Oranges are a Palestinian national treasure, a staple on our tables, and most definitely in our desserts. Orange cake makes an appearance on birthday tables, and with afternoon coffee and tea. We have all grown up eating orange cake, some are made with semolina and drenched with kater (qater) , others made with flour and decorated with a sugar based glaze. The recipe below is adapted from vibrant book of Palestine on a Plate and have been changed in many ways to reflect my style and love for baking and cake decorating. It is one of my attempts to make Palestinian orange cake into a layered cake.
3-4 oranges (depending on size)
115 g butter
115 g olive oil
250 g sugar
6 egg whites
437 g flour
3 Tbsp Baking Powder
5 drops vanilla flavoring or 2 tsp vanilla extract
For the Butter Cream
340 g Butter
680 g powdered sugar sifted
40-60 mL whole milk
2 tsp vanilla extract or 5 drops vanilla flavoring (whatever is available).
Edible Gold Dust for dusting.
To Make The Cake
Boil the three oranges for 30 minutes in turning water, let cool for a while, until you are able to handle them. Then cut up, remove seeds and puree in a food processor.
Sift flour, and measure baking powder.
In a bowl of a stand mixer or using a hand mixer, whip the olive oil and the butter together for a minute, add the sugar and continue whipping until mixture is light and airy. Slowly add the egg whites, and continue whipping at medium speed. The mixture should become more fluffy and soft.
Add baking powder to orange pure and stir, the mixture will start to bubble.
Switch from whisk to paddle attachment on your stand mixer and alternate adding the flour and the orange-baking powder puree. Once all are incorporated, add the vanilla.
Allow the batter to rest while you grease and line three 9 inch round pans. Preheat over to 170 C.
Divide the batter into the three pans, and bake each layer around 16-20 minutes, depending on your oven. Check with a toothpick, if center comes out clean, remove immediately.
Allow to cool, then turn over and remove parchment paper from the bottom.
To Make The Butter Cream:
1. Sift 680 g of powdered sugar.
Place 340 g of butter into the bowl of a stand mixer, using the whisk attachment, beat the butter for a minute. Add the lemon juice and vanilla (if you are adding any) and continue beating. I like to add my flavors to the butter first before adding the sugar.
2. Start adding the sugar 1/4 cup at a time. Please be sure to add slowly and allow the sugar to incorporate so that you continue to have a smooth buttercream and avoid graininess.
3. Halfway through adding the sugar, add 60 mL of room temperature-warm milk. Whisk well then continue to add the sugar.
To Decorate a Regular Cake:
I made a chocolate butter cream along with the vanilla butter cream for the filling, in addition to the ingredients for the butter cream above add 4 Tbsp chocolate powder.
Once the chocolate butter cream is ready, place one layer on the turn table and apply a generous layer of chocolate butter cream, place the second cake, make sure it is level. Here you want to get in there really, and make sure everything is sitting right. Add the final layer.
Add a crumb coat and smooth it out. Refrigerate for thirty minutes.
Add another butter cream layer and smooth out for a final look
For the Crescent Cake:
Carve out the shape of a large Crescent. You can find templates on the internet, just print them in the size that you need and use it to guide your carving. I eyeballed it and it worked well.
Apply crumb coat to the crescent, refrigerate for thirty minutes.
Apply a final coat in the color you prefer, and decorate as you wish. I used star cut out and dusted them edible gold dust to capture the Ramadan Spirit at the time.
Coconut cake soaked with qater (Sugar Syrup) is a staple in many Palestinian homes and across the Levant: Jordan, Syria and Lebanon to name a few. It is usually made as a one layer cake then served warm or chilled with tea or coffee. Simple, but absolutely delicious. Some versions use semolina, others use flour.
I am presenting today, my own version of coconut cake, which still can very much be made into a one layer cake, or it can be made into a layered cake. I developed this recipe especially for Ahmed (my husband’s) birthday.
What you will find is a meeting of East and West. Middle eastern notes of rose water and lemon, come through and mix with vanilla and creamy butterness in the cake icing…exactly what I want to accomplish when I set out to make this cake
For The Cake:
115 g Butter (room temperature)
115 g Canola oil
300 g sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
5 drops vanilla flavoring
6 large egg whites (room temperature)
360 mL Yogurt thinned with water
1/4 cup Labaneh
437 g Cake Flour
100-150 g Coconut Shaving
For the Syrup
60 mL Lemon Juice
175 mL Water
175 g Sugar
2 Tsp Rose Water
For the Butter Cream
340 g Butter
60 mL Lemon Juice
40-60 mL whole milk or cream (slightly warm)
680 g Powdered (Icing Sugar)
5 drops vanilla flavoring
10 mL Rose Water
30 mL Lemon Juice
Various gel food coloring.
Edible Gold Dust
For the Cake:
1. Separate egg whites and let stand. Cream oil, butter and sugar until they become light in color and fluffy. Add egg whites gradually and continue to whisk using stand mixer or hand mixer until it becomes white in color and fluffy.
2. In the mean time, sift the flour and baking powder, measure coconut, labaneh, and yogurt and switch from the whisk to the paddle attachment.
3. Start by adding the labaneh. Then alternate the flour, yogurt, and coconut. Make sure that every time you continue to scrap the sides every now and then. Add 2 tsp vanilla extract and 5 drops vanilla falvoring
4. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C while allowing the cake batter to rest. The batter will double in size.
5. Divide the batter into three cake pans greased and lined with parchment paper.
7. Place pan in the oven and take down temperature to 160 C. Bake each layer for 20 minutes watching closely and checking with a toothpick before taking out of the oven. Please do not open your oven door the first 15 minute. Start checking the cake after fifteen minutes. Depending on the heat of your oven, the cake should be ready in twenty minutes or so.
