Tag Archives: sesame

{3} Biscotti di Regina

Biscotti di Regina originate from Sicily, and the name means “queen’s cookies”. I’m not sure if they are named for or after a particular queen, but with a name like that, they are promising a lot!

These delightful little morsels are sweet and buttery, with a coating of sesame seeds the pop slightly when you bite into them. They also look very pretty, as the seeds form a neat pattern on the outside of the dough. I think they are a nice addition to the festive table, providing a contrast to all that chocolate, ginger, citrus and dried fruit. Yes, I know, shocking to believe that those flavours can all get a bit much, but sometimes you want something simple to enjoy with a cup of tea.

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I think these cookies have something of a Middle Eastern flavour, what with the sesame seeds and orange blossom water. Hardly surprising when you think about the history of trade across the Mediterranean.

However, if you want to play around with the flavours, you could swap the vanilla and orange blossom water for something else – aniseed is a typically Italian choice, and orange or lemon zest would add a stronger citrus note than the orange blossom water. If you’re feeling particularly creative, you could really depart from Italian flavours, and add things  like cardamom or even rose water. There are even versions that use saffron, if you want cookies with a spectacular golden glow.

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These biscotti are very straightforward to make – just rub the butter into the dry ingredients, then add egg and flavourings to get a soft dough that is just very slightly sticky. You’re rolling these guys in seeds, so you want it to be a bit sticky. If it is clinging to your fingers in great lumps, you’ve probably got too much liquid, so just add a bit more flour.

I shaped the biscotti by rolling into balls, then flattening into a squat sausage shape, so when they baked they formed an oval shape. If you prefer, roll them into very long, thin fingers for a more elegant shape to dip in coffee or vin santo, and adjust the baking time accordingly. For finishing, I used hulled white sesame seeds, which I think makes them look quite festive, almost like they’re coated in snowflakes. If you’re feeling adventurous, add a few black sesame seeds for some contrast, or go the whole hog and roll them in only black sesame seeds for a dramatic look.

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To make Biscotti di Regina (makes 30)

For the dough:

• 375g plain flour
• 225g butter
• 150g caster sugar
• 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon of salt
• 1 egg
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon orange blossom water
• cold milk, to bind

To decorate:

• 100g sesame seeds

1. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F) and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

2. In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and work until it resembles breadcrumbs.

3. Beat the egg with the vanilla and orange blossom water. Add to the main bowl, and work to a smooth dough. If necessary, add cold milk, a tablespoon at a time, to bring the mixture together. It should be firm, but slightly sticky.

4. Divide the dough into three batches. Roll each piece into a long sausage about 30cm long, and cut into 10 pieces (3cm each).

5. Roll each piece into a ball, then form into a sausage shape between your hands. Roll in the sesame seeds to coat completely, then transfer to a baking sheet (leave enough space between each piece to expand).

6. Bake for around 25 minutes until golden, turning after 15 minutes to get an even bake.

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Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things

Romantic Seed Crackers

OK, so more hearts! Why? Because…love is crackers? But worth it? And love is a good base for other things, just like a good cracker?

Fine, fine, I’ll stop trying to use bad humour to justify another heart-shaped post. Truth be told, I was really just looking for another excuse to use the rather splendid copper biscuit cutter that I was given as a present back in November, and it does seem such a shame to use it only at Christmas. And so I’ve made my seed crackers, but this time with a bit of a romantic twist.

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Of course this is not a new recipe – I first posted this about five years ago (five years ago!), but I think it is worth featuring again as it really is great. These are really double seed crackers – the simple dough (wholemeal and buckwheat flour, plus salt, oil and a dash of honey) is livened up with ground seeds, and then there are more on top for crunch and to give them some visual appeal. You could use whatever you like and/or have to hand, but I’ve used pumpkin, sesame, sunflower and poppy seeds.

If you make these, be prepared for “the alarming bit”. The poppy seeds and buckwheat flour make the dough a rather unappealing grey colour, but when they bake, the crackers take on this gorgeous conker-brown colour, making a handsome addition to a cheeseboard or any selection of dips.

