Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Baking with Flavor: Persian Orange Blossom Cookies

Persian Orange Blossom Cookies are one of Glass Petal Smoke's signature cookies. Food grade essential oil of neroli and orange zest infuse the pastry, which is accented by a flourish of apricot jam and a smattering of pistachio nuts. The result is an intoxicating pastry that delights the senses before, during and after baking.

The pastry base for Persian Orange Blossom Cookies is modeled after classic thumbprint cookies, but the flavor is decidedly Middle Eastern (and Italian by Moorish influence). You'll be dreaming up fragrant combinations of your own after you taste them. Go forth, be bold and bake with flavor!

Persian Orange Blossom Cookies
Recipe by Michelle Krell Kydd 
Yield:  2 1/2 dozen cookies

• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 cup sweet unsalted butter, softened*
• 1/3 cup granulated sugar
• 2 eggs, separated
• 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
• 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
• 2 teaspoons vanilla
• 2 teaspoons orange flower water (or 6 drops organic Neroli essential oil)
• zest from one medium orange (organic)
• 1/3 cup apricot jam
• 3/4 cup chopped pistachios, lightly toasted
* The butter can be microwaved on a low setting for 60 seconds or less. You need to “soften” the butter versus liquefying it. 

• Zest the orange skin and set aside.
• In a large bowl, sift flour and salt.
• Separate yolks from egg whites.
• Place egg whites in a sealable bowl and refrigerate.
• Mix sugar into the egg yolks and set aside.
• Mix vanilla, orange flower water (or food grade neroli oil) and butter.
• Add egg yolks to the fragranced butter and mix well.
• Add wet ingredients (with the exception of refrigerated egg whites) to the dry ones and incorporate.
• Divide the dough into two halves, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.
• Lightly toast chopped pistachios, in a non-stick skillet for approximately five minutes. You’ll notice an earthy, woody scent when they are done (they should still be green).
• Place nuts in a bowl to cool.
• Line two cookie pans with parchment paper and set aside.
• Place apricot preserves into a small bowl and set aside.
• Remove chilled dough from the refrigerator.
• Take out egg whites and add almond extract, mixing with a fork until blended. Set aside.
• Roll small, one-inch balls of dough and lightly flatten them.
• Preheat oven to 375 degrees, dividing racks into thirds.
• Dip the top of the flattened dough ball into egg whites, followed by a light dipping in the chopped pistachios.
• Place the cookie on the baking tray and lightly dent the center with a fingertip (thumb or index finger). The idea is to create a place for the jelly to rest.
• Once all of the cookies have been made, carefully dole out a bit of jam (1/4 tsp. or less) and place it in the center of the cookie. You’ll want to use less than one-quarter teaspoon as the jelly will spread slightly when heated in the oven.
• Bake for 12 minutes, reversing sheets from top to bottom and back to front after first 6 minutes. The cookies should be barely colored on the sides and slightly darker along the edges.
• Wait 10 minutes and transfer to a cookie rack and allow to cool.
• Store cookies in an airtight container, separating each layer with wax or parchment paper so the cookies don’t stick to each other.

The flavors in Persian Orange Blossom Cookies meld beautifully a day after the cookies are baked. That shouldn't stop you from eating them on the day they're made. They're wonderful with black tea or coffee (Turkish coffee or espresso are highly recommended).

Use your imagination and think about delicious flavors you've tasted in the past that you'd like to introduce to your baking repertoire. Consider the use of supporting extracts and floral hydrosols (aka floral waters) where appropriate. A ginger oil/lemon zest/vanilla extract pastry base, with a finish of slivered toasted almonds and Mediterranean green fig jam, tempts Glass Petal Smoke.

Hydrosols are distilled essences of plants used to flavor food. Rose water or kewra water (screwpine) are examples and work well with complementary combinations of extracts, nuts and jam. You can find them in Indian and Middle Eastern grocery stores. For food grade essential oils like bergamot (used to flavor Earl Grey Tea) visit LorAnn Oils' website.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Baking with Flavor: Recipe for Semolina Spice Cake

The crumb structure in Semolina Spice Cake resembles tiny interlaced flowers. Zoom into the image and see if you can find a few cakey flower heads. The center of the these crumbs looks like a circle of air—just like the flowers on the dessert plate.

