Tag Archives: semolina

{2} Qagħaq tal-Għasel (Maltese Honey Rings)

Today’s festive delight comes from the Mediterranean land of Malta. The name is a bit tricky for those not familiar with the Maltese tongue (i.e. me!) but qagħaq tal-għasel (kaka-tal-hassah) translates to the more familiar honey rings – even if they often are not made with honey, but rather treacle or syrup.

I did think that perhaps it would be more apt to save these for the No 5 spot so as to follow the famous Twelve Days of Christmas carol, but I’ve not been that organised with my planning.


These ring shape of these sweet, spiced treats is said to represent eternal happiness, and the filling inside that sticks out a little apparently symbolises that happiness being in abundance. Perhaps a little bit shmaltzy, but I think we all need that sort of approach to life right now.

Now, I think I know what you’re thinking: these look complicated. I thought the same, and for years they were on my “too hard” list. but I grasped the nettle and it turns out they are actually fairly straightforward. They take a bit of time, but the technique is not tricky. The filling itself is easy to make, then you roll out the dough, wrap it around the filling, and make a very long sausage roll. Form into a loop, and then use a very sharp knife or a (clean) razor to make the patterns on top.

The filling is made with all manner of things which combine to create the essence of Christmas – honey, spices and orange – with the addition of fine semolina to give it some substance. However it was not smooth sailing. I like to check various recipe sources to be sure that the method I am going to use will have a sporting chance of working. This time I saw lots of recipes which talked about making a syrup and letting it cool. So I did just this, and what started as a super-runny syrup while warm remained stubbornly runny when it had cooled down. I had assumed it would thicken up, but it was a great big no. I thought I would have to throw it away, but then I tried just adding water to it. I reasoned that semolina needs liquid to absorb and then thicken the syrup, so I added a whole lot of water. And just like magic, after a bit of cooking, I did indeed end up with a nice thick filling that could easily be used to stuff pastries. Maybe bakers in Malta know this trick and it is so obvious to them that it does not need to be stated in a recipe? I don’t know, but I was pleased I got it to work.


After all that work of getting the filling to work, I finally got the chance to taste it. My immediate through was: “why on Earth did I wait so long to make these?” If you are a fan of a classic treacle tart, then think of these are a ring-shaped and portable version of that. It is sweet, sticky, rich and has lots of festive flavours. I admit that I ate quite a bit of it from the pan as part of my testing phase.

So top marks for flavour, and they also last really well. The pastry is crisp after baking, and stays so even when left out for a few days. If you want something that is similar to mince pies but is also a little but different , then I think these are great. They would be really nice to nibble on with a cup of tea watching a Hallmark Christmas movie while it is a raging storm outside. So it’s handy that I have a tray of these, as we’re having a fairly wet-and-wild festive season here in London so far this year. And I can see myself making these again, especially now that I know they’re not that tricky after all.

To make Qagħaq tal-Għasel (makes 6-8):

For the filling:

• 220g (150ml) golden syrup or honey (or a combination)
• 75g (50ml) black treacle or molasses
• 50g muscovado sugar
• 125ml water plus 200ml water
• 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
• zest of 1/2 orange
• juice of 1 orange
• 85g fine semolina

For the dough:

• 350 plain flour
• 50g caster sugar
• 50g butter or vegetable oil
• juice of an orange
• cold water

1. Make the filling. Put the golden syrup/honey, treacle, sugar and 125ml water into a saucepan. Bring to a boil over a gentle heat. Add the cocoa powder, orange juice, orange zest, spices and semolina and mix well.

2. Add another 200ml water and mix well. It will seem very runny. Allow to sit for 10 minutes, then place over a gentle heat. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes or as long as you need for the mixture to become really thick. It should leave a trail when you pull a spoon across the bottom of the pan. Cover with a lid and leave to cool completely.

3. Make the dough. Put the flour, sugar and butter/oil in a large bowl and rub together. Add the orange juice and just enough cold water to form a soft dough. Wrap in cling film and chill for an hour or overnight.

4. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

5. Divide your dough into 6-8 pieces. Roll each into a long strip, around 20cm. Divide the filling into 6-8 portions. Sprinkle the worktop with fine semolina, then take a piece of filling. Roll it out into a long sausage. Brush the dough with water, then place the filling on top. Wrap the pastry around the filling, then press down the seam to seal. Make sure the seam is at then bottom, and join the ends to form a ring. Seal using water. Transfer the ring to the baking sheet, then use a very sharp knife or a clean razor to make various decorative cuts along the top.

6. Bake the rings for around 15-20 minutes. They should remain pale, and be only very, very slightly golden. Serve warm or allow to cool.

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Rava Kesari

I’ve always found Indian sweets rather daunting. I put this down to the fact that I really do not eat them that often. When you go for Indian food, by the time you’ve filled up on rice, bread and delicious curry, the last thing you are looking for is something sweet and heavy to finish the meal. Maybe, at a stretch, I could manage a little mango sorbet at most, but certainly not fried milk-rich sweets like gulab jamun or rasmalai.