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If you’re feeling creative and really want to work a heart theme, you can also cut out toppings using your cutters – slices of cheese, pieces of vegetable or whatever else you want. Otherwise, just throw them in a bowl, and use them to scoop up obscene amounts of hummus!

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For around 50 crackers (depends on size):

• 40g sesame seeds
• 30g pumpkin seeds
• 20g sunflower seeds
• 10g poppy seeds
• 120g wholewheat flour (spelt flour works too)
• 40g buckwheat flour
• 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, finely ground
• 2 teaspoons honey
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• water, to bind
• egg white, to glaze
• seeds, to decorate

1. Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Line a baking tray with baking parchment.

2. Mix all the seeds together, and blitz in a grinder until you have a fine powder. Don’t go too far, or they will become oily. The poppy seeds might stay whole, which is fine.

3. In a bowl, combine the ground seeds, flours, salt, honey and oil. Mix well.

4. Add enough water to make a dough (around 75-100ml, but it will vary depending on your flour). It should be smooth, but not sticky. Add more flour if needed.

5. Roll out the dough as thin as you can on a floured surface. Cut out the crackers (either use a cutter or cut with a knife or pizza cutter).

6. Brush each cracker with a little beaten egg white, and sprinkle over some seeds.

7. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the crackers become brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. If you’re doing lots of different shapes and sizes, bake in batches of the same size to ensure they don’t burn.

Worth making? These are excellent! Quick to make, with delicious results.

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Open Sesame!

I tried my hand at Moroccan gazelle horn cookies recently, and one reader left a comment suggesting that they can also be made rather more easily with sesame seeds instead of the fiddly pastry way. I was intrigued and wanted to give this a try. Here are the results, and very delicious they are!

These really are very, very simple to make. It’s a simple almond paste filling, left to chill, then shape them, dip in lightly-whipped egg white and roll in sesame seeds. The seeds crispen up in the oven, while the centre is soft and chewy. I changed the filling slightly this time – adding orange zest and a dash of cinnamon, while the egg white is flavoured with a little orange blossom water. All in all, I think these fellows look rather jaunty! They are delicious with mint or green tea. Makes you think of the sun when it’s a blizzard outside!

sesame_gazelle_horns

To make sesame gazelle horns (makes around 25):

• 200g ground almonds
• 100g white sugar
• 1 egg, beaten
• zest of one orange
• almond extract, to taste
• ground cinnamon, to taste (around 1/2 teaspoon)
• egg white

• 2 tablespoon orange blossom water
• sesame seeds

Before making these, I recommend watching this excellent video which explains the technique.

1. Put the ground almonds, caster sugar, beaten egg, orange zest, almond extract and cinnamon into a bowl (with regard to these last two, be guided by your preference – a little of each, or a lot, depending on the flavour you like). Mix to a smooth, even paste. If the mixture is too dry, add a little cold water (a teaspoon at a time) but make sure the paste is fairly stiff – it should not be wet or liquid. Cover and chill in the fridge overnight.

2. Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F) and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

3. Divide the almond paste mixture into 25-30 equal pieces (the easiest way to do this is roll it into a long sausage 25-30cm in length – then cut into pieces every 1cm to achieve equal pieces!). Roll each into a ball, then flatten into a sausage shape between your palms. They should be fatter in the middle, thinner in the middle, and around 7cm long).

4. Put the egg white into a bowl, add 2 tablespoons of orange-blossom water, and whisk until foamy. Dip each piece of almond paste in the egg white, shake off the excess, then roll in the sesame seeds until coated.

5. Place the sesame-coated almond paste onto the baking sheet. Roll each lightly between clean hands to press the seeds into the paste, then shape the pieces into crescents. Pinch the ends slightly to get points.

6. Bake the cookies for 12-15 minutes until just starting to turn golden at the edges, but they should not become dark. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire tray.

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Dukkah

Six months ago, I had never heard of dukkah. Since then, it seems to be all over the place. I’ve seen it on quite a few blogs, in newspaper recipe sections and in a couple of restaurants. No doubt the oh-so-trendy shops of Stoke Newington Church Street will be stocking the stuff soon. So I’m finally taking the hint…there is clearly some sort of dukkah trend happening, so let’s try it out.

