For Greg Patent, an Italian bakery burgeoning with pignoli cookies, fat cannoli and sweet pastries is cause for investigation.
Patent, a veteran baker, cooking teacher and cookbook author, hunted down the secrets of ethnic baking from more than 30 nations, including Italy, Nigeria, Austria and India. His new book, A Baker's Odyssey, collects recipes for the delectable treats and offers insights into their culinary history and cultural significance. For his research, Patent visited more than five-dozen master home bakers around the U.S.
The book includes a one-hour DVD that demonstrates the key skills, baking techniques and step-by-step methods ambitious bakers need for making cannoli, matzoh, pretzels and other items.
Below, reprinted by permission from A Baker's Odyssey, are recipes for Australian Lamingtons and Iraqi Sambouseks.
Lamingtons - AustraliaThis recipe makes 24 individual cakes.
Lamingtons are to Australians what chocolate cupcakes are to Americans. They are squares of yellow butter cake dipped into a chocolate sauce and coated with unsweetened coconut. Elizabeth Germaine's cooking students in Melbourne adored them, and she loved making them; she now makes Lamingtons regularly in the United States. "They're so simple, yet sophisticated in their own way, and so much fun to eat," she says. The success of a Lamington largely depends on the quality of the cake. It must be a firm-textured butter cake with a fine crumb, which is exactly what you'll get with the recipe below. For best results, it should be made a day ahead.
The dessert is named for Baroness Lamington, the wife of an early-twentieth-century political official in Australia. Lamingtons are a national favorite, sold at almost every bake sale in Australia and practically every bakery. Kids love eating them out of hand, but you can serve them at a tea party with knife and fork. A scoop of vanilla ice cream goes very well with a Lamington.
Shredded unsweetened coconut is available in many supermarkets and in health food stores or by mail order (see Sources, page 341). If you prefer, make the variation using macadamia nuts instead of coconut.
1 3/4 cups bleached all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan 2 teaspoons baking powder 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) salted butter, at room temperature 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 3 large eggs 1 cup whole milk Chocolate sauce 4 cups confectioners' sugar 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) salted butter, melted 2/3 cup boiling water 3 to 4 cups shredded unsweetened coconut
To make the cake, adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 13 x 9 x 2–inch baking pan, dust it with flour, and knock out the excess flour.
Whisk the flour and baking powder together in a medium bowl.
Beat the butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add 1/4 cup of the sugar and the vanilla and beat for 30 seconds. While beating, gradually add the remaining 1 1/4 cups sugar. Scrape the bowl and beater, then beat for 5 minutes on medium-high speed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. On low speed, add the flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with the milk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and beating only until smooth. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and pulls away slightly from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in its pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then cover the cake pan with a wire rack and invert the two. Remove the pan, cover the cake with another rack, and invert the cake again to cool completely right side up.
Drape the cake loosely with a kitchen towel and leave at room temperature overnight.
To make the chocolate sauce, in a medium metal bowl whisk together the confectioners' sugar, cocoa, butter, and boiling water until smooth. Set the bowl into a pan of very hot water to keep the sauce fluid. Spread the coconut in a shallow dish or pie plate. Drop a piece of cake into the chocolate sauce and use two long-tined forks to turn the cake quickly in the sauce to coat all surfaces. Lift the cake out of the sauce, letting excess sauce drip back into the bowl, and transfer the cake to the bowl of coconut. Use your fingers to sprinkle the cake with coconut, rolling it around to coat all surfaces well. Remove the cake from the coconut and set it on a wire cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining cake. Leave the cakes on the wire racks to dry for 1 to 2 hours before serving.
Lamingtons keep well for 3 to 4 days, stored in an airtight container at room temperature.
For utter extravagance, and for Lamingtons with a completely different quality, you can substitute about 1 pound salted or unsalted macadamia nuts (which originated in Australia), finely chopped, for the coconut.
Cheese Sambouseks - IraqThis recipe makes 24 pastries. My Iraqi grandmother often made sambouseks, half-moon-shaped pastries, which can be sweet or savory. The Iraqi version of empanaditas, they were often served with tea in the afternoon. Granny used a mixture of feta and ricotta cheeses, while my mother used sharp Cheddar. You can use just about any cheese you like, but be sure to include one strong-tasting cheese in the combination. Muenster and extra-sharp Cheddar are very good together. I've even made them with a mixture of Gouda and Petit Basque. Sambouseks are best when very fresh, but they also freeze well.
Dough for Granny's Kahk (see following recipe)
12 ounces cheese, shredded (see headnote for suggestions) Pinch of salt Pinch of cayenne pepper 1 large egg 1 large egg white 1 large egg yolk, beaten with 1 teaspoon water for egg wash
Divide the kahk dough into 24 pieces and shape into balls. Let the dough rest, covered with a kitchen towel, for about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the filling. Place the cheese, salt, cayenne, egg, and egg white in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse very rapidly 20 to 30 times, until the mixture just begins to gather into a mass. Turn out onto a sheet of waxed paper or plastic wrap and pat into a 6 x 4–inch rectangle. Cut the cheese mixture into 1-inch squares.