For the Syrup
Mix 125 mL lemon juice with 175 mL water and 150 g sugar. Bring to a gentle boil. Let it simmer until syrup thickens slightly, then remove from the heat.
Add 2 tsp rose water and let the syrup cool for a few minutes, then pour onto baked layers, one layer at a time.
Vanilla, Lemon and Rose Butter Cream
1. Sift 680 g of powdered sugar.
Place 340 g of butter into the bowl of a stand mixer, using the whisk attachment, beat the butter for a minute. Add the lemon juice and continue beating.
2. Start adding the sugar 1/4 cup at a time. Please be sure to add slowly and allow the sugar to incorporate so that you continue to have a smooth buttercream and avoid graininess.
3. Halfway through adding the sugar, add 60 mL of room temperature-warm milk along with vanilla flavoring and rose water
Finish adding the sugar.
4. If you are going to use this butter cream with various colors, divide into different bowls and add the coloring to each separately. I used Turquoise, purple and orange gel color to produce three different colors.
I then created the water color illusion using the three colors.
For a magical touch, I finished the cake with gold dust. See Gallery below!
There is much to be said about Za’atar, and I want the opportunity to write elaborately. I will revisit Za’atar on another day when my to do list is a bit less overwhelming than a Pacific Ocean tsunami.
For now I am going to keep it simple with a brief intro, a recipe and a method.
While Mana’esh is shared throughout the Middle East particularly the Levant, fteer b’za’atar is, in my opinion, unique to Palestine and Palestinian farmers in particular. The fresh Za’atar is captivating. In its velvety thick leaves there is an aromatic lightness that opens up your heart and lungs.
I think ftayer b’za’atar is an acquired taste. A flavor you grow to love as you age. What I love the most about this is the roundness of the dough mixed with the sharpness of za’atar (Thyme) and the earthiness of olive oil. If you add a tinge of yogurt to every bite, I can guarantee you will demolish one pastry at a time without knowing it.
For the Dough
1 kg flour
1 cup vegetable (or canola) oil
3 tbsp powdered milk
3 tbsp yeast
4 tsp sugar
salt (a generous pinch, go ahead make it a Palestinian pinch)
3-4 cups of warm water
8 generous cups of fresh Zaatar leaves (Thyme Leaves)
1 large white onion finely chopped
1 medium red onion finely chopped
Salt to taste
Olive oil to coat the leaves.
The Dough: I like to start by activating the yeast. Dissolve the sugar and dried milk in one cup of warm water, then sprinkle the yeast and stir thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to ferment. You should start seeing some bubbles forming. In some of the baking books I have seen, you can add a little bit of flour to make what is called a sponge. Here I like to simply activate the yeast, no need to complicate things.
Add flour into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough handle. Slowly add the oil and mix on medium speed continuously scraping the sides of the container with a plastic spatula.
Once the oil and flour are well incorporated, you will have a crumbly mixture, add the activated yeast and continue mixing. Add the remaining water slowly until you have a soft and shaggy dough dough. Here you need to be courageous enough to add the water, but observant and deliberate not to turn your dough into a sticky batter. If you add too much water, gradually add 1 Tbsp at a time of flour until the dough is soft but holds together. If the dough is dry, then up the courage a bit, and add more water.
I like to divide my dough and place into two separate well oiled bowls, but one big oiled bowl will do too. Then cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise for thirty minutes, while you prepare the filling. On cold days, I warm the oven to about 50 C and place the covered dough in there after turning it off
The Filling: Za’atar smells incredible when it is fresh. One whiff is enough to open up your airways and expand your lungs. Za’atar also collects a lot of soil on its leaves. Wash it under running water until it runs clean.
Squeeze the leaves well to get rid of access water and place into a bowl
Add the chopped onions, the salt and drizzle a generous amount of olive oil. Mix together. You want well coated leaves so feel free to add more oil if you feel like it is still dry. Start with a small amount mix and then slowly add more oil as needed.
Stuffing: Take the risen dough out and immediately cut into balls. Leave them to rise for ten minutes again.
Oil your working surface (I used a baking pan as my working surface). I coated it with a generous amount of canola oil. Using my fingers I spread the dough into a square/rectangular shape, then sprinkle a handful of za’atar filling in the middle. Fold the side edges inwards, followed by the top and bottom edge. The pastry should now look like a small envelop. Press with your fingers until it takes on a rectangular shape. It is ok if the dough has some holes and the za’atar is peaking through.
Repeat until all the filling and all the dough are finished.
Allow the stuffed and shaped dough to rest for another 10-15 minutes.
Baking: You can bake these in a preheated over (190 C). Or you can cook them on the stove top (I like mine baked in the oven). Oil the baking pans you plan to use and place two to three pieces at a time (depending on size). Bake for 10 minutes or until the bottom is light golden brown, flip and brown the other side.
This entry has no other purpose but to bring you joy on this second day of the year two thousand and nineteen. Because baking and food are a passion, and Christmas is my favorite time of the year, and because Christmas in Palestine and particularly in Ramallah is a holiday for all, we host a big family Christmas Eve Dinner and a rather loud New Year’s Eve Party….The week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, right as we go into winter break, is magical. I leave behind me the worries of the first semester and enter my fantasy land of baking, cooking, and gift wrapping. My children are still in Santa and Elf land, and for that I am thankful.
I am thankful that their innocence has so far been preserved. I know that this magical land will not last much longer, be it because they are getting older, or the reality of this country that we live in, where very little hope much less magic seems to survive. But I also hope that as they get older, they will find comfort in this enchanted world, a place rich in imagination, and will take their own children to it.