Semolina cake soaked in sweet syrup tastes divine, but an equally delicious and less sugary alternative exists. A pastry base that accommodates complementary spice mixtures, in combination with flavor extracts and citrus zest, gets the job done. Want to know a secret? You don't have to be a professional pastry chef to master baking with flavor.

The building blocks for the structure of a healthy and tasty semolina cake are: semolina flour, coconut sugar, lowfat yogurt, eggs, all-purpose flour, vegetable oil, baking soda, baking powder and sea salt. Extracts, citrus zest and warm spice mixtures shape flavor. This is where you can be fearlessly creative and try something new.

The more you bake the more you understand the character of ingredients separately and in combination. This builds confidence and an unquantifiable aspect—a baker's personal essence. Have you ever tasted a cookie baked by two different people using the same recipe and noticed they were similar yet distinct? You can taste the je ne sais quoi.

Baking with flavor happens when you immerse all of your senses in the process. Focus on what you see, smell, touch, hear and taste along the way. Semolina Spice Cake is delicious and inspiring to make. Be sure to share the recipe with friends and family so they can put their own spin on a healthy cake that quickly disappears after it's made.

Semolina Spice Cake
Recipe by Michelle Krell Kydd
Serves nine people

  • 1 cup semolina flour 
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
  • ½ cup coconut sugar 
  • 1½ cup of plain 1% fat yogurt (nonfat is fine)
  • 1 medium organic lemon (zest only)
  • ½ cup neutral vegetable with a high smoke point (avocado oil or canola)
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature 
  • 1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon Hashems Ka’ak Spice
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda 
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder 
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt 
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  • Prep an 8x8 non-stick baking pan with vegetable oil and set aside. 
  • Combine the lemon zest and yogurt in a bowl and let it rest for 15 minutes. 
  • Measure and combine semolina flour, all-purpose flour, Ka’ak Spice, baking soda and sea salt into a large mixing bowl. Mix everything together using a silicone spatula. 
  • Beat eggs and vanilla in a medium sized mixing bowl using a fork. Add coconut sugar and combine until the sugar is completely dissolved. 
  • Add vegetable oil and lemon infused yogurt to the egg mixture and incorporate using a silicone spatula. 
  • Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix until the batter is smooth (no lumps).
  • Pour the batter into the pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Test for doneness by using a toothpick inserted in the center of the pan (it's done when the toothpick comes out clean). 
  • Allow the cake to cool for 30 minutes. 
  • Slice into nine pieces using two vertical and two horizontal cuts. 
  • Serve with a side of maple syrup sweetened yogurt (the same yogurt you used to make the cake) or a pair of Medjool dates and fresh walnuts. 
  • Store the cake in a sealed container in the refrigerator. This cake also freezes well.
This recipe can be modified with your favorite warm spice blend. Chinese Five Spice, Gingerbread Spice, Apple Pie Spice, Pumpkin Pie Spice, etc. These require less than 1 tbsp+ 1 tsp of your spice blend of choice. Use 1 tbsp and refrigerate the cake for 24 hours. Citrus zest isn’t necessary, though a tablespoon of orange zest would be nice with Gingerbread Spice as this would resemble lebkuchen.

Ka’ak Spice Mix contains anise, cloves, cinnamon, mahlab, sesame seeds and black caraway. Grind the spice mix in a coffee grinder to ensure uniform texture and release flavor if the blend appears slightly coarse or has whole seeds in it.

The anise in Ka’ak Spice Mix has a sweet aftertaste so this spice mix is ideal for flavoring semolina cake that doesn't require the addition of sugar syrup. Extra vanilla extract in the recipe balances the anise so the overall effect is cakey. (The combination of anise, vanilla and lemon smells like bakeries I remember from childhood).

Oil-based semolina cakes are moist and have a spongier quality of density than cakes made with unbleached all-purpose flour (you can see it in the structure and separation of the crumb). The way semolina cake melts in the mouth increases retronasal olfaction (the intersection of smell and taste that produces flavor at the back of the mouth). Pour a tablespoon of warm maple syrup over a freshly baked slice and take a bite. Notice the mouthfeel (texture) and how this shapes flavor perception.

Feel free to try other warm spice mixtures (e.g. gingerbread, pumpkin pie, apple pie) and experimenting with complementary citrus flavors and extracts. Floral waters like rosewater and orange blossom water can be used like extracts. The possibilities are endless.

Glass Petal Smoke developed a cookie recipe using Hashems Ka'ak Spice. You can find it here