This is the season for baking, and this year I have decided to go wild, using as many of the foraged fruit preserved during the summer months as I can. Since I do relatively little baking, this is a great excuse to make some of my traditional recipes more interesting with some new and local flavours.
My first recipe is for alfajores. These treats are from Latin America where every country or region has its own version. As the Arabic sound of their name suggests, they were brought by the Spaniards during the conquest, who themsleves acquired some form of the recipe from the Moors . This recipe is gluten-free and uses less butter than the traditional. The most common filling is dulce de leche, but I have seen different fruit preserves used as well, and much prefer them. So as part of my wild menu for the holidays, I have made them with my own dulce de manzana silvestre, or crabapple preserve, and used only dried coconut to embellish them.
Recipe for Alfajores
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup butter
1/4 cup icing sugar
1 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup rice flour
1 tsp guar gum
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
dried coconut (or chopped nuts of your choice)
Mix together all the ingredients except for the coconut and roll into a ball and knead until it all sticks together. If the mixture is too dry to stay in a ball, add a few drops of water. Set aside to rest for half an hour. Roll out to 1/8 inch think and cut into rounds of about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Bake at 300 degrees F for about 10 min. They should be cooked but not browned.
Once cooled, spread crabapple preserve on the bottom of one, and place another on top to form a sandwich. Roll the edge of the circle in shredded coconut or chopped nuts.
My next recipe is the anglo equivalent of alfajores. Simple and ubiquitous, shortbread too has as many versions, and if you have a favourite recipe, simply add the sumac powder to give it a local, lemony flavour. The recipe I used is a traditional one from Grace Mulligan’s Dundee Kitchen: A Scottish Recipe Cook Book, and is as basic as a shortbread recipe can get, which is the way I like it. I made mine in cookie form, slicing them thin, but you can roll out the dough thicker and make petticoat tails, rectangles or put them in a mould.
If you haven’t prepared your own sumac powder, you can find it in some specialty Middle Eastern or Asian shops.
8 0z butter
12 0z white flour (2 1/3 cup)
4 0z sugar (3/4 cup + 1 Tbsp)
1 Tbsp sumac powder
Cream the butter and add the sugar. Mix the sumac powder into the flour and gradually work into the butter mixture. Knead it until it forms a good ball, or use a food processor. Divide the ball in two. Cover the work surface with a little sugar and roll out each ball into a log shape. Cover and refrigerate for about half an hour. If they get too cold, they will crumble when cut. Cut the rolls into thin slices, place on parchment paper on a cookie sheet and bake at 300 F (150 C or Gas Mark 2) for about 15 minutes or until they are lightly browned.
And if you make alfajores according to the recipe above, you will have three egg whites you will want to use. In order to help you decide how to use them, I am recommending this recipe from David Lebovitz to add to your holiday baking. I followed his recipe to the letter, except did not do as he suggested and coat them in egg white and nuts, because then I would have to do something with the left over yolk. Anyway, they were fine and I saved myself a lot of work.
3 cups blanched almond powder (can be made by processing blanched almonds until a powder is formed)
1 cup sugar
3 large egg whites
pinch of salt
3 Tbsp apricot jam or marmalade
a few drops of almond extract.
1. Beat egg whites until they form soft peaks, but are not dry.
2. Mix almond powder and sugar.
3. Fold egg whites into the almond mixture with marmalade or jam and almond extract.
4. Form into balls (about the size of walnuts), place on a parchment lined baking sheet, and bake at 325 for 25 or 30 minutes.