Dukkah 101: what is it? Basically, ground-up stuff. Nuts, seeds and spices. It originates in Egypt, and it does indeed have a heady flavour and aroma that suggests that part of the world.

Now, a little digging seems to suggest to me that the list of ingredients above is about as comprehensive as it gets.

There seem to be literally dozens of ways to make dukkah (or dukka…or duqqa…seems there are lots of ways to spell it too), and I can imagine that many proud Egyptian cooks have their own favourite (and most likely secret) ways of making it.

You might use hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios or more exotic nuts like cashews or macadamia nuts. There might be sunflower seeds in there. Perhaps chickpeas. Do you have pepper, paprika, coriander, mustard seeds, coconut? Well, all depends on what you like. Nigella seeds? Why not. Fennel? Perhaps. Whatever you’re using, just make sure it’s toasted if necessary, then ground up. And that, as they say, is that.

For my version, I decided not to do any forward planning. I would wing it. Let’s see what’s in the house, and then hope for the best. It was a very dreary Saturday morning, so actually the best time to make something that brings flavours and aromas of far-off places.

For the nuts, I used hazelnuts and pistachios, which I toasted lightly in the oven. I also had a few sunflower and pumpkin seeds, so they also went into the oven for a few minutes. I thought I also had almonds, but no – I must have used them all up, so they were not going to be used today. Winging it, remember!

I also dry-roasted a few things in a saucepan. Sesame seeds, nigella (black onion seeds), fennel and cumin seeds. I also added a bit of black pepper, Piment d’Espelette and sea salt.

With things at various stages of toastedness, I got to grinding them. The spices were pretty finely ground. For the sunflower and pumpkin seeds and the nuts, I worked to the rule of thirds – one-third fine powder, one-third moderately ground, and one-third in small chunks. It’s a rule in so far as this is what I did. Not sure that it is a real culinary rule, or even a tenet of making good dukkah. But it worked.

Having made what is essentially a large bowl of spiced nut powder, I now needed a way to eat it.

Well, use it whenever you need to add a little flavour.The simple option is to serve it with bread and olive oil (dip bread in oil, then in the dukkah, then marvel at the taste). Just avoid getting too much oil into the dukkah bowl. This stops the dukkah sticking to the bread, and I suspect that this would be regarded as terribly bad form in a Cairo café. The lesson? Keep your powder dry!

Or make hummus or some other dip, and sprinkle the dukkah all over it. Or take cubes of soft cheese or feta and coat with dukkah. Or add spoonfuls to a green leafy salad, add a simple vinaigrette and enjoy the rich flavours that the dukkah adds.

You might just sense from this that I really like this stuff. I’ve found that it makes a great condiment, and while it’s got salt and pepper in there, it also adds interesting new dimensions to foods. You also find that you get different flavours with each mouthful. An aromatic moment from the nigella seed, a flash of hotness from the paprika, then the warmth of cumin seeds.

The recipe looks long, but just because I’ve tried to make it clear what’s happening and a few tips to make sure everything turns out great. But I reckon you could go from start to finish in less than 30 minutes, and that’s only because you need to let the nuts cool down. Happy grinding!

To make dukkah:

Note: this is just a guide, adapt spices to your own tastes!

• 100g (approx. 1  cup) nuts (I used pistachios and hazelnuts)
• 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
• 50g (1/3 cup) sesame seeds
• 1 teaspoon nigella seeds
• 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1 teaspoon sea salt
• 1/4 teaspoon paprika or Piment d’Espelette

Set the oven to 150°C (300°F).

Put the nuts on a baking tray, and put the sunflower seeds on another tray. Toast in the oven until the nuts are fragrant and lightly coloured, and the sunflower seeds are golden brown (be careful – seeds are done before the nuts so come out sooner!). When ready, remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Next, toast the sesame seeds – put them into a saucepan and cook over a medium heat. Keep stirring the seeds until they are golden and smell toasted. Remove from the heat and put the seeds on a plate to cool (if you leave them in the pan, they will keep cooking and might burn).

Finally, toast the spice seeds. Put the nigella, fennel and cumin into a saucepan and cook over a medium heat until the seeds start to “pop”. Take off the heat and put the seeds on a plate to cool.

