, but I admit I took a spoon to it while it was cooling and it is quite yummy hot.
I sprinkled the top of the pieces I did allow to cool with confectioners sugar.

 

Chocolate Chip Brownie Cookies

It is that time of the month and I’m craving chocolate. I just had to make these dense and rich cookies. They totally hit the spot!

Chocolate Chip Brownie Cookies


2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cups brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 tablespoons milk
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 1/2 cup semi-sweet or bittersweet morsels

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.

Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs, one at a time. Pour in vanilla. Slowly combine flour mixture alternately with milk. Stir in pecans and morsels.

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 9 minutes, rotating cookie sheet midway through baking. Cookies will still look soft. Cool for 2 minutes on pan before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.