Tag Archives: Tuesdays with Dorie

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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Butter, flour, magic: profiteroles with pandan pastry cream and star anise chocolate

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French patisserie has a touch of magic about it. Bring together butter, flour, baker’s hands, a little patience, a touch of bravery, and beautiful, marvellous things happen. Like croissants, brioche, pastries, and today, profiteroles.

This is my second time making profiteroles. The first time was early last year. There were two really good bakers in our team at the time, boys wonders who competed to out-do each other by bringing gorgeous desserts to team meetings: New York cheesecake, pear and hazelnut tortes, Mexican flans. I was still learning the basics of baking, but decided to challenge the boys by making profiteroles.

(Can you tell we are a bunch of overachievers?)

So one night after dinner, I found myself cooking water, butter and flour together; stirring the mixture until the lumps turned into a shiny, stiff ball. Adding eggs, seeing the ball become wet, blobby, hopeless; stirring on blind faith, seeing it come back together again, shinier and looser than before. Piping, into the oven, anxiously watching, sitting on a stool in front of the oven.

And watching as the choux pastry balls grew bigger and puff up. As if by magic.*

* Choux pastry is “double cooked”, a process that imbues it with some very special properties (Joe Pastry). It is made of a cooked roux, with eggs added. It has a high water content. During baking (the second ‘cooking’), the water turns into steam and forces the pastry shell to expand and puff up, before stabilising and holding its shape.

Some of the first batch deflated once out of the oven (took them out too soon, rookie’s mistake). Others looked a little lopsided. Then, the second batch puffed up, slightly crisp, and held their shape. I still remembering cutting into a choux pastry puff for the first time, and seeing the hollow in the centre. It seemed a miraculous thing.

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Fougasse with walnuts and fig paste (don’t mention the focaccia)

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Fougasse, panis focacius, fogatza, fouace, hougasse, fouasso.

Just don’t say focaccia.

Fougasse is a type of flat bread made in France, with a name derived from Latin and Occitan (the language of the Languedoc region, among others, and apparently a close relative to modern Catalan). The most famous variety is slashed to look like an ear of wheat, and is savoury, though other varieties include a sweet bread flavoured with orange water. Fougasse is baked until it’s very browned, and should have a crispy crust and a soft interior.

The English and French Wikipedia both tell me that fougasse was used by bakers to test if their bread oven was at the right temperature. If the French Wikipedia says so about a French bread, it must be right, right??

I also quickly learned it’s not focaccia. For a variety of reasons, including focaccia is Italian and fougasse is French.

Having got these preliminaries out of the way, I can get on with this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) assignment, sweet fougasse. I’ve wanted to make fougasse, with its distinctive wheat or leaf shape, for a while. Who could resist the idea of slashing dough, pulling on dough, until there are giant holes in the dough? It’s all of my “playing with food” wishes come true.

But.  Like a stroll through Alice in Wonderland, nothing turned out quite the way I expected.

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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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Pizza, Eastern Mediterranean, Syrian

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A few years ago, shortly before the Arab Spring, we had the trip of a lifetime in Syria. We met a friendly hotelier who used to live in Perth, Australia (his neighbours called him Abu Salim of Australia), saw some incredible Roman sites and Crusader-era castles, and wandered around the ancient cities of Damascus, Hama, Aleppo.

Some of our most cherished memories are of food. Knowing no Arabic, we looked, wondered, pointed, smiled, and began to understand the meaning of true Arabic hospitality. We walked into bakeries by the street, and walked out bearing bags of round, soft, silky bread, more refined than any lebanese-style bread we could find at home. I bought bags of fresh nuts, walked past sacks of spices – so many colours and smells, many barely recognised.

We walked past shops that sold rounds or pockets of silky bread. Some had a smear of lamb and tomato and mysterious spices, others were stuffed with unknown (but so tasty) white cheeses and herbs. Each one we tried was delicious. We had something similar on our day trip to Baalbek, Lebanon. Knowing no Arabic, we called them Syrian/Lebanese lamb pizza things.

A couple of years later, I found a recipe for the lamb pizza in Greg Malouf’s Saha, a culinary journey through Syria and Lebanon. The proper name is lahm bi ajine. (But I still call them lamb pizza things)

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This is a long-winded way of saying this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) assignment, Eastern Mediterranean Pizza by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, reminded me of those lamb pizzas. Both use a mixture of chopped tomatoes, minced lamb and spices on a thin dough base, which is cooked quickly on a hot pizza stone or baking tray. I made both the (Greek?) pita dough and Greg Malouf’s yoghurt dough, but played around with Greg Malouf’s recipe for pizza topping.

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