Olive Oil Ricotta Semolina Cake with Roasted Quince

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I’ve been playing around with this recipe for quite some time now and made several versions of it with different winter fruits. The addition of the semolina and high quality olive oil in the batter makes a tender and light cake that’s complex in flavor. It’s studded with quince, that’s slightly roasted in orange blossom water to keep it firm to the bite, and crunchy blanched almonds – adding yet another contrast of textures and flavors. In the cold long winter days, this fruit dessert is guaranteed to brighten and uplift your mood.

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Recipe extensively adapted from Food52

Roasted Quince:
2 large quince (450g)
80g sugar
25g water
Zest of a small lemon
1½ tablespoon orange blossom water

1. Preheat your oven to 400°F (200°C).
2. Peel quince and cut each into 8 thick slices (roughly 450g total). Place the slices in a baking pan. Cover with sugar, water, zest and orange blossom water.
3. Cover the tray with aluminum foil and cook for 35-40 minutes or until the quince is starting to soften.

Cake:
2 large eggs, room temperature
200g granulated sugar
245g ricotta cheese
80ml (1/3 cup) olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon zest
180g flour
80g fine semolina flour
1½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
– Confectioner’s sugar and a handful of blanched almonds for decoration
1. Lower the oven temperature to 350°F (180°C). Butter and flour a 9″ (23cm) springform cake pan and line with parchment paper.
2. In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, beat the eggs and sugar until thick and pale about 5 minutes. In another bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, oil and lemon zest. Pour the cheese mixture into the whipped eggs and mix until combined.
3. Sift all of the dry ingredients directly over the wet ingredients. Mix with a large spatula gently until just combined, using a folding motion.
4. Pour the batter into the cake pan and spreading it out evenly. Arrange the roasted quince slices in slightly overlapping concentric circles until the top of the cake batter is covered. Sprinkle with blanched almonds.
5. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown, the edges are pulling away from the pan, and a cake tester or toothpick comes out of the cake cleanly. Cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes, then turn out to finish cooling on a rack.
6. Dust with confectioner’s sugar, and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.
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Karabij (Semolina Rosewater Pistachio Cookies)

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I’ve always been curious about the science of baking. Understanding how ingredients work together to create specific baked goods is so fascinating and that’s what keeps me driven to try out new recipes and techniques. For example, when I think of a simple pie crust recipe, so many questions rush through my mind: Should I use American butter, European butter, or vegetable shortening? Do I need a fork, pastry cutter or stand mixer to blend in the cold butter? Ice cold water, vinegar, or vodka? Ceramic, aluminum or glass pie dish? Not one technique is “correct” or the best – it’s all a matter of using your best judgement and understanding how all these factors result in unique outcomes.

Baking is like a fun guessing game: you never know what you’re going to end up with. Once you get the basic principles of how ingredients work together, then you feel so liberated to experiment with recipes and use your creative imagination to create almost anything. So when people ask me how I got into baking, or why I’m so passionate about it, that’s usually my answer. Baking makes me feel happy, powerful, and liberated. I love that word.

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So I’m sharing a Karabij recipe today. For those of you who are not familiar with these cookies, they’re typically traditional Lebanese cookies made with a semolina butter rosewater dough that’s filled with a sweetened pistachio paste. I’ve been baking a lot with semolina and pistachios lately. They’re two of my favorite ingredients – and I really can’t wait to play around with some baking techniques to (hopefully!) create a completely new recipe for my next post.

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Make about 35-40 cookies (mine were about 1″ wide and 2.5″ long / 2.5cm x6cm)

Semolina dough:
200g semolina flour (or farkha, finer wheat)
100g farina flour (or smid, coarser wheat)
10g powdered sugar or 1 tablespoon
100g (1 stick) melted butter
26g (2 Tbsp.) rose water
26g (2 Tbsp.) water

Pistachio paste:
100g (3.5 oz or 1 cup) ground pistachio
60g (5 Tbsp.) powdered sugar
15g (1 Tbsp.) rose water
10g melted butter

• Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
• In a medium bowl, mix the semolina flour, farina, and powdered sugar.
• Add the melted butter and mix well. Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter for an hour.
• Mix in the rose water and water then cover with the damp cloth or kitchen towel and leave the dough to rest for another 30 minutes. If the dough is still crumbly, add water until it just comes together.
• In a small bowl, mix the ground pistachio, powdered sugar, rose water and melted butter until homogeneous and forms a dough. Cover with damp cloth or kitchen towel, set aside.
• Preheat oven to 375°F (200°C).
• Scoop one tablespoon of the semolina dough and roll into a log between the palm of your hands then flatten it to form a thin dough.
• Scoop approximately 2 teaspoons of the pistachio dough and put the filling down the middle. Shape the cookie into rounded logs or fingers with rounded edges.
• Fill and shape the remaining dough and transfer the baking sheet to the preheated oven.
• Bake the cookies for 25 minutes until golden (don’t bake too long or the cookies will harden!) If you prefer a reddish toasted top, place the sheet for 5 minutes under a broiler at the end of the baking time.
• Take out the baking sheet and let the cookies cool down completely. Dust with icing sugar before serving.
• Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks, or freeze for up 3 months.

