Category Archives: sweets

Robbie Burns night

Hey! It’s the 200th entry! Woot!

Today, January 25th, is a pretty big day for two reasons. As I type this, the State of the Union is being delivered to millions of TV sets and will outline public policy in the U.S. for the next year. The other reason is one that is centuries old, and while it may only meet the amount of drinking as the first, it certainly yields good food: Robbie Burns Day.

Robert Burns is Scotland’s national poet, despite the fact that he died 215 years ago. His friends celebrated him after he died, then all of Scotland did, and now pockets of people all over the world do. There’s a program of events that involves readings, toasts, and of course lots of scotch drinking. We prepared a night of Scottish food and helped three people celebrate their first Robbie Burns night, which is always fun.

We started the evening with Scotch eggs, which I just tasted two years ago. They always seem to please. Of course, deep-frying anything is a pretty good way to make it enjoyable. We made it with a mustard sauce which I found here that was easy to make and matched the eggs very nicely. The recipe for Scotch eggs themselves didn’t come from that site, but from a book from way back titled The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors with the entertaining subtitle “Recipes you should have gotten from your grandmother” and is reproduced below. A note on the recipe: if you buy spiced sausage meat as we did, you’re good – the meat can elevate this dish from good to fantastic quite easily. If you buy unseasoned, use the seasoning in the link above – it looks pretty tasty and would have pretty much the same effect. Either way, seasoning is the way to go.

The haggis was next, with full pomp and poetry (my terrible Scottish accent got complimented, but only because I was the only one willing to read Address to a Haggis), along with neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes, mashed and roasted) and peas (not a Scottish tradition, but some colour was needed). We ended up making Pretend Haggis, as 1) it’s very difficult to get the real haggis ingredients without lots of planning, and 2) our plan for haggis with some organ meat got put off by a butcher who didn’t order a heart. Fake haggis it is! It was still quite tasty – the oats provide a pleasant, different texture, and the lamb and liver gave a very different taste to the entire project. No picture, as it just looked like a meatloaf – no sheep stomach or sausage links to put it in.

tablet

Finally, we finished with Scottish shortbread and tablet, two treasures I discovered when I was in Scotland. The shortbread turned out great, though it wasn’t as buttery as I remember it from Scotland. I think they used twice as much butter as I did, and I used a lot of butter – butter makes any dessert heavenly. The recipe also came from The Frugal Gourmet book.

I was quite nervous about the tablet, though, which I got from A Wee Bit of Cooking, which is a really good cooking blog. There were lots of warnings in the recipe about how you could screw up, but somehow I managed to evade the dire predictions and have it turn out. I think the key is patience, low heat, and arm strength (for stirring). You can’t ever stop stirring and you have to be able to stay there and do that for up to an hour before you can walk away. That’s hard, especially if you have something else on the go. I did the shortbread first and was going to start the tablet while it was baking, but wisely decided to separate the two activities.

All in all, a successful meal and a successful celebration of Robert Burns. And maybe we’ll take a cup of kindness yet for auld lang syne!

Scotch Eggs

8 hard-boiled eggs, peeled, at room temperature
1/4 c all-purpose flour
1.5 lb bulk pork sausage
1 c dry bread crumbs
1/2 tsp ground sage
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
6-8 c peanut oil for deep-frying (I used vegetable oil)

Coat each hard-boiled egg with flour. Divide the sausage into 8 equal parts (or just grab a bunch as needed and smash it out, like I did).
Make a patty out of each bit of sausage and use it to to each egg completely. Mix the bread crumbs, sage, and salt. Dip the sausage-coated eggs into the beaten eggs; roll in bread-crumb mixture.
Heat the oil to 375* for deep-frying. Deep-fry the eggs, 4 at a time, 7 minutes’ minimum. Drain. Serve hot or cold.

