Tag Archives: cinnamon

Gazelle’s Horns and Fiesta Friday: a party with a sugary snowstorm

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Out of your forehead branch and lyre climb,
and all your features pass in simile, through
the songs of love whose words, as light as rose-
petals…

The Gazelle, Rainer Maria Rilke

The party starts at ten to three.
On the second floor, room twenty two
two co-hosts who had come down from Crewe were wondering just what to wear,
to the shindig going on down there.
They collided, both decided to put on Dame Edna frocks,
this was not a ‘do’ for cassocks or for smocks.

Fiesta, a SG travesty, with apologies to John Edward Smallshaw

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This pastry is pretty, graceful, messy (if you add a snow of icing sugar as I did). Its names (for the variations of this pastry), in English, Arabic, French, are exotic, pretty, alluring: gazelle’s ankles, gazelle’s horns, kaab el ghazal, tcharek el ariane, tcharek el mssaker, cornes de gazelle.

I saw one variation of this pastry on Linda’s blog, La Petite Paniere, and it went to the top of the baking list. Almonds, orange blossom water, vanilla, cinnamon, and more orange blossom water, can you smell the gorgeous smells?

I used a different recipe from the NYT archives, because it used far less butter in the pastry and avoided a late-night dash to the shop (and here’s a butter-less version). The NYT recipe probably produced a pastry that is less melt-in-your-mouth than Linda’s butter-ful one. Instead, the pastry was shattering-crisp, and scatters icing sugar in all directions when you bite into one.

Messy, and fun, especially at work with colleagues trying to protect silk blouses and ties from the sugary snow storm.

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And a sugary snow storm always makes a party better, yes? That is why, as your Fiesta Friday host this week, I’m bringing a few trays of these pastries to crank up the party vibe a notch. If you haven’t been to a Fiesta yet, please do! It’s a lovely bunch of peeps that bring tantalising food, drinks, DIY, sausages, Harry Potter theme park photos, and lots of bloggy love.

Your co-host Margot and I, we’ve even dressed up for this party. Because the only thing better than a sugary snowstorm is a sugary snowstorm on fancy costume. Right my possums (and gazelles)? Ps, don’t you think Dame Edna’s glasses look a little bit like gazelle’s horns? Coincidence? I think not!

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Ginger, ginger, fresh ginger cake, read all about it!

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*Another post while travelling, from the Shan mountains in northern Myanmar!! Also sending this to Angie’s Fiesta on a bumpy but oh-such-fun horse cart, or maybe that water buffalo with birds standing on his back*

Looking through the SG archives, I couldn’t believe I’ve never written gushed about my love of fresh ginger cake. David Lebovitz’s fresh ginger cake.

But first, is it a proper ginger post without a ginger pun? No? Ok, here we go: “What do you call a redhead that works in a bakery? – A gingerbread man/woman.”

Ahem, now we’ve got that out of the way, onto the fresh ginger cake.

This cake is described by the great DL himself as one of his most popular recipes, and one that appears in a number of Bay Area cafes. From a pastry chef/cookbook writer who is famous for his books devoted to ice cream, chocolate, and other contemporary good Parisian things, it is a big claim to say that a favourite recipe involves neither ice cream, nor chocolate, nor anything particularly Parisian.

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It is, indeed, a beauty of a cake. Especially if you like the zing, heat, tingly back throat warm, of fresh ginger. This is fresh ginger dialled up to 10.5, approaching 11.

And lest you worry about eating a mouthful of the root, the ginger is beautifully supported by equally strong flavours from the molasses and spices. I’ve tried a few variations on the spice mix, from the classic cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, to a generous dash of allspice in a pinch, to a light sprinkling of five spice powder (which adds a slightly deeper, savoury note). All of the above, happily, have been approved by family/friends/colleagues.

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Dinner with friends, orange blossom water, saffron, mouhammara

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We had twelve people around our dinner table on Saturday night, with a menu – below – built around Paula Wolfert recipes. It was all about orange blossom water, cinnamon, saffron, mysterious peppers, and sugar. For one evening, we were in Northern Africa. Morocco.

There were dips scented with orange blossom water and cinnamon/thyme, hovering between dessert, salad and dips. Then, soup with gruyere and rye, home made stock, baked in a whole pumpkin, lightened with a touch of cinnamon.

