By Emily Paster
As some of you may remember, I am participating in a virtual cooking community called Tasting Jerusalem. Created by two food writers, Beth from the blog OMG! Yummy and Sarene Wallace from 805 Living magazine, Tasting Jerusalem is a community dedicated to exploring the cuisine of the Middle East using the cookbook Jerusalem as a guide. Each month, the organizers select a different ingredient or category featured in Jerusalem and ask the members to cook one or more of the recipes from the book in that category or that feature the chosen ingredient. The participants then share their experiences on their blogs, on Facebook and on Twitter using the hash tag #TastingJrslm.
This month, the challenge is to bake one or more of the dessert recipes from Jerusalem. To the extent that we in America are at all familiar with Israeli cuisine, we are probably least familiar with the region's desserts. I will admit that my own familiarity with Middle Eastern desserts prior to reading Jerusalem was limited to baklava and halvah, a confection made with sesame paste that I find disgusting. But Jerusalem has many beautiful and unusual desserts, including puddings, cakes and cookies. Many of the desserts are not as sweet as typical American desserts are, and many are highly seasoned with spices as varied as cardamom, allspice and even fenugreek, in the case of one unique cake. I liked the looks of the Cardamom Rice Pudding, which was flavored with pistachio and rose water, and the Semolina, Coconut and Marmalade Cake. While I don't love coconut, I am interested in desserts that use semolina flour, which you can also find in French and Italian cuisines.
Almost all of the sweets in Jerusalem feature either nuts or sesame and that presents a complication for me because Zuzu is allergic to both of those ingredients. One of the few recipes that did not call for any kind of nut is the one for Spice Cookies, so that is the one I decided to try. I was also intrigued by the somewhat unusual recipe which calls for four different spices, two kinds of citrus zest and a hefty dose of grated dark chocolate. These spicy, chocolatey cookies are studded with currants and topped with a lemon glaze and candied citrus peel for an elegant presentation.
In Jerusalem, authors Ottolenghi and Tamimi explain that there is a particular neighborhood south of the Old City that feels particularly Central European. Christian pilgrims settled here in the late 19th century bringing with them their tradition of coffee and pastries. Jewish immigrants fleeing from the former Austro-Hungarian empire during the 1920′s brought their cuisine to Jerusalem as well, making it possible to find passable version of schnitzel and Sachertorte in the heart of the Middle East. These spice cookies seem reminiscent of a European Christmas cookies and plainly come from that part of the Jerusalem's melting pot of cuisines.
The method for making these Spice Cookies is somewhat unusual in my experience. Five ounces of grated chocolate — which is quite a lot — are mixed in with the dry ingredients. I've never done that before: usually when making chocolate cookies or bars, the chocolate is first melted. This approach seems to work fine, however. Between the cocoa powder and the grated chocolate, these cookies look and taste quite chocolatey. Thus I found the the name "spice cookies" to be somewhat misleading. I also had to make a few adjustments to the recipe based on what I had in my kitchen. First, I replaced the currants with dried cranberries and instead of topping my cookies with candied citrus peel, I used candied ginger. Candied ginger has a similar look and since there was dried ginger in the recipe, I did not think candied ginger would be out of place.
With a hefty dose of spice and brandy-soaked currants, these are not your children's cookies. My 9 year old liked them, but my 6 year old definitely did not. I suggest serving these spice cookies at a sophisticated adult function, such as afternoon tea.
Reprinted with permission from Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, copyright © 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc."
- ¾ cup plus 2 tbsp / 125 g currants
- 2 tbsp brandy
- scant 2 cups / 240 g all-purpose flour
- 1½ tsp best-quality cocoa powder
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp each ground cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and nutmeg
- ¼ tsp salt
- 5 oz / 150 g good-quality dark chocolate, coarsely grated
- ½ cup / 125 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- %u2154 cup / 125 g superfine sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp grated lemon zest
- ½ tsp grated orange zest
- ½ large free-range egg
- 1 tbsp diced candied citrus peel
- 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 11/3 cups / 160 g confectioners' sugar
- Soak the currants in the brandy for 10 minutes. Mix together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, spices, salt, and dark chocolate. Mix well with a whisk.
- Put the butter, sugar, vanilla, and lemon and orange zest in a stand mixer fitted with the beater attachment and beat to combine but not aerate much, about 1 minute. With the mixer running, slowly add the egg and mix for about1 minute. Add the dry ingredients, followed by the currants and brandy. Mix until everything comes together.
- Gently knead the dough in the bowl with your hands until it comes together and is uniform. Divide the dough into 1¾-oz / 50g chunks and shape each chunk into a perfectly round ball. Place the balls on 1 or 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing them about ¾ inch / 2 cm apart, and let rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F / 190°C. Bake the cookies for 15 to 20 minutes, until the top firms up but the center is still slightly soft. Remove from the oven. Once the cookies are out of the oven, allow to cool for only 5 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack. While the cookies are still warm, whisk together the glaze ingredients until a thin and smooth icing forms. Pour 1 tablespoon of the glaze over each biscuit, leaving it to drip and coat the biscuit with a very thin, almost transparent film. Finish each with 3 pieces of candied peel placed at the center. Leave to set and serve, or store in an airtight container for a day or two.
Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of "Jerusalem: A Cookbook" by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ten Speed Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to omgyummy.com, following the hash tag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, and liking our Facebook page.