Scottish Shortbread

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 heaping teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 c sugar
1/2 lb butter, softened

Place all of the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and blend well. If you have a heavy-duty electric mixer, cut in the butter with the machine. If not, do it by hand with a pastry blender.
Knead the dough by hand for just a moment and form it into a circle 3/4″ thick on a nonstick baking sheet and flute the edges (I had to put some flour down and roll it with a rolling pin, then use a thin plastic sheet to pry it up and place it on a baking sheet. Then again, I wanted a nice, smooth top. Definitely flute the edges, though.) Prick the whole circle with a fork. Bake in a preheated 325*F oven for 30 minutes or until it just begins to turn a light golden brown. Allow it to cool for a few minutes, then remove it to a rack for final cooling. When cool, the cookie can be cut, but the Scots simply break it up into pieces and serve it with tea.

If you wish to form smaller cookies from this recipe, just remember to watch the baking time. Smaller cookies will cook more quickly.

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the best baklava

Baklava could be said to come from Turkey, even though it was probably brought here by the people who became Turks, moving westward out of Central Asia many centuries ago. The Ottomans truly developed the art, however, giving rise to baklava chefs judged on the thinness of their phyllo. Some stories say that, back in the day, the master of the house would test the thickness of sometimes-100-sheet baklava with a gold coin: if the coin fell through all the layers to the tray, the chef got to keep the it. In Gaziantep, there’s a new culinary school that includes training for baklava creators. The experts say it take 15-20 years to become an expert, studying mixtures and ingredients, rolling and spreading techniques, baking and syruping procedures. Baklava is available anywhere in the country, but pistachio baklava is a specialty of Gaziantep and is almost exclusively what is available in the many stores that line the street.

We had tried some good baklava and some mediocre baklava while staying with friends in Bursa. Well, so we were told – it all tasted pretty good to us. Fresh baklava is a different matter, however. If made properly, the piece should make a kssssht sound when bitten into. That shows the pastry is as new as it’s going to get. Luckily, we got this a couple of times, and we tried to find it as much as we could while we were in Gaziantep, stopping after every meal for a bit of baklava here and there.

We even found out there were different kind of baklava. The carrot slice was just a large slice of baklava, the sobiyet had a large spread of cream in the middle, and even the regular baklava came in 20-layer and 45-layer (see the picture to the right) varieties! There were also pieces of pure pistachio paste wrapped in a single layer of phyllo, which I enjoyed a lot.

I’m sad to report that we haven’t found the level of baklava found in Gaziantep yet in the rest of the country – we’ve been bumped up a baklava notch. Other pieces seem over-syruped or too dry or the filling is lackluster. *Sigh* That’s the problem when you try the best – it’s hard to go back to the rest. Still, we’ll valiantly keep testing…

dondurma

The first food we had in Turkey came from a guy yelling at us. We’d both seen Turkish ice cream vendors in Taiwan, spinning their super-thick ice cream around and making noise in markets. Through a process I have not researched myself, Turkish ice cream is made much thicker than normal ice cream, so thick that the people making and selling it pry it out of its metal container using long forks, flip it around in the air, and plunk it back down. That’s thick. They make quite the show doing it – that’s half of the point of Turkish ice cream, I think – but the ice cream itself tastes different. It has a kind of gelatinous quality to it. I only had it once in Taiwan, but Christine tried it a few times (and she’s an ice cream expert as well), but she said the gelatinous quality here is different than the one in Taiwan – more pleasant and agreeable. We had a chocolate strawberry mix with, of course, pistachio nuts sprinkled all over. It was pretty tasty, but almost gummy. No problems with this melting off your cone! Tasty, but I think one was enough. There’s baklava to be eaten in this country.

jordanian pastries

As promised, here are the pastries we enjoyed in Jordan. Christine made friends with the guys in the bakery across the street and got names for everything and some extra samples as well. Without further ado, here we go! We’ll start in the top left corner with the sesame cookie and go clockwise. All names are spelled phonetically, as we have no idea of the scheme for anglicizing Arabic names.

1. Barazeh: a kind of crisp sesame cookie with pistachio pieces. Better than it looks.

2. Bawrma: made of the thin, vermicelli-like dough popular here called knishnah, this one was firm and full of syrup, like sweet, delicious Wheetabix with pistachios on top. Christine’s favourite.

3. Sora – a phyllo dessert with pistachio in the middle. The phyllo was delicate, uniform in crispiness and wonderfully buttery. Ryan’s personal favourite.