During this week, time seems to be suspended in thin air, and the realities of life blurred out and replaced by a world of Christmas trees, presents, plans, cooking and baking. It is a happy and safe place, in a far away land, where owls deliver the mail, and that can only be reached on a magical train off of Platform 9 3/4.
To capture all the magic, the hope, and the love, a cake of fairytale proportion had to be created… And below I share with you its making. The cake was first inspired by Red Velvet Christmas Tree Cake created by Style Sweet Daily CA
I will say this before I leave you with those pictures, I am blessed to be able to escape to this world every year. December in Palestine has a special glow to it. Palestinians of all backgrounds share the celebrations of Christmas, and exchange Holiday greetings. A friend of mine notes on his Facebook account and in his article in this month’s edition of This Week in Palestine, “that Palestine is probably the first in the Arab World, if not in the World, in the number of inter-faith Holiday Greetings.” And I can only hope that December will continue to light up with the brightest of Christmas lights, and the warmest of Holiday Greetings, despite all.
In Palestine we must work hard to preserve our humanity, and sometimes a little imagination, and a dash of fantasy remind us of that and help us persevere in the face of a very real occupation. “Fantasy (after all) is a necessary ingredient in living.” (Dr. Suess).
Here, the Christmas spirit is well and alive; interfaith holiday greetings crowd news feeds on all social media platforms as Muslims and Christians share in the holiday cheer; for we, Palestinians of all faiths and backgrounds, are entrusted to guard the diverse social fabric that makes us. This is the land of Christ, and sharing Christmas with each other goes beyond the religious ritual and becomes a cultural obligation to preserve the Palestinian narrative and identity.
In reality, we are not blind nor deaf to the alternative narratives on Palestine that sprout everywhere in the world. But the truth is, the brightness of December, the generosity of Ramadan, and the sounds of prayer calls mixed with church bells ringing is at the heart of Palestinian resistance and perseverance against all odds. Plurality, love and tolerance must endure…much like the Christmas spirit!
Sure it is not all Christmas cookies and imaginative cakes, as social medial might imply, but I hear brave voices rising to preserve the pluralistic Palestinian narrative against a more fundamental and rather new discourse trying to impose itself. We are the guardians of this culture and we must do everything we can to preserve the magic of December…We need to raise our children immersed in the Christmas story, so that they may be entrusted to preserve our identity…
Ok, ok I said it will bring you joy, so I will stop now and share with you the photo story below!
Making the Cake
For this cake I used five 9 inch layers and one 8 inch layers, I then sculpted it into the shape I wanted. The cake topper was made from the cake pieces that came out of sculpting. There is really no rule on how to make this cake, your imagination is the limit. I also felt that bigger layers can always be made smaller but smaller layers cannot be made bigger. I wanted a high rising cake, something monumental. Something that matches the enchantment of the week, because even as I write this , reality is banging on my door, and I am trying very hard to hold on to what is left of the magic for one more day.
After the baking was finished and with ample encouragement from my friends and family, there was layering with butter cream. I used a simple vanilla butter cream recipe, but added to it 1/4 of a tablespoon almond essence to offset the sweetness and give it a marzipan after taste. When creating the layers, be sure to add the butter cream on each layer, cool in the fridge then stack on top of each other.
Then I set out to carving two portions, the bottom which will remain around 9 inches with a bit of tapering up to 8 inches, and the top part which will taper to around 6 inches. This is fun and messy, and must be done with intention. One wrong cut and your entire shape is gone! I also used plastic straws instead of cake dowels, they worked just as well to give extra support.
The top of the cake was made from cake crumbs and butter cream shaped into a cone around two plastic straws, a rather large cake pop! Then a crumb coat of butter cream was slathered and smoothed out. The cake was set in the fridge until green buttercream was made. The same recipe was used with green gel food coloring was added to the milk and stirred well before adding it to the icing sugar and butter whip.
When you make your butter cream wrap in cling film and roll it into long tubes. . Simply cut open the plastic wrap and place into the piping bag. No mess no fuss!!! (sorry didn’t get a photo of this). Then using the star tip, the attempt to create the illusion of evergreen pine tree leaves began!
And there were plenty of helpers to take photos, and videos and take over the piping when my Carpel Tunnel started to act out! My twins had a blast and were begging to do the whole thing.
Slowly but surely we made progress….
With many stops on the way to make more butter cream, the cake was finally complete and moved into the refrigirator.. An extra bonus a la carte making this cake was that my entire fridge was taken apart, and cleaned to make way for the cake! A cake of fantastical proportion and shape!
No enchanted Christmas tree is complete without a dusting of edible gold glitter dust, and strawberries and small golden sugar balls for decorations.
Fourteen hours later, the task was complete. Around 1.5 kg of butter, and around 5 kg of icing sugar, give or take, were used to complete the look. I am still dusting glitter off my pots and pans two days later…The cake was cut and distributed to loved ones and family. Each had a taste of the fantasy and the magic of this week….
Wishing you a joyful, peaceful and prospersous year!
This is a recipe of my own, that took several years of trying various ingredients to get to where we are, and I expect there will be many improvements to be made in the coming years. For now here it is!!!
360 g Flour
295 g Softened-melted butter ( i like to have some of the butter in liquid form, and the rest in solid soft form)
1.5 cups sugar
5 eggs at room temperature
1 cup yogurt
1 Tbsp vinegar or lemon juice (or any acid you have, orange juice works too)
4 tsp baking powder
90 g coco powder
a pinch of salt
a pinch of baking soda
Preheat oven to 180 C. Grease and line pans with parchment papers ( two 9 inch pans, 1 sheet pan, or cupcakes)
Start by whipping your butter in a stand mixer (using the paddle extension) or a hand mixer until it is soft, light and has almost doubled in size. Add your sugar and continue mixing.
