Tag Archives: dates

O Cheese – whipped ricotta on a whimsical afternoon

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O cheeses that dance in the moonlight, cheeses
that mingle with sausages, cheeses of Stonehenge.
O cheeses that are shy, that linger in the doorway,
eyes looking down, cheeses spectacular as fireworks.

Sometimes you just want some cheese. Something soft, creamy, light-hearted. Nothing too heavy or stinky. Some days call for ricotta cheese.

On one of these days, I made goat ricotta cheese – strictly speaking goat curds: goat milk, lemon juice, cooked over the stovetop until curds separate from whey. As this might have been done for centuries and centuries by farmers and shepherds.

Then, I made whipped ricotta / curd. A cup of ricotta / curd, a good dollop of cream cheese, a drop of milk, a good beating with a wooden spoon (you can also do this in the stand mixer), and we had this.

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A bowl of this stuff went with crusty bread. Another dollop was used to stuff some dates. I barely needed dinner!

Whipped ricotta recipes abound on the interwebs. Some mix the ricotta with milk, others with cream cheese (as I did), some add sugar for a sweet topping, others add sea salt or salty feta cheese. As for serving and eating, many recipes suggest pairing it with crepes and pikelets, others also suggest serving with meatballs (!), or using it to make icing for cupcakes (maybe whipped ricotta icing for sunny-lemony ricotta cookies?)

O cheeses of gravity, cheeses of wistfulness, cheeses
that weep continually because they know they will die.
O cheeses of victory, cheeses wise in defeat, cheeses
fat as a cushion, lolling in bed until noon.

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A Sicilian Christmas: buccellato

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I was walking through the maze-like backstreets of Newtown, and stopped in my tracks. In the air was a scent that was heady, sweet, fresh and just dive in and luxuriate. I think, am almost sure, it was the scent of jasmine flowers.

The memory of it so strong that I was still thinking about it days later, when I read about jasmine scented confectionaries and pastries that were made in Sicilian convents. Jasmine-scented ricotta, Sicilian pastries, the legendary fruits of the nuns’ labour. These ideas lingered like a line of poetry or music. Like a food earworm.

I didn’t have jasmine water, instead, I had lots of Sicilian pastries bookmarked under ‘must make this soon, really soon’. One of the recipes was Buccellato. 

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That’s how two of the Sicilian Christmas/new year ‘cakes’ found their way into our Christmas gift boxes, along with other goodies like thousand-layer spiral mooncakes (pictured above). I made a Sicilian version of Buccellato based on a recipe from Manu’s Menu, which is more like a giant cookie log with a fig-chocolate-wine filling. After I made it, I realised it’s like a larger version of the cuccidati or fig cookies from the Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) group, using a recipe from Baking with Julia.

Another version of Buccellato, from further North in Italy, is a yeast cake with the filling ingredients folded into the dough (see here, for example). But I couldn’t go past a Sicilian recipe just now, especially something that can be described as a giant cookie.

It’s a forgiving recipe. My circles weren’t perfectly circular, the pastry was perhaps unusually dimpled, but they still had an appealing home made look. The original recipe has an apricot jam glaze topped with pistachio and glace cherries. I also drizzled royal icing and sprinkled over finely grated dark chocolate. Gilding the lily? Me?

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Making ma’amoul, a Syrian recipe for semolina and date cookies

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Do you have a Christmas tradition (or traditions for other religious or secular holidays)? Would you like to have celebrations that involve little crumbly, buttery semolina cookies filled with date butter, or sugared walnuts or pistachios, and scented with orange blossom water?

Yep, me too.

We made ma’amoul (also spelled mamool, mamoul or maamoul) in a cooking class in the Almond Bar, Sydney. I had heard about these cookies being made for Easter celebrations in Lebanon, and remembered eating them in Syria. Chef Sharon Salloum (whose family is from Syria) said her mum made lots of these cookies for Christmas too – I guess these are celebratory kinda cookies. Once you’ve had one, you’d be looking for more reasons to celebrate too.

The recipe we used comes from the new Almond Bar cookbook. The pastry starts with a mix of semolina, ghee (clarified butter) and sugar, rested, then kneaded with orange blossom water, milk, mahlab and yeast. Then, balls of dough are wrapped around balls of date filling, shaped in a specially made wooden mould, and baked until light brown. Other common fillings are walnuts, or pistachios, chopped finely and mixed with sugar. Be still my beating heart.

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The resulting cookies are melt-on-the-tongue soft, yet crumbly. After the richness of the ghee, comes the fragrance of orange blossom water and the hint of something from the mahlab. Then, the more intense hit of fruity sweetness from the date filling. Then, it’s gone and you find yourself reaching for another one.

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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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Post-election goat cheese and pistachio loaf

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Australia has a new Prime Minister-elect. Before the election, some people planned to move overseas (unil the next election) if one political party won; and some others planned to leave the country if either of the main political parties won – guess they must be somewhere far away by now.

Political ‘stuff’ aside, if I was choosing a place to live for the next three years, where would I go? Would I be able to find goats cheese, fresh mozzarella, figs and quince in season? How far is a good vendor of xiao long bao, or pho, or green papaya salad or hor mok? What about crusty sourdoughs? And would I miss Clive Palmer’s Titanic II?

I probably would take an extravagant round-the-world trip instead.

The first stop? France. All that cheese, wine, and women who don’t get fat (what about the men?), and all that kuign amann.

After France, the possibilities are (almost) endless – Bolivia, Guatemala, Cuba, Argentina, India, Vietnam, Thailand, China, Spain, Portugal, Russia (with a ride on the Trans-Siberian railway), Iceland, some corner of the Middle East (Syria, I wonder if I could go back to Syria), Japan, and let’s not forget that blogger feast in a Medieval feasting tent I’ve been planning with Laura.

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In the meantime, I’ll bask in the sunlight, clear sky, reading at the beach and riot-of-colours flowers that come with a Sydney spring. And bake things with a French accent. Such as this savoury goat cheese loaf (still working on that kuign amman…).

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