Now, the fun part. Using a mortar and pestle, a spice grinder or a food processor, grind everything! Grind the spices finely, but for the seeds and nuts, aim to have some ground to a very fine powder, but leave some just barely crushed – this adds a bit of visual interest and texture to the finished dukkah.

Store in a large jam jar in a dark place.

Worth making? This really is a very simple but very delicious condiment for the table. It’s great to spice up and enrich dips, salads, sandwiches etc, and it great if you like interactive appetisers.

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Beaches and Buckwheat

It was a scorcher last weekend. Virtually no cloud for about three days, but it looks like we are in the final moments as there have been a few April showers since Monday. Update: by the time I got round to posting, it was decidedly cooler, but hey – good for the garden!

Like about two-thirds of the UK population with access to a car, I took the opportunity on Sunday to head to the coast and soak up some rays at the picturesque Camber Sands in Sussex, just along from the very pretty town of Rye. It used to be on the coast, but over time, the coastline moved out, and now it is about two miles inland. Well worth a visit to see the cobbled streets and charming old houses.

Camber Sands has fantastic sand dunes (some of the best in Southern England), lots of open beach and, of course, the chilly waters of the English Channel reminding those that ventured into the sea that it was still early April. I’ll be back when they water has warmed up though!

Everyone brought along a few things for the picnic. I had a green salad, various crackers and dips, and a buckwheat salad. Yup, buckwheat.

Buckwheat is a funny, some might say gritty little grain. Try one – that’s the texture, right? It appears in blinis, galettes bretonnes, poffertjes, soba noodles and…not much else, at least in terms of my cooking repertoire. Fair to say, it’s also not a frequent star on British dining tables. Bit of a shame, as they are also quite a pretty, jaunty little grain, which just happens to be gluten-free, so useful if you’re unable to eat wheat, or are just trying to cut down (personally, I’m far from being gluten free, and will happily wolf down anything a bakery throws at me…).

I’ve recently made a lot using cous cous, from the fine French type to the large-grained Palestinian variety, so I wondered if I could do something similar with buckwheat as the main grain in a dish. But how to cook the stuff? Oh, what to do?

Boiling is one (obvious) option, but that tends to be rather aggressive and can make grains break down into a gloopy, soupy, starchy mess. So I opted for the gentler option of soaking the grains overnight, then rinsing them and steaming for about 30 mins.

The result was, quite simply, amazing. Far better than I hoped for in fact. The grains became soft and plump, but stayed fluffy and kept their shape. Then I just mixed the buckwheat with some sliced vegetables and added a simple dressing for a healthy, filling dish. Also doubled up later in the week as a tasty supper.

At this stage, I realise this is sounding like every stereotype of vegetarian cooking you could possibly imagine, short of this being used to make a lentil nut loaf. Well, rest assured, the result is delicious and filling, with plenty of taste. I had meat eaters chowing down on this with glee. I put part of this down to the dressing, which contained sesame oil and a little bit of chili, so it still packed a flavourful punch and had plenty of interesting textures.

So next time you want to make a dish for a picnic, give the pasta a break and perhaps try that funny little packet of buckwheat you’ve been wondering exactly what to do with.

To make buckwheat and green bean salad (side dish for 4, main for 2):

For the salad:

• 200g buckwheat
• 100g cherry tomatoes
• 1/4 cucumber
• 1 small celery stick
• 200g green beans

For the dressing:

• 6 tablespoons dark sesame oil
• 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
• 2 tablespoons rice vinegar / white wine vinegar
• 1/2 teaspoon sambal/harisssa paste (or chili)
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• pinch of sugar

The night before, soak the buckwheat in a pan of cold water.

The next day, rinse the buckwheat well in cold, running water. Drain and place in a steamer (*). Cook for around 30 minutes. The grains are done when they are plump and soft – you may want to fluff the buckwheat every 10 minutes to ensure it is cooked evenly.

While the buckwheat is cooking, prepare the tomatoes, cucumber and celery by cutting into pieces according to your mood (chunks or paper-thin slices, as you like it!). Shred the green beans on the diagonal, and add to the steamer for the last 10 minutes of the cooking process (**). Once the buckwheat/green beans are done, put in a salad bowl with the rest of the vegetables.