Add one egg at a time ensuring that each egg is completely incorporated before adding the next one. Add a pinch of salt.
Sift the flour, coco, and baking soda together.
Add the baking powder, to the yogurt and lemon juice and stir. The mixture will start bubbling.
While the mixer is on low speed alternate adding the dry ingredients and the yogurt, scraping off the sides frequently. Optional: you can thin out your yogurt with a little bit of water or add two to three tbsp of water to the batter.
Once the mixture is fully incorporated add turn off your mixer, remove the bowl and fold the mixture using a spatula to ensure that all ingredients are mixed in and nothing is stuck on the sides. The batter is thick and has a chocolate pudding consistency.
Spoon the patter into two 9 inch round pans filling 2/3 of each, or one sheet cake pan. Or scoop into cupcake carton cups (1 ice cream scoop per cup, depending on size). Allow to rest for ten minutes. (Optional: lick the batter or have your children lick the batter that is left on the spatula)
Place in the oven at 180 C and prop your oven door for ten minutes with a wooden spoon, then take down the temperature to 150 C and bake for another 30 minutes at least.
You can also use the water bath method for baking the cake at 160 C (see Lemon and Yogurt Cake for this method)
When a toothpick is inserted and nothing comes out your cake is ready. Do not check the cake until at least 30 minutes have passed.
Take out of the oven and let cool in pans before turning out.
You can dust with icing sugar, or make your favorite butter cream.
When I first set out to make this cake it was really an attempt to make a Gin and Tonic Cakefor my brother-in-law’s fiftieth birthday. Seeing that he is quite the eligible bachelor, I thought that a funky recipe would be far more appropriate than a classic one.
But you know by now that my search for the perfect cake is wrapped around the notion of reimagining Palestinian ingredients, because in Palestine you grow with this great sense of who you are, where you were born, and how you are viewed by the rest of the world. And with that deep sense of self, comes an even deeper sense of responsibility, the Palestinian woman’s/man’s burden if you will.
An what starts as a hobby and an attempt to escape the daily stress of raising children, serving a community, doing laundry and cooking, inevitably turns into a documentation project of Palestinian cuisine, trying to add an authentic voice to the many voices and opinions on food and Palestine.
So here we are, what started as an attempt at the BBC Good Food recipe took a turn half way through into a recipe of my own using two very important ingredients and products of Palestine: Lemons and Yogurt.
The lemons used here are homegrown, and their smell and taste take me back to the endless citrus orchards my aunt owned, and duly harvested every year in Ellar, a small village near Tulkarem. But more significantly is the reminiscence of Yafa and its beautiful citrus orchards ever so present in Palestinian literature and discourse.
Recently I was reading the memoir of Tamam Al Akhal. She tells of her time as a child in Yafa, and the day they left to become refugees in Lebanon, it was the smell of oranges that haunted her memories, and her work. And the story of Ester (written by Raja Shehadeh), a Palestinian from Yafa who buried her jewellery between two lemons in her backyard, as she fled the city. When she left, Ester believed that this departure was only temporary and that she will soon return.
Many years later she pleads with her priest to go back and dig up the box. And he obliges her and sets on what could have easily turned into a deadly misadventure only to find the lemon trees standing there as she described, slightly bigger in size, witness to a changed time accented with loss and yearning. The home was inhabited by an Israeli family who took it over in 1948, and who were either blissfully oblivious to or completely unmoved by the fact that they live in a home that was lost by another family at gun point. A family that found themselves living an hour away from Yafa yet unable to return home.
Yogurt is a staple in Palestine, served with olive oil and hot bread, or cooked into a thick soup with stuffed kusa (Makhshi), or with large pieces of cooked lamb and rice. Yogurt tends to make its appearance on the daily Palestinian table, and is without a doubt a childhood favorite for many. My discovery of yogurt in cakes dates back to about seven years ago, when I wast trying a chocolate cake recipe, and a friend suggested that I use yogurt to give it moisture. Since then, many of my recipes will use yogurt very often in place of butter milk.
For the Cake
250 g butter (room temp)
200 g sugar
250 g all purpose flour
4 eggs (room temp)
80 g Palestinian Yogurt
1 juice of a lemon (if they are small use 1.5-2 lemons, depending on how much juice you get)
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
a dash of salt (1/4 tsp)
a dash of baking powder (1/4 tsp)
50 mL Gin (if you wish to make add alcohol, if not just add a bit of water to the yogurt to make a bit more soupy around 20 mL should do).
For The Syrup
150 mL Seven up or Sprite
125 g Sugar
The juice of one lemon (if small use 1.5 to 2)
You can add: 1 Tbsp of Orange Blossom water or 1Tbsp of Rose water (whichever one you prefer, I personally find orange blossom to balance out the lemon juice)
For the Icing
200 g butter (room temp)
2 Tbsp warm milk
5 mL lemon juice
Zest of a lemon
400 g powdered sugar (if you want a thicker icing add around 500 g)
For the Sugar Nests
2 cups sugar
A sauce pan
To Make The Cake and Syrup
Grease to 9 inch pans and line the bottom with parchment paper, preheat oven to 150/160 C.
In a bowl of a stand mixer beat the butter for 1-2 min on medium speed, slowly add the 200 g of sugar and beat on medium speed for five minutes (I personally time this, because technique is everything, and the butter really needs to be smooth and aired out). The butter-sugar mixture will lighten and double in size.
Lower the speed of your mixer and add the eggs, one egg at a time. Make sure the egg is fully mixed in before adding the following one. You may notice after the third egg the mixture is separating, do not worry, add your last egg and a little bit of your flour and make sure the mixture is well incorporated.