The tagine was laden with cinnamon, saffron and turmeric. Slow-cooked lamb, onions slowly braised in the same liquid (Wolfert described the onion sauce as ‘unctuous’, so it was), finished under the grill with more cinnamon and sugar. It was aromatic, inviting, looked laden with history, and was magical.

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The mouhammara and a Berber bread stole the show.

Mouhammara, with the assertive flavours of pomegranate molasses, roasted capsicum (peppers), roasted chilli, thickened with walnuts, rounded out by the warmth of cumin. Everyone tasted, wondered, and asked for more. (Recipe at the end of the post)

And the Berber bread – made over 3 days, starting with a pungent garlic starter and ending with rounds of crusty, chewy-dense, savoury bread from the skillet – no oven! We kept tearing off chunks, burning our fingers and marvel that so much flavour could come from so few ingredients.

As for dessert? I made profiteroles, but all attention was on that cake – made by a friend’s mum who is a professional chef. It was the ultimate centrepiece – bigger than anything from a domestic cake pan, dense with liqueur and hazelnuts, covered with swirls of buttercream and chocolate.

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What’s in a name? Cucidati and X cookies

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What prompts you to try a recipe? Is it the ingredients? A technique to learn? The photo?

Or the name?

I am attracted to names that have culture or history behind them, especially if they evoke the smells and flavours of places long ago and far away. Why have pinwheels when there is rugelache, sweet bread when there is krantz or babka, meat loaf when we can have farsumagru, pasties instead of borek or saltenas, or chocolate scrolls when there is kakaós csiga?

(Then, I am also fascinated by recipes with unusual ingredients and techniques. Like turduken, or the Tabrizi kofteh, or 90% hydration bread, or making Ratatouille’s ratatouille.)

Reading about these recipes, their origins and histories, and each step involved, is almost as good as tasting the food itself. I suppose, I studied literature at university and have always been susceptible to the magic of a well-turned phrase. Also as the saying goes: “This is what recipes are, stories of pretend meals.”  

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Cucidati is one of these recipes that got my attention with an intriguing name. A spiced Italian fig cookie that is made at Christmas, the name means ‘little bracelets’. Italians, especially Sicilians, still call these “mum’s cookies” and for them, it wouldn’t be Christmas without cucidati.

While the cookies might be like a version of fig newtons or other filled cookies, the name cucidati and the distinctive crescent shape made the recipe intriguing. I’ve read different versions of the recipe and wondered about who made the first batch of cucidati (and is the singular form of the noun cucidato?), whether it came from Sicily and shows the influence of Arabic cuisine in the spiced fig filling, and whether anyone ever tried to wear it as a bracelet.

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A Winter’s Tale: sesame-almond, fig-raspberry tartlets

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This week’s Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) challenge began as a quick fig and raspberry tart, and ended with me as a culinary flaneur, discovering food ideas containing sesame, almond, figs, and raspberries. Oh, I also turned them into tartlets.

Sesame and almond pastry made me wonder. An unfamiliar combination, it looked chunky, flecked with almond and cinnamon, “rustic” (that over-used word). Lightly toasted, a nutty fragrance fills the kitchen and trickles through your lungs. The scent of sesame promised exciting things from exotic locations.

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Then, I looked at the raspberry and fig filling and wondered some more. Figs and sesame, raspberry and fig – I get that. But raspberry and sesame? Delicate raspberries with the bold, strong flavours in the pastry? Curiouser and curiouser.

The recipe for the fig and raspberry crostata asks for fresh figs and fresh raspberries. It’s still winter in our corner of the world, and the fruit shop was charging $4 per fig. Per. Fig. Yikes! Unwilling to spend my weekly coffee budget on a few under-ripe figs, I substituted dried white figs, plumed up in warm water and scented with cardamom and cinnamon. In keeping with the winter theme, I added raspberry jam to the fig compote instead of fresh raspberries, with a generous splash of lemon juice.

Raspberry jam, dried white figs and lemon juice creates a sweet-tart reddish gooey mess, which bubbles up during cooking to leave strands of caramel around the lattice pastry. Its relative simplicity showed off the enriched textures and flavours in the pastry: toasted sesame, toasted almonds, cinnamon. In these tartlets, the pastry wants to be the star.

This mix of textures and flavours make these tartlets grown-up’s treats. Sweet and tart jam and caramel. Crunchy, sesame-fragrant pastry. These tartlets piques your curiosity, then invites you to linger, smell, nibble, and then taste.

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