Pomegranate Cake with Tangerine Rosewater Syrup

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Semolina flour is one of those incredibly versatile ingredients that’s always worth having on hand. I’ve used it in desserts like Halawet el Jibn, Bohsalino, and even Sfouf cake (which is the most viewed recipe on my blog!)

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In today’s post, I baked a simple semolina lemon butter cake and paired it with two seasonal fruits: pomegranate and tangerine. The juicy pomegranate seeds that are sprinkled on top of the cake batter add a subtle crunch to each bite and the tangerine syrup is mixed with rosewater, giving a bolder citrus taste. The result is an insanely moist cake with a hearty texture, slightly chewy edges, and refreshingly bright flavors that reminds me of warmer weather.

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Ingredients:

Cake:
¼ cup yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
185g butter
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
150g (2/3 cup) sugar
150g (1 cup) flour
80g (½ cup) semolina
½ cup pomegranate seeds
1 tablespoon demerara sugar

Syrup:
125ml (½ cup) freshly squeezed tangerine juice
55g (¼ cup) caster sugar
60ml (¼ cup) water
2 teaspoon rosewater

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease and line one 8″ (20cm) round cake pan with parchment paper.
2. Mix yogurt with lemon juice, set aside.
3. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat room temperature butter with lemon zest and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time.
4. Fold in the flour, semolina, and yogurt-lemon into the butter mixture using a rubber spatula. Mix until just combined.
5. Spread the thick batter into prepared pan, top with pomegranate seeds then sprinkle demerara sugar evenly.
6. Bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
7. Meanwhile, make the syrup: Stir the tangerine juice, sugar, and water in a small saucepan over high heat, without boiling, until sugar dissolved. Bring to the boil; reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Take off the heat, stir in rosewater, and strain into a jug.
8. After taking the cake out of the oven, let it stand in the pan for 5 minutes then turn onto a wire rack top side up. Pierce cake all over with a skewer and pour about 3/4 of the syrup over hot cake. Serve at room temperature with whipped cream and extra syrup.

Optional:
 Sprinkle extra pomegranate seeds before serving.

Halawet El-Jibn (Sweet Cheese Rolls)

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Making Lebanese desserts may seem impossible – especially if you live in an Arab country where the best sweets are readily available. But it’s not as hard as you think, and all the ingredients used for this Halawet El-Jibn recipe are not hard to find.

I bet you’ll be surprised to know how easy it is to recreate this fabulous dessert at home: it’s simply a mixture of mozzarella cheese and fine semolina melted together to form a smooth dough that’s rolled out and filled with fresh kashta cheese or this whipped ricotta cheese mixture. It is then served cold with ground pistachios, rose petal jam, and simple syrup.

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The traditional process of making this dessert is very delicate and requires a precise ratio of ingredients that are cooked using specific utensils. It is said that some of the best Halawet El-Jebn can be found in the city of Tripoli in Lebanon, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t make it from scratch if you’re craving Arabic sweets or feeling adventurous in the kitchen!

Ingredients and Directions: Makes about 12 rolls

Simple Syrup:
1 cup water
1 ½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¼ cup rose water
¼ cup orange blossom water

• Place the water, sugar, and lemon juice in a saucepan over a low heat, and stir until the sugar dissolves.
• Turn off the heat and stir in the rose water and orange blossom water.
• Let cool to room temperature.

Cheese Filling:
250g fresh kashta cheese
(or halve this whipped ricotta cheese mixture)

Cheese Dough:
420g grated mozzarella cheese
160g fine semolina
175ml water
2 tbsp orange blossom water
2 tbsp rose water

• Generously coat a 30 cm x 40 cm (12″x15″) baking sheet with simple syrup.
• In a non-stick pan or saucepan, heat the fine semolina for 3-4 minutes until fragrant and evenly heated.
• Stir in the mozzarella cheese until just combined.
• Immediately add water, orange blossom, and rose water to the pan.
• Keep stirring quickly (to prevent the cheese from burning) until a smooth and elastic dough is formed.
• Take the pan off the heat and turn the dough onto the baking sheet.
• Using a small rolling pin or the back of a wooden spoon coated with syrup, roll out the dough to cover the whole baking sheet.
• Refrigerate for 15 minutes then cut the dough into 11 cm x 13 cm (4″x5″) rectangles.