Add your flour, you may fold it in by hand, i like to add it one Tbsp at a time on a low to medium speed in the mixer. Once the flour is mixed in. Mix 80 g yogurt with the juice from the lemons, and thin it out with about 10-20 mL of cold water if needed. If the yogurt is a bit on the thin side, reduce or do not add the water at all. Once the yogurt is mixed in, you will get a silky smooth batter.
Spoon the batter equally into the pans and smooth it out.
Baking using the water bath method: take a large kitchen towel and fold into a tube. Place your pan into a larger pan and wrapt it with the towel. Add boiling water on the towel and around it (make sure the towel is soaked). Place into the oven and bake for 35-38 min, or until a skewer comes out clean. This method will give you flat cakes with no doming. You can do away with the towel and simply place your pan in a water bath, but the towel method is cleaner and easier to handle.
In the mean time make your syrup. Add the sugar (125 g) and the Seven up or Sprite (150 mL) into a sauce pan, bring to a boil until all the sugar has dissolved, add the lemon juice and cook for another 6-7 min, it should start to thicken. It needs to be runnier than katr . Remove from heat, cool and add your orange blossom water or rose water, stir and let stand until the cakes are ready.
When the cakes are ready, pull out of the oven, cool for five minutes, then prick the surface at several points and spoon your syrup on both cakes generously. Let them stand to cool in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
To Make the Butter Cream
In a stand mixer beat the butter for a minute or two then slowly add the powdered sugar using a spoon, making sure that the sugar is fully incorporated, add the zest of one lemon, 5 mL of lemon juice and 2 Tbsp of warmed milk. Add all components gradually making sure that the butter cream doesn’t begin to separate and become grainy. Don’t use cold milk it will cause your mixture to separate.
To Make the Sugar Nests:
In a small sauce pan add the two cups sugar and heat on medium heat, stirring frequently so the bottom of the sugar does not burn. The sugar will start to melt rather quickly, continue to stir until the sugar is completely liquid and brown to dark brown in color. Remove from heat and cool for a few minutes (around five). Check with your fork, swirl your fork and then pull it out, it should drizzle in a continuous stream for this to work. If the sugar is too hot, it wont work, because it won’t be continuous. Grease a ladle, pick your sugar syrup with a fork and drizzle on the back of the ladle in random swirls, lines or whatever you like. For this cake, I made twelve or more nests.
Watch this video that my friend sent me and I found very useful to get a better idea.
Assemble the Cake
Place your first layer on a turn table and cover with a generous amount of icing, spread with a spatula, then place the next layer and cover with the icing. Using an icing spatular cover the sides generously, you may make little curves into the icing to give movement. Carefully arrange the sugar nest on top of each other forming a random pile. Allow the cake to cool for a bit in the fridge before serving.
Recipe Taken from: Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book p. 169
Inside me resides a good old southern women who loves her fried chicken, collard greens, mac and cheese and sweet potato pie. Enter Angel Food Cake. My first contact with this cake came in the form of a Betty Crocker box. I was a hungry and tired college student who was looking for a sugar fix. I whisked the box contents with two cups of water, poured them into a pan, and in the oven it went. Thirty minutes later, nothing could have prepared me for what happened. Apart from the slightly burnt bottom, the pieces that made it into my mouth were super sweet, melt in your mouth pieces of fluff. If we could eat clouds, this is what they would taste like.
1 1/2 cups egg whites (8-12 eggs, depending on their size)
1 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 cup sifted all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup of granulated sugar
My obsession with the perfect cake is something I really cannot explain. I want a cake that is spongy and springy that soaks up my worries with every bite. And while my first love was chocolate cake, dark, mysterious yet sweet; my relationship with cake evolved in multiple directions, and I found myself searching for the perfect piece everywhere I went. Angel food cake was many things I loved, it was spongy, springy, airy. It was a cross between cotton candy and cake; simply irresistible.
Fast forward a little over 20 years later. I had just used 8 egg yolks to make Peter Rabbit Ice-cream Homemade Chocolate (Peter Rabbit) Ice-cream and in my excitement to add a little bit of mastic taste to it, added a bit too much. My children’s faces were so disappointed, my heart broke. I had all the dishes from the ice-cream making to wash, and 8 egg whites staring at me, daring me to throw them out. I poured them into a glass container, closed it and put them in the refrigerator promising myself that tomorrow they will be put to good use and my creative juices will be flowing after the huge ice-cream disappointment. I don’t waste food, I will serve leftover Mujaddara (lentils and rice pilaf) until I can no longer serve it. Nothing gets thrown out…
In a mixing bowl allow the egg whites to stand at room temperature for thirty minute while you sift the powdered sugar and flour together three times.
A week later, while cleaning out the refrigerator, I pulled out the egg whites and on the spot made the decision to make angel food cake. It has been a while since we had a spongy cake sitting on the kitchen counter, I had taken a hiatus from baking. Summer was too hot and stuffy, and it was all about ice-cream and salads.
In a stand mixer bowl add cream of tartar, the 1 1/1 cups of egg whites and vanilla. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. The peaks are foamy. Slowly add 1 cup of sugar, 2 Tbsp at a time. Continue beating until stiff peaks are formed.
So, I pulled my Better Homes and Gardens cook book, I knew that I could count on it, and followed instructions meticulously. The end result was a cloud of fluffy sugary crunchy crusted, soft as pillow center cake. The children loved it, and within an hour we had gone through most of it!
Sift half of your powdered sugar and flour onto the egg whites, and fold them using a plastic or wooden spatula. Then add half of the remaining amount, fold again, and add the last bit and fold again. Be gentle, don’t let the egg whites collapse. I have done this way too many times, and had the whites collapse and the cake was dense and not fluffy and very disappointing
The origins of angel food cake are not clear, some say that it was first made by African-American slaves. The earlier recipes were recorded in the 1800s with slight variations, but the signature here is no fats added, no butter, and definitely no egg yolks. One has to wonder why would anyone invent a cake that needed only egg whites. What did they do with the egg yolks? Or was this an act of food conservation?