4. Asabah – tiny rolls with nuts in the middle. Crispy. A nice quick bite.

5. Mamul – I forgot to take a photo with it out of the bag. This one was like shortbread in a circle shape with a spicy fig mix on top. Delicious. After this time it had the filling in the middle and there were different kinds available.

6. Baklava (the diamond shape) – true baklava. Peanuts in the middle. I actually found #3 more buttery, but this had so many layers. So firm and delicious.

7. Reibeh – this was also like shortbread. It was deliciously buttery, but was also crunchy.

8. Baloreah – another of Chris’s favourites, this square-shaped, vermicelli-dough pastry had a very strong taste of orange. Later on we saw a reference to orange blossoms which made us think of this.

9. Koluishkol – another type of baklava, drier than the others, but with the same taste as #3. More like a cookie than a pastry.

We also sampled kunafa, a concoction of dough and cheese and syrup. The cheese was not the greatest-tasting, but I think it was how it was supposed to taste. The sweeter treats tended to taste better, as they masked the not-so-great cheese flavour. We forgot to ask the names of these types of kunafa. I liked the left one in the bottom picture – all that cornmeal-like dough absorbed a lot of syrup.

sweet egyptian desserts, part iii

Unfortunately, I don’t remember the names of anything and didn’t make any note, so I’m just going to post pictures of these delicious creations and make comments from what I remember. More careful documentation will be done in Jordan, as they appear.

That’s coconut on filo dough pie in the corner, and it’s as awesome as it sounds. The others are a type of shredded-wheat-like dough used in a lot of pastries here.

The roll on the right is like apricot Fruit Roll-up with coconut in the middle. Again, as awesome as it sounds. The rest is filo dough and shredded-wheat dough stuff like above.


I remember that the cookie was rather dry, though it had pistachios in it, and the light coloured stick had fig in the middle.


Delicious filo dough sweets in the window.


Some kind of cakey confection. It may be the cornmeal-like cake I mentioned in the dessert post from Luxor, but that’s unconfirmed. Your choice – pistachios or chocolate on top!

sweet egyptian desserts, part II

We returned to Sofra for their dessert tray. I enjoyed it more than Christine – she was expecting more, especially having tried some of them at bakeries. I thought they were pretty good, though a little small. I don’t remember which one is which, but I can sum up the contents. One, of course, was baklava, and was well-done, as I would have expected. One seemed to have fig in it (the dark one – quite tasty), while another seemed to be made with a kind of cornmeal and honey – it had a grainy texture and a very sweet taste. There was a kind of cake with a hardened apricot/orange syrup that I rather enjoyed but Chris found dry. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the others, though I do remember that that’s watermelon between the desserts.

The pleasant surprise was the drink that we ordered to accompany it. Sahlab, according to our guide, is made with semolina powder, milk, and chopped nuts, though the menu here said that it was made from orchids. Either way, it was wonderful. Warm and smooth, it had a very delicate taste here, one I would associate with orchids. The peanuts (I believe) on top were a nice addition as well.

dragon beard candy, mountain tea, and noooooodles

This was something new that we discovered right at the end of our time in Taiwan. We visited Meinong to pick up some paper umbrellas. The white sugar is made in a machine like the one used to make cotton candy. It’s spun around a centre of either peanut or black sesame and is actually a little stringy – it’s hard to take a single bite and not have the whole thing kind of pull apart. They’re really, really good and it’s too bad they’re only available in this tiny little town.

After we bought our umbrellas and ate our candy, we went to a tea house that specialized in a certain kind of tea made here. They even gave you the chance to make it yourself. You start with a mortar containing peanuts, sesame seeds, puffed rice, and other grains, and you try to grind it into dust with a pestle. This takes a long time, though there is a technique to help make it seem like less.

When you’re about 2/3 of the way there, they come over and add pulverized green tea and some sweet, tart berries, which I’ve seen before but don’t know the name of, and you continue crushing and mixing until everything’s all together. Then you can take some mix in your cup and add some hot water and ta-da! Delicious mountain green tea. It really is tasty, and I should know – I had about 15 cups of the stuff, soldiering on to finish it after the women were done. It was awesome.

Lastly, we enjoyed some local handmade noodles. Much better than store-bought, but I never found out what made these special. Either way, they were a great way to top off a gourmet, aesthecially-pleasing day in the mountains.