Assembly:
• Take a rectangular cutout, place 2 tablespoons of kashta (cheese filling) on the short side. Slightly fold the long sides towards the center, then roll the cheese dough and place seam side down on a plate.
• To serve, sprinkle each piece with ground pistachios, rose petal jam, and a drizzle of syrup.

Bohsalino (Pistachio Paste filled with Kashta Cheese)

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Bohsalino reminds me of my grandmother’s kitchen and how dedicated she is as a cook and baker. I always watch her prepare this Lebanese dessert when she visits Lebanon. It used to look so complex to me: grinding the pistachios, magically turning them into a sweet paste, and sandwiching it with creamy kashta (fresh Lebanese cheese, which can be substituted with Ricotta cheese). I am still fascinated by the whole process and how good it tastes! I’m not lying when I say that I can live on bohsalino instead of chocolate. That’s a dangerous statement don’t you think?

For some reason this dessert always seems to be a mystery to me. No one but my grandma makes it. When I tell people about it most of them have no clue what I’m talking about; that’s because it’s not as popular as other Middle-Eastern desserts such as sfouf, knafeh, or baklava. So I decided to write a post about bohsalino, because I want to be able to whip up a big plate whenever I want and tell the whole world that they are missing out a fabulous dessert, possibly one of the best ever.

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This fall, I called my grandma to ask for the recipe so that I could figure out how to make it. Like most grandma recipes, there was a list of ingredients, approximations of quantities, and inexact instructions. When I asked her: “How long do I cook the semolina?”, “How much heavy cream do I add to the kashta?”, or “How much rose water do I need for this recipe?!” She simply replied to me to figure it out “3al nazar” (common Arabic expression that means add to taste or ‘visually’). I had no choice but to make it through trial and error, and write down the exact quantity of ingredients for consistent results.

Bohsalino is very rich with flavor additives such as rose water, orange blossom water, and mastic. The latter is a well known ingredient in Arabic, Greek, and Turkish cuisines. Mastic (miskeh or arabic gum) are very aromatic resin drops mainly used in pastries, breads, puddings, and desserts because it enhances the taste of the ingredients. You can buy mastic in Greek/Middle-Eastern/international stores, or online.

I divided the recipe into separate sections to make it easier for assembly at the end.

1. Prepare the sugar syrup, which holds the dry ingredients together and forms a paste.
2. Cook the coarse semolina flour and butter over medium heat to reduce the gritty texture.

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3. Grind the unsalted pistachios in a food processor.

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4. Mix these three together to get a sweet pistachio semolina paste and then roll out into a 12.5″ circle.

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5. Prepare the kashta cheese mixture, which will be spread out on top of the paste.

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6. Add the second paste on top of the cheese to close it off, and trim the edges.

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7. Finish off with some decorations on top.

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Here’s the recipe for Bohsalino. It’s easy, quick to prepare, and excellent for a crowd.

Ingredients and Directions:
Sugar Syrup:
1 cup water
1 ½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¼ cup rose water
¼ cup orange blossom water

Stir the water and sugar in a small saucepan over a low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Once it starts boiling, add the lemon juice and continue boiling the mixture for another 2 minutes. Take the saucepan off the heat, stir in the rose and orange blossom water, and set aside to cool.

Pistachio Semolina Paste:
1 cup coarse semolina (not semolina flour)
113 grams (1 stick) cold butter, cubed
500 grams raw unsalted shelled pistachios (shells removed)

Combine the coarse semolina and butter in a small saucepan and place on low heat. Stir until the butter melts and the semolina becomes a bit lighter in color (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and pour mixture in a large bowl.

Grind the raw pistachios in a food processor until finely ground and reserve ¼ cup on  for later use. Add the rest of the pistachio flour to the semolina paste and mix with until homogeneous.

Slowly pour in the sugar syrup while mixing with wooden spoon just until a firm dough is formed (you will end up with extra syrup). It’s important not to work slowly and be careful not to pour all the syrup at once or you will end up with a gooey pistachio paste that doesn’t hold its shape*. Once your dough is ready, place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Kashta Cheese Mixture:
4 medium drops of mastic
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
500 grams kashta (or ricotta cheese)
3 tablespoons heavy cream (or 4 tablespoons if you using ricotta cheese)
1 tablespoon rose water
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
Rose petal jam (for decoration – optional)

Grind mastic drops with the sugar in a mortar and pestle until it turns into powder. Sift the mixture to get rid of clumps. Mix the kashta cheese with the mastic powder, heavy cream, rose water, and orange blossom water. Reserve ¼ cup on the side for decoration.