The slightest presence of fat can cause the whites not whip into stiff peaks, however in other versions of the recipe, butter is added to the batter and stiffly beaten egg white are folded into it. I like the silver cake in particular. Jessie Sheehan author of The Vintage Baker offers a great recipe.
Cakes are fascinating. A direct descendent of bread, with all its pleasures, cakes bring sugar, air, and gluten in an unbeatable mix. My quest for perfect cakes continues, on the other hand my pursuit to creating beautiful cakes from gorgeous Palestinian ingredients has just commenced. So stay tuned!
I love cake…As a child I would sneak into the kitchen to get an extra piece of left over cake that my mother baked for one of our birthdays. I could never get enough of the spongy, airy, sweet creation that was light enough to melt on my tougue, dense enough to leave a taste mark. My mother’s chocolate cake in particular was just that, and I could swear the air bubbles trapped in the cake itself tasted like chocoalte. Of course now I know that that the air trapped in cakes or even bread travels to the back of our mouths carrying aromatic compounds into our sinus cavities, enhancing our tasting experience and amplifying flavors. This is probably why spongy, airfilled cakes are an obsession for those of us who love to bake. My mother’s chocolate cake was all that and a bit more with a homemmade chocolate cream frosting that I do not have a recipe for, just a memory of a taste explosion in my mouth. Since then I have been in search of the perfect birthday cake. Along the road, I fell in love with spongy, white vanilla cakes and below I am sharing with you a recipe I developed after trying out so many. I cannot say it has been perfected, but I think it is worth a try..
375 g unsalted butter (room temperature)
375 g Confectionary Sugar
5 tsp vanilla
8 large eggs at room temp.
150 g Palestinian Yogurt (sour and delicious)
503 g all purpose flour.
51/4 tsp baking powder
5 tbsp water
For the frosting: Pick your favorite Buttercream frosting and go to town! I haven’t found the perfect recipe and I am still experimenting with the different ones I have.
In my search for the perfect cake, a quest that took a more serious commitment about four years ago, I discovered the origins of birthday cakes and celebrations. There isn’t one conclusive story on where birthday cake came from. It is thought that its orgin dates back to Ancient Egyptian celebrations of Pharoh coronations. They believed that when a new Pharoh was crowned they became a god, and they celebrated their “birth” by making a sweet bread like cake. This celebration was exculsive to pharoh’s coronations and not their actual birth, and meer mortals did not have birthdays at the time. The Egyptians were also the first to introduce the concept of Ka’ak El Eid (Kaak El Eid: A coming of Age Story ) so the fact that the tradition of celebrating birth with something sweet comes at no surprise. Considering that they were the first to invent bread, it is not surprising that they were the first to make birthday cakes, even if to celebrate the transcedence to immortality.
Preheat oven to 180 C. Pull out the eggs and butter from the fridge, and be patient with your self. Having eggs, and butter at room temperature is important and makes mixing the ingredients together easier and smoother.
Putting together wheat, water, fat, and sugar is truly fascinating… The discovery or the invention of bread, was certainly a turning point for us as a species. The ability to mix water, with flour and then bake it may have been the reason we survived. It is such a simple recipe, and with the addition of sugar, fat (butter or oil), chocolate, eggs, bread became more interesting, and cake was born.
Cream the butter, and the sugar together in a stand mixer at medium speed. Add the vanilla and eggs alternating egg, vanila. Sift your flour and whisk the baking powder in it.
The Ancient Greeks borrowed the clebration of pharohs “births” from the Egyptians to celebrate their goddess of the moon,Artemis, by offering her a round cake decorated with candles. The candles were lit to emmulate the glow of the moon and the goddess’s beauty. In both ancient Egypt and ancient Greece “birthday celebrations” were exculsive to religious figures. No comoner’s birthday was celebrated at the time.
Alternate the addition of flour and yogurt. Mix well until you have a homogeneous batter. Add the water one tbsp at a time and mix a little longer on medium speed.
Comoner’s brithdays were first celebrated during the Roman empire. Roman citizens held birthday parties for family and friends, while more famous citizens were celebrated by the government publically. Perhaps the most special birthday for Roman citizens was the fiftieth when a special cake made with wheat flour, honey and cheese was baked, and the half century old citizen was celebrated by their family and friends. I cannot help but wonder if the origins of the big five-O, or the big four-O birthday parties comes from this particular Roman empire tradition.
Interestingly enough, the birthday cakes mentioned above did not look anything like today’s versions. If anything they were cultural expressions of the places they orginated from. Wheat flour, cheese, honey were all abundant ingredients and it makes sense that they made an appearance in sweets.
Allow the cake to cool down, then cut into three layers. Decorate with your favorite chocolate butter cream icing. I use a recipe from the Better Homes Cookbook, but there are plenty of version online like the one from the Stay At Home Chef. The truth is, don’t be afraid to experiment with this until you find the perfect version for you.
Birthday cakes as we know them today are the creation of German bakers in the 18th century. Germany has a rich tradtion of baking, just take a look at their amazing cheese cakes, chocolate cakes, strudles and more. It is the home of the haute coutour version of chocolate cake, black forest cake. That the birthday cake came form German bakers is not surprising. Cakes, however, remained exclusive to the wealthy, because ingredients were considered a luxury. It wasn’t until the indsutrial revolution and mass production taking over the world, that they became readily available, and birthday cakes became a popular tradtion.
With that, the transformation of birthdays was complete. What started as the celebration of the immortal gods, became the celebration of the mortal human birth.
