BACK TO BAKING
A day off for a frontline reporter and the reward is - baking! (After sleeping in, doing chores, walking dogs and buying groceries.)
For no real reason – yeah, right – found myself thinking about Judy Brady’s feminist essay Why I Want a Wife, which ran in the premiere issue of Ms Magazine in 1971. If you haven’t read it, here it is, take 5 minutes now. It’s wonderful. And many of the basics are the same, 4 decades later...
Didn't mean to share all that, must be harder to be managing life and chasing a breaking story than I realize… and I don't have children, only dogs!
the food of jewish spain
The good news is that this week it’s a return to the Spanish Jewish kitchen, as promised earlier this month, when I posted in this blog about the recipes that managed to survive the Spanish Inquisition and the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492.
These nutty Spanish macaroons are popular at Passover because they'e made without flour - hence the pyramid shape. But in these gluten free times every day is Passover, and you will want to make them all year round, basically because they're so delicious!
The Spanish macaroons, known as Mustachudos, are more dense than the high-end French ones, and they're not sandwiched together with cream. They stand on their own, ground nuts, citrus rind and spices held together with eggs, baked for a short time, till they are crunchy outside, chewy inside.
And in Jewish Czechoslovakia they made something very similar called Pusserl.
Food is Love grandmother Eva Grinston gave me this recipe years ago, and I remembered it, as I was baking different versions of the Spanish macaroons. So I dug out my battered old cookbook, thinking again how I really must transfer all the recipes there to my computer. And there, waiting for me patiently all these years, was the Pusserl recipe! Was so pleased with the combination of memory plus old fashioned pen and ink, that I baked a batch of these as well.
Both recipes are below, Spain and Czechoslovakia smiling at each other, apparently without cross-pollination. If you know different, and the recipes did travel between the 2 Jewish communities, please let me know. Obviously, I need a hotline to Claudia Roden…
The classic is made with walnuts and almonds, but one of the recipes I was looking at called for hazelnuts, which you had to roast first. I made macaroons with roasted hazelnuts, roasted walnuts, plain walnuts, plain hazelnuts and a mix of walnuts and almonds - have I left anything out? - no, I think that's it, and yes, we'll be eating macaroons here for months!
In the end, the walnuts were the tastiest – and you don’t need to roast them. So this recipe has been altered to reflect that.
Also the pyramids are cute, esp at Passover, but if you're pushed for time, you can also just make plain cookies.
Either way, you want them on the larger side, the smaller ones dry up too quickly and don’t have enough of that essential yummy chewy macaroony quality.
Yield: 12- 15 macaroons
- 2 cups ground walnuts – medium grind is best (Can also use half walnuts and half almonds)
- 1/3 cup vanilla sugar or 1/3 cup sugar plus one teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon cloves
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- Grated rind of 1 small orange or 1 lemon
1. Preheat the oven to 160° C/ 325 F, and grease a biscuit tin or line it with baking paper.
2. You can chop the nuts by hand or pound in a mortar and pestle, but I find it easiest to use a food processor. (Or thermomix or vitamix …) The only danger is going too far and making nut butter. Process the walnuts with 2 tablespoons sugar to a small. coarse grind. Use the pulse button to help avoid making butter. The sugar helps with that too.
3. Mix the nuts with the remaining dry ingredients in a bowl, add the beaten egg, combine with a fork until you form a paste. Cover and pop in the fridge for 20 minutes.
4. Wet your hands, divide the paste into 12- 15 balls and roll them between your palms.
5. If you are taking up the pyramid challenge, flatten the bottom of the ball against your hand and then shape it into a four sided shape which you taper at the top to make a pyramid – it’s a bit like lego and very soothing once you get the hang of it. Some are neater than others, but by the end it gets easy. Space them 2 – 3 cm apart on the baking tray.
6. If the mixture is too wet to shape into pyramids – don’t worry. Make regular cookies, spaced at least 3 cm apart, they will still taste wonderful. (In fact, the walnut ones that I couldn’t shape into pyramids turned out to the best batch!)
7. Bake on the center rack of the oven for 10-12 minutes. Don’t let them brown! They’re done when they’re still pale. Cool on a wire rack. These can be stored in an airtight container for about 3 weeks. If they last that long!