Assembly:
Divide the pistachio semolina paste in 2 halves. Cut out two sheets of wax paper, large enough to cover a 32 cm (12.5″) serving plate. Sandwich one half of the paste between both sheets of wax paper. Press the paste down with a rolling pin and move it from the center out. Roll into a 32 cm (12.5 inch) circle and then transfer to round serving plate.

Spread the cheese mixture over the first layer of pistachio paste. Roll out the second half of the dough and place on top of the kashta cheese mixture to close then trim the edges. Add the reserved ground pistachio on top and spread out to cover the whole surface. Pipe the reserved kashta cheese on top and decorate with rose petal jam (optional).

*Troubleshooting tip: If you added too much syrup and the dough is too soft or sticky,  slowly add coarse semolina to the mixture and re-heat again until the gritty texture is gone and the dough is smooth and shiny.

Sfouf (Semolina Anise Tea Cake)

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Sfouf is by far one of my favorite Lebanese desserts. It’s a moist cake characterized by its intense yellow color from the turmeric spice. It is made from semolina, flour, oil, sugar, and aniseed which gives it a distinctively awesome taste. Some people say it has a “magical” taste – and hey, I don’t disagree. It is also very easy to make, you just have to mix all the ingredients in a single bowl, pour the batter in a cake pan, and garnish the cake with slices of blanched almonds before putting it in the oven.

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Lebanese sweets are usually heavy with sugar, cheese (like kashta), and lots lots of butter! But this spongy cake is light and slightly sweet with a dense melt-in-your-mouth texture. After tasting it from renowned Lebanese bakeries, restaurants, and even home-made cakes, I found out that typical Sfouf are dry and lack the unique turmeric/aniseed flavor. So after reviewing and adapting my grandmother’s recipe, I finally found the perfect balance of ingredients for an insanely moist, rich, and flavorful cake. The secret ingredient is the addition of brewed anise tea to the batter. Typical recipes call for plain water or milk, but I found that freshly brewed tea enhances the taste and texture of the cake.

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The cake is traditionally cut into squares or diamond shapes in the baking pan, that’s why it is called Sfouf, meaning “Rows” in Arabic. After taking the first bite, I knew that this is THE recipe to follow every time I plan on baking Sfouf. And it tastes so much better the next day! It’s unbelievably good!

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Let me take you through the step-by-step recipe – as usual 🙂

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This is aniseed. It smells awesome. So will your cake.
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Make some Anise tea by mixing boiling water with the seeds and letting it steep for a few minutes.
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Transfer tea to a bowl and let it cool.
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Finely ground aniseed using a spice grinder.
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Mix the fine semolina (above) with the flour, turmeric powder, ground aniseed, and baking powder. Then add the tea and oil.
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Cover the cake pan with some Tahineh (Sesame Paste)
batter
Pour the cake batter into a 23 cm (9 inch) round pan. You can also use a rectangular pan.
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Decorate it. Lovely.
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Bake it.
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Turn it on a wire rack and cut into squares.
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And that’s the best part. Yum.

Makes ≈ 26 squares.
Preparation time: 25 minutes.
Baking Time: 40 minutes.

Ingredients:
2 cups boiling water
2 Tablespoons aniseed

2 cups fine semolina flour
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 tablespoons turmeric powder
1 tablespoon finely ground aniseed (you can use a spice grinder)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 3/4 cups sugar

1 cup canola oil (or vegetable oil)
2 tablespoons Tahineh (sesame paste)

Blanched Almonds, halved (for decoration – you can substitute with pine nuts or 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds)

Directions:
1. Boil water then add the aniseed and let steep for 10 minutes.
2. Strain tea and put aside to cool a little bit.
3. Preheat oven to 180ºC (355ºF)
4. In a large bowl, mix the fine semolina, flour, turmeric powder, ground aniseed, and baking powder until homogeneous.
5. Add sugar to the tea until dissolved.
6. Add oil and tea/sugar mixture to the dry ingredients, then mix well. The batter will be slightly thick.
7. Cover the bottom and sides of a 28 cm (11 inch) round pan (or a rectangular pan) with Tahineh.
8. Decorate with blanched almonds (or substitutes – above)
9. Bake for 40 min, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
10. Let cool in the pan for 30 min then invert on a wire rack.
11. Cut into square or diamond shapes, and store in an airtight container.