Birthday cakes take different shapes and forms, frosted, filled with fruits, filled with jelly, covered with sugar frosting, covered with nuts and drenched with katar (sugar syrup), but the purpose is the same; it is a an opportunity to be thankful and share in the joy of having completed another year on this earth. It is an opportunity to appreciate the belssings of sharing life with those we love. Life is a delicate gift that is never guaranteed and easily terminated. So go ahead take a bite of your birthday cake and thank God for another chance at life, so many may not have this opportunity.
Note: I would love to hear back from you after you tried the cake. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or simply leave a comment. Advice, hints, recipes for butter cream frosting are all welcome!
The first time my mother made Kaak o Maamoul for Eid, I was around 12 maybe 13 years old. She did her research, and by research I mean she called friends, and visited with neighbours to understand how maamoul is made. The internet was the stuff of the future, and no one’s life was powered by Google at the time.
New recipes were shared frantically among friends, or discovered on an idle weekend morning while watching television, preferably the Syrian channel, because Syrians are the best at food.
Let me explain, back then you had access to about 5 channels. The Jordanian television (channels 1 and 2). The Israeli television; channel 1 in Arabic which you only watched for the 7:30 news and the Friday evening Arabi film, and Channel 2, which we never watched since we did not speak Hebrew. The Syrian television, channel 1, which we could watch only if the weather was clear. In the winter, someone had to go on the roof to adjust the antennaa to get a signal.
1 kg of Samolina
400 g margarine (two 200 g sticks)
2 ounces vegetable oil (or canoal oil)
1 kg of date paste (the good, owey goowy kind)
2 Tbsp Sugar
1 tsp Active Yeast
Rose Water (1 L)
Orange Blossom ( 1 L)
Mastic Gum ( 1 tsp)
Anise (2 Tbsp)
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 Tbsp olive oil
For the nut fillings you can use pistachios with honey, or walnuts with cinnamon. I always start with the dates because everyone loves the dates!
Preheat the oven to 185 C
So my mother researched kaak and maamoul making, bought the raw materials (ingredients listed above) and embarked on this new experiment. She stood in her small kitchen and started what we call Bass El Smeed (kneading the samolina). The Samolina is worked with the softened margarine by hand (these days I use a mixer, and it works beautifully), and is left to soak up the fat for at least one full day.
In a bowl, add the softened margarine (400 g) to the samolina ( 1000 g/ 1 kg) and mix until the samolina is crumbly and is well coated with the margarine. Add 2 0z of vegetable oil and mix a bit more. Let stand until the following day. The longer it stands the softer your samolina is and the more incorporated the fat is with it.
Then there were decisions to make, important ones. What should we use, the famous Ma’amoul mold, or the decorating tongues? In Tulkarem, my mother’s hometown, everyone used the mold. Those are hand made from wood, and you can still buy them from Nablus. There are also the made in china plastic molds (picutred below, but they are too slippery to use). The molds we use today are probably direct descendants of the molds used in Ancient Egypt, the origin of Ka’ak and Ma’amoul.
The Ancient Egyptians were ther first to make these cookies for a variety of occaions, and it is thought that they made around 100 variations in shapes and stuffing. Drawings on Pyramid walls detail the making and offering processes. Although this cookie continued to make its celebrated appearances throughout the history of Egypt, research indicates that it gained popularity during the Fatimy Dynasty rule, when a center “Dar Al Futra” was created especially to make what these cookies and everything else usually exchanged during Eid holidays.
One day later (or maybe two), ground your anise with your mastic gum (2 Tbsp of Anise and 1 Tsp of mastic gum) Add 1 Tbsp of the ground mix to your samolina with 2 Tbsp sugar, and 1 tsp active yeast.
Another important decision to make, a decision that will essentially become your siganture, is what will you work your samolina with? Orange blossom and rose water? Milk? Will you add a little bit of flour? Will you add mastic, what spices and herbs can you add? Or will you buy the ready spice mix? Every answer is a key ingredient to the kaak maker you become and the level of expertise you will be viewed to hold. For example a cookie made of only smeed (samolina) and decorated with tongues not the mold is often a sign of culinary mastery….
As you could have guessed, my mother, chose the all samolina, rose water and orange blosom recipe and from then on, spent years experimenting every Eid until she was finally happy with the outcome, and so where we. I have since then experimented with her recipe, and what I share with you is one version I found to gurantee a crumbly cookie that holds beautifully. We both use the tongue to decorate the cookies not the mold.
In a measuring cup, measure 200 mL of rose water and 100 mL of Orange blossom water. Add the water mix gradually to you dough and work with your hands until you have a maleable, slighly moist dough that does not stick to your hands. The art and magic is in this step. Too much water will make the dough difficult to work, and dry dough will crumble way before you put it in the oven.
Since its inception, Kaak making, was a team effort. The women in the family or in the Hara (the block) would get together to help each other. So for her first time making maamoul, my mother joined our neighbors at Um Amjad’s house. Together I believe ( I could be wrong) they made 12 kg of samolina which can easily translate to 24 kg of ready to eat cookies. I remeber my mother was gone for a couple of days, we were left to fend for ourselves. This meant we played with our bicycyles endlessly in the street and ate ridiculous amounts of ice-cream. She did come home to give us lunch, but left in a hurry to return to Um Amjad’s house.
We were not allowed near the kitchen for fear that our long hair will make it into the dough, or worse, that we would get burnt by the round electric ovens used to bake the cookies in. Both are equally tragic incidents that must be avoided at all costs.
Cut your dough into small balls. The balls should be smaller than the size of a golf ball, I think a generous pinch is the perfect size because you want enough dough to protect your tender date paste
In Um Amjad’s kitchen the sub taks at hand were divided amone the women. The one who mixed the rose and orange blossom water with the dough, the one who cut the dough into circles, the ones who rolled date paste into strings, the one who stuffed the dough , and the one who decorated the kaak.