However, I was keen to have a go at making some Indian sweets as I’ve had a hankering to try them for a while. I’ve done some digging recently, and it seems that a lot of them are actually incredibly easy to make. And so it is with rava kesari. There is a little work to be done in preparing some of the ingredients, but you’re not required to do much more than prepare a sweet, spiced syrup and then add it to a ghee/semolina mixture. You’re essentially making a white sauce, but one that is brightly coloured and sweet, which is then cooked until thick, then left to set and cut into fancy shapes. But doesn’t it look pretty?

ravakesari2

If you were trying to guess the ingredients here, you would probably not guess that this is mostly made from semolina. Forgot the nasty, grainy stuff you might have suffered at school. In this recipe, the result is firm but smooth. And you’re probably already guessed how these sweets get their brilliant yellow colour. They are flavoured with saffron, and I must confess that my pictures don’t really do it justice. The colour is amazingly vibrant. The saffron is balanced with ground cardamom (which seems to be to Indian sweet treats what vanilla is to British baking), and they are finished off with some toasted almonds and sultanas.

One of the other vital ingredients is ghee, and so I had to have a go at making it. I was able to buy it in a local shop, but I was going all-out on this one. Recipes often say you can switch ghee for clarified butter, but a quick peek in a Madhur Jaffrey cookbook confirmed that it is slightly different, but not unfamiliar – in fact, it’s simple browned butter. Just throw butter in a pan, leave over a gentle heat, and then wait until the solids darken and the butter has a delicious toasted aroma and flavour. This is well worth doing, as it adds a subtle nuttiness to whatever you are making. It is also so ubiquitous in Indian cooking that it would be a shame not to use it here.

ravakesari3

Frankly, I could not have been happier with how this turned out. Sure, there is a little faffing about with skinning some almonds, making the ghee, leaving the saffron to infuse the milk and in grinding the cardamom seeds, but nothing is too taxing, and all of these steps could be easily done ahead of time. The actual process of making rava kesari is a doddle – just cook the semolina in the ghee, then add the liquid and sugar, cook until thick and spread in a tray.

My version was not too sweet (which was the first shock, I was expecting something tooth-aching) and the combination of cardamom and saffron was light, fresh and aromatic, a combination of resinous and slightly minty with the warm flavour of saffron. I remember at Christmas being pleasantly surprised by this spice combination in a festive loaf, so it was a welcome reappearance for this duo in these sweets. I also loved how the pieces looked when cut – you can see pieces of sultana and almond, flecks of black cardamom and flashes of orange from the saffron threads.

Before service this, I had kept the rava kesari in the fridge. This had an unexpected but welcome impact on the flavour, and it meant these sweets had a very cooling quality. Served like this, I can see how they would be welcome at the end of a meal. In the interests of culinary exploration, I also tried a piece when it had come to room temperature, and while it was still delicious, on balance, I think the chilled version is better. Now, all I have to hope is that I’ve done justice to this delicious sweet!

ravakesari1

To make Rava Kesari (makes 24 pieces):

• 80g unsalted butter
• 3 generous pinches saffron strands
• 360ml whole milk
• 360ml water
• 200g white caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon finely ground cardamom seeds
• 160g semolina
• 30g toasted slivered almond
• 35g golden sultanas
• 24 whole almonds, to decorate

1. Put the milk into a saucepan until warm. Add the saffron and leave to sit for at least 30 minutes.

2. Make the ghee: melt the butter on a low heat, and watch it. It will hiss and spit, then calm down. The solids will turn light brown and the butter will develop a nutty aroma. Strain and put to one side.

3. In a pan, combine the milk, water and sugar. Heat until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is just starting to foam. Add the cardamom, stir and remove from the heat.

4. Prepare a large tray (20 x 30 cm) for the rava kesari. Brush with a little of the melted ghee and set aside. I used a glass tray with no other lining and had no problems with sticking.

5. In a large pan, add five tablespoons of the ghee. Heat until melted, then add the semolina. Cook on a low heat for two minutes, stirring all the time (it should not go brown).

6. Now start to add the liquid mixture to the semolina. This is a bit like making a white sauce, so start with a ladle of liquid, and stir well. Repeat two more times, then finally add all the liquid. At this point, whisk the mixture until smooth and there are no lumps. It should be bright yellow and smell glorious!

7. Cook the mixture on a medium heat until it is very thick and starts to come away from the sides of the pan. You can test whether it is done by dropping a small piece onto a cold plate – it should quickly become firm.

8. When ready, stir in the almond slivers and sultanas, then pour the whole mixture into the tray. Flatten the mixture (a rubber spatula is ideal). Use a knife to score diamond shapes, and place a whole almond in the middle of each piece.

9. Leave the rava kesari to cool, then chill in the fridge. Before serving, use a sharp knife to cut along the score marks to separate into individual pieces.

Worth making? This is a really different and delicious sweet. It’s fairly easy to make, and you get a really good result from ingredients you might have in the cupboard already. Recommended!

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Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things