Next, make the dressing – combine the ingredients in a jam jar, and shake it madly until smooth. Check the flavour and adjust to taste (you might want more oil, or vinegar, or soy, or chili…go with what tastes right to you). Pour the dressing over the salad and mix well until everything is well-coated.

Serve the salad warm or at room temperature (***).

(*) I don’t own a steamer. I improvise with a metal sieve placed in a saucepan of boiling water,and place a saucepan lid inside the sieve. It forms a pretty good seal, and seems to do the job. Might be an idea for the kitchen wish list…

(**) This way, no extra pot to clean!

(***) As the grains don’t really absorb the dressing, you can easily mix everything ahead of time, rather than waiting until just before serving.

Worth making? I was pleasantly surprised how this method of cooking buckwheat worked out. It has texture and a nutty taste, and cooked in this way with vegetables and a robust, flavourful dressing, it makes for a filling supper or a nice picnic side dish. G’won. Try it!

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Super-Healthy Seed Crackers

I’ve recently had a real thing for seeds, and have been adding them to lots of things. Lightly toasted pumpkin seeds in salads, sunflower seeds in muffins, muesli and cous cous, sesame seeds on ice-cream. They just bring that little extra something to a dish. Don’t believe me? Well, in Vienna, you can even have vanilla ice-cream with a drizzle of nutty, green pumpkin seed oil. Very chic. If you see pumpkin oil, I urge you to buy it. Makes a fantastic salad dressing and a rather groovy green risotto.

So…if seeds are so good, why not try making something that focuses on the seeds and makes them the star, rather then just expecting them to be support actors? My initial idea was to make some sort of sweet muesli bar, but mostly with the seeds. Then I realised that I have put so much sweet stuff on this blog and I wanted to try being a bit healthier after indulging a little bit too much on holiday, so it had to be something savoury. A few minutes online and I found, via the ever-useful LA Times, a handy overview of all things seed cracker related. To the kitchen, and start experimenting.

I worked out a recipe based on a standard cracker recipe, and mine worked out really well. The dough came together easily, and was a doddle to roll out and cut. Sometimes pastry is a complete nightmare, taking on its own personality and stubbornly refusing to do what you want it to do. Then you finally get it into a decent shape, and in the oven it throws another tantrum and does crazy stuff like puff up on one side only, or shrinks and looks a bit of a mess. But not this one. It just took a little flour and a rolling pint to get it to about 3 mm thickness, then I cut the crackers out using a knife. Before I baked them, I glazed with a little beaten egg and sprinkled over a few more seeds. If you want that glossy looks-like-its-been-varnished look, then egg is the way to go. After baking, the turned a dark tan colour, and had kept the square shape I had been looking for. Result.

And how did they taste? Really good. There is nuttiness from the various seeds and the buckwheat flour, and just the tiniest hint of sweetness from the honey, and the poppy seeds keep a little bit of crunch and pop in your mouth as you eat them. And of course, them make a delicious foil for a huge slice of mature cheddar, which I think is the way all crackers want to be eaten. Delicious!

For around 50 crackers (5cm x 5 cm):

• 40g sesame seeds
• 30g pumpkin seeds
• 20g sunflower seeds
• 10g poppy seeds
• 120g wholewheat flour
• 40g buckwheat flour
• 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, finely ground
• 2 teaspoons honey
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
• water, to bind
• egg white, to glaze
• seeds, to decorate

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Line a baking tray with baking parchment.

Mix all the seeds together, and blitz in a grinder until you have a fine powder. Don’t go too far, or they will become oily. The poppy seeds might stay whole, which is fine.

In a bowl, combine the ground seeds, flours, salt, honey and oil. Mix well.

Add enough water to make a dough (around 100ml, but it will vary depending on your flour).

Roll out the dough until 2-3mm thick, cut out small rectangle or squares, and place on the baking sheet.

Brush each cracker with a little beaten egg, and sprinkle over some seeds.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until the crackers become brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack.

Worth making? These are delicious and (probably) nutritious. They were a big hit with everyone that tried them, so will happily be making them again. Good if you want to feel a little sophisticated next time you serve up some good cheese.

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