Adjust two oven racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two 14 x 17–inch baking sheets with silicone baking pan liners or cooking parchment.
To shape the sambouseks, pat a ball of dough into a 4-inch circle on your unfloured work surface. Place a square of the cheese mixture slightly below the center of the circle and pat it into a semicircular shape, leaving a bottom border of dough a scant 1/2 inch wide. Fold the top half of the dough over the cheese and press the edges firmly to seal. Use a fingertip to crimp the edge of the dough back on itself, forming a fluted border. Place the sambousek on the prepared sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough and cheese, placing 12 sambouseks about 2 inches apart on each sheet.
Paint the sambouseks with the egg wash. Bake 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Rotate the pans top to bottom and front to back once during baking to ensure even browning. Use a wide metal spatula to transfer the sambouseks to wire cooling racks, and serve warm or at room temperature.
To freeze sambouseks, once they are cool, arrange them on a baking sheet and freeze until solid, then transfer them to heavy-duty resealable plastic bags and freeze for up to 1 month. Thaw the sambouseks in their bags, then arrange them on a baking sheet and refresh in a preheated 300°F oven for 10 minutes.
Granny's Kahk - IraqMakes 24 rings My mother and her mother emigrated to Shanghai from Iraq in 1930. My grandmother had been widowed many years earlier. Over the intervening years, her three older children had all found their way to Shanghai, and her only son, Jason, eventually sent for Granny and my mom once he was able to support them. At the time, thousands of Iraqi Jews resided in Shanghai, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. The Iraqis did what they could to maintain their customs. Granny, the widow of a rabbi, went to synagogue twice a day.
We all lived together in her one-room apartment during World War II. Granny was a fabulous cook and baker. Her kitchen only had room enough for one person, so my mother wasn't able to learn from her. What my mom and I remember best are the smells, tastes, and textures of Granny's food. The two pastries that stand out as the sine qua non of her repertoire are kahk and cheese sambouseks (see page 111). When my family immigrated to San Francisco in 1950, we had to leave Granny behind in Shanghai. She eventually traveled with my uncle Jason and his family to Israel and then to Canada, but she died without us ever seeing her again.
It then became my mom's job to try to re-create some of our most treasured memories of Granny's cooking. She experimented with doughs for kahks and fillings for sambouseks and finally succeeded in making what we both think taste very close to what Granny made. When we make kahk and sambouseks, we feel as if Granny's with us again.
These savory bracelets of dough remind me of breadsticks: dry, crunchy and addictive. Kahk are eaten any time of the day as a delicious nibble. In Shanghai, it's the first thing I'd reach for every day when I came rushing home from school. The dough may be plain or flavored with fennel, cumin, or caraway seeds. Granny often made some of each type, and she brushed the tops of the kahk with an egg wash and sprinkled them with sesame seeds. Making this dough is a breeze with the food processor, and it is very easy to work with.
Dough 2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (spooned into the cups and leveled) 3/4 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon granulated sugar 9 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces 1/2 cup cool water 2 teaspoons fennel, cumin, or caraway seeds (optional) 1 large egg, beaten with a pinch of salt for egg wash Sesame seeds for sprinkling
To make the dough, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar in a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process for 5 seconds. Add the butter and pulse 10 times, or until the mixture is the consistency of fine meal. With the machine running, add the water in a steady stream, taking about 10 seconds to do so. Process for 1 minute. The dough will gather into a ball and form a mass that whirls around the blade. Feel the dough. It should be smooth, soft, elastic, and no longer sticky. If necessary, adjust the texture with droplets of water or small amounts of flour, processing a few seconds after each addition. If you want to add seeds to the dough, knead them in by hand on your work surface.
Divide the dough into 24 pieces and shape into balls (3/4 ounce each). Cover the balls of dough loosely with a kitchen towel and let stand for 20 minutes.
Adjust two oven racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two 17 x 14–inch cookie sheets with silicone baking pan liners or cooking parchment.
Roll each piece of dough beneath your palms into a log about 7 inches long and 1/2 inch wide, with tapered ends. Bring the ends together, overlapping them by about 1 inch, and pinch tightly to seal; each ring will be about 2 inches in diameter. Set the rings on the prepared sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Paint each bracelet with the egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Bake for about 30 minutes, until the kahk are golden brown. Rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back once during baking to ensure even browning. Cool the kahk completely on the baking sheets.
Storing Kahk keep well stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 to 3 weeks. To freeze, pack them into heavy-duty resealable plastic bags and freeze for up to 1 month. Thaw them in their bags, then arrange on a baking sheet and refresh in a preheated 300°F oven for 10 minutes. Cool before eating.