In Ramallah, people opt for decorating tongues not molds. They are small tongues with a zizagged edge used to doecorate the cookie with patterns. It is thought that this pattern is meant to give the cookie the look of a crown similar to the one Jesus Christ wore during his Crucification. I am not sure of this fact though, and I will confirm it once I can. In Ramallah, almost everyone uses tongues, so no matter what the origin of the docoration is, the tradition clearly melted across religious lines and is now nothing but a sign that Easter and Eid are here! And the cookies are symbolic of the sweet reward after long days of fasting for both Christians during lent, and Muslims during Ramadan.
Mix your date paste with 1 Tbsp cinnamon, 1 tsp cloves, 1/4 tsp nutmeg and 2 Tbsp olive oil. Work the paste with your hands unitl evenly mixed. Cut into small balls. You can also roll out into short strings. Or you can keep in a lump and take a small amount for each cookie.
In many years to come, my mother would encourage us to help. We were charged with two tasks; rolling the date paste into strings, and if we proved to be trustworthy, we were asked to decorate the cookies which meant we could proudly boast about it when guests came to our home for Eid.
Take one ball, flatten it with your fingers into a circle; take a small amount of date paste and place in a ring on the insdie of the circle. Fold the dough over the dates and shape into a disk. Take the unsharpenned end of a pencil and make a whole in the center. Put down and repeat.
Making Kaak o’ Maamoul is a power play in one’s own kitchen. It is a mark that you are a force to be reckonned with. And it speaks volumes on kitchen power relations within a family. Palestinian (and Arab kitchens) much like other tratidional kitchens in the world are filled with power relations. Some are cross generational others are not; new bride vs. older women, new mother trying to establish her own traditions, unamarried daugther vs. daughters-in-law; unmarried daughters vs mother.
Kitchens are complex hieracial power houses. You can of course choose to look at them as a place where women are held in bondage; cooking, cleaning, barefoot, and unkept. Or you can re-iamgine them as places of bounty, fertility and love.
You can choose to imagine an unkept woman sweating her way through a summer afternoon while she makes ka’ak, or you can look passt the sweat and watch a rather curvacious goddess with a messy bun piled on top of her head, wiping away smudges of flour as she tenderly stuffs the cookies, decorates them and then relentlessly sears them in an unforgiving oven.
Using tognuges gently pinch the cookie all the way around in vertica lines. Pinch the top of the cookie in diagonal lines. Make sure you do it gently and you don’t over pinch that your date filling (or nut filling) is showing) Place on parchment paper and allow to rest for at least an hour.
She is perhaps a successful business woman, a well educated professor, a teacher, and a writer. Or she is staying at home to care for her children until they grow up. Women are complex and multilayered, and they are able to transition in and out of their kitchens into the work force with what seems like a lot of grace. They pursue everything they do with attention to detail, never compromising any, always expecting perfection.
Bake in a preheated oven at 185 C. Watch over your cookies carefully, and turn the pan twice. It will take about 10 minutes to bake, pull out just as the tops start to get a sligh golden brown color and let cool.
Kitchens are the womb of sustenance, the center in which our early identities are formed. They are symbols of perseverance acrosst the ages. If we did not learn to cook, we would not have survived as a species. And while the discourse on kitchens is often been associated with women opression, it might be worth entertaining the idea that kitchens are strongholds, not prisons, that a kitchen is the epicenter of our cultural identiy.
The most important conversations I had with my mother as a child were in the kitchen. The decision to study abroad, the news that I met someone I want to marry, the endless discussions of career choices, countless tears of joy, and just as many tears of pain. When my mother had a stent placed in one of her coronary arteries, the kitchen became my source of power, as I prepared the Eid meal for all of us and she watched over. I want us to dare to reimainge the kitchen as place where we are most human, because cooking is an essence of our humanity. What if we reclaim the kitchen narrative away from tradition and mysogynistic discourse.
Whether it is a co-op kitchen in Burj El Barajneh refugee camp in Lebanon where women cook traditional Palestinian dishes of their destoryed villages and sell them, or a large modern state of the art kitchen in a new home in Ramallah, where a PhD in Chemsitry dares to admit her love of food, cooking and food politics, we are all connected. Our early identity is formed through our food experiences as we watch our mothers, aunts and grandmothers cook and serve food. As they discuss what vegetable is in season, and where to get the best labaneh. Our connection to our land begins with a boiling pot of mlokhiyyeh or bamieh.
Once cooled, dust with powdered sugar or don’t, whichever you like…drown each bite with a sip of coffee (Arabic coffee, Espresso, or filter coffee, your choice really) or even better a cup of tea with mints…
Kaak and Maamoul is a silent conversation I have with myself. When I make it, I do it alone; a far contrast from Um Amjad and my mohter’s noisy kitchens when all the neighbours came around to help out. Cooking for me has always been a solitary act, a place to lose one’s self away from day to day life. But making kaak is also a silent coming of age conversation I have with my mother; a daugther who left the nest to maker her own.
On the first day of Eid my parents visit me in the afternoon; my mother sits in our living room and reaches for one of the cookies. She bites into it, and across the room she approves of the taste, or offers a hint for next year. In that moment, we become equals, two career women who never shied away from their rolls as mothers and wives meticulously providing their families a life time of love and traditions…
She acknowledge the similarities we share whether at home or in our career choices; even if she openly objects to the many projects I get myself into and she most certainly does not fully understand why after ten years of a PhD in chemistry, I have abandoned the lab completely and moved into the kitchen instead!
Happy Eid Adha to all!
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