Note: I found these quite sweet enough. You could reduce the sugar to ¼ cup. Some recipes also use marmalade instead of orange rind. Good to remember if you have one but not the other! But I would reduce the sugar further if you do that.
AND NOW FOR THE CZECH RECIPE...
- 3 egg whites
- 4 large tablespoons sugar
- Optional: pinch of cream of tartar
- 1½ - 2 cups /200 g ground walnuts
- 30 g grated chocolate
- juice half a lemon
1. Preheat the oven to 160° C/325 F, and grease a biscuit tin or line it with baking paper. Follow step 2 above if you are grinding your own walnuts.
2. Beat egg whites. If you are adding the cream of tartar, this is the time. Beat till soft peaks form, add sugar and continue till stiff and glossy. Fold the rest of the ingredients into the egg whites. Mixture will be soft - pyramids are definitely NOT an option!
3. Drop in teaspoonfuls onto biscuit tin. Bake in medium oven till crisp and light brown. So 10-15 mins for these too. Closer to 10 minutes if you make them small, like I did.
The Spanish macaroons are dense, chewy, spicy and lemony. They are also slightly less work. No need to beat egg whites, or to find somewhere to use your left-over egg yolks. You only need a fork!
The Czech Pusserl tastes very similar but it's lighter, since it’s made with egg whites rather than whole eggs, and lemon juice instead of rind. The chocolate is a good addition, and overall this one is more melr-in-the-mouth.
Both are delicious, wonderful with coffee especially on the first rainy morning of autumn. You will not be able to stop at one!
Melbourne test kitchen
Ever creative Amanda in Melbourne could relax, she didn't have to get creative with this one. It came gluten free! She made the Spanish version, with maple syrup instead of sugar, and using half almond and half walnuts, without roasting the nuts first. She also left the paste in the fridge closer to 40 minutes and found it held its shape for the pyramids.
“But I had to keep moistening my hands after 3-4 pyramids so that I could shape them properly.”
Amanda LOVED the result.
“Omg massive hit here! They were crispy/crunchy on the outside & soft/moist on the inside - absolutely delicious! Everyone loved them, and asked for seconds (and thirds!)"
She didn't make the Czech recipe, but liked the idea of a chocolate element.
“Oooooohhhh next time I make them (I have a feeling they'll become a regular now in our household!) I'll add some cacao!! Mmmmm!!!”
Sydney test kitchens
Judy in Sydney used walnuts from Victoria, which she bought at a farmers' market, and ground herself. She didn’t have any oranges, so she used lemon rind instead and loved the lemony taste.
She found the paste was difficult to shape, so she gave up on pyramids and made small macaroon mounds instead. They were a big hit in her home too!
“I found the batter very sticky and didn't wet my hands (mental note to self… wet hands with each bikkie). I baked them for 10 -12 minutes, which was plenty of time. My husband ate three without blinking. It was delicious!!! Will do again.”
In another part of Sydney, Miyuki tried to make a vegan version, using chia seeds soaked in coconut milk instead of eggs. (Half a cup of chia seeds, and 1 ½ cups coconut milk.) She also used coconut sugar.
Miyuki could make the pyramid shapes easily. When they came out of the oven, the texture was soft and chewy, but she’s not sure she could actually call them macaroons, as they were more the consistency of a health bar than a biscuit.
And she wasn't sure about the taste.
“I didn't mind the way it was (although there was room for improvement) but my husband said it ranked just above edible :(( He said it looked good, felt good, smelt good but was better as an ornament or room freshener than for eating.”
Well that’s a devastating verdict!
“David later said it was actually getting more-ish and was growing on him and that it went up from 51% to 55%. But no one has touched them. Not so good,” Miyuki says ruefully. "There was no specific reason for vegan, it just turned out that way because I wanted to use coconut milk. No more coconut milk I say now!”
THE MORAL OF THE STORY IS...
That's a cautionary tale – it’s harder to replace the humble egg in baking than you think! Cue photo of smug looking hens....
Sometimes the leap from vegetarian to vegan is actually a big one. It can involve a lot of trial and error till you produce something that works.
My advice is to make the macaroons, either the Spanish or the Czech way, sticking with the main ingredients. You won’t be sorry :-)