I received an email with an invitation more than delicious: it asked if I would like to visit the kitchen, bakery and pastry chef of one of the tastiest restaurants in Sao Paulo – the Arabia. Don’t know about you, but I love Lebanese food and even coming from an Italian/ Spanish family, I grew up eating sfihas, kibehs, rice with lentils, tabbouleh and an eventual turkish delight every now and then – Sao Paulo received a lot of Lebanese immigrants in the end of the XIX, so their delicious food became very common around here.
Everything was very clean and efficient, a real assembly line of delights, and right at the entrance I bumped into this:
After passing through the assembly line of sfihas and bravely resist to stick one in my pocket , we reached the part that matters – the pastry kitchen.
Clear syrups bubbling in huge pans, beautiful confections everywhere and a delicious orange blossom water aroma in the air. Chef Samih Abou Ali, authentic Lebanese citizen and very friendly, handles everything with skill, an d was kind enough to answer all of my questions.
From top right, clockwise: cashew nuts flowers waiting for the orange blossom syrup; chef Samih rolling out Phylo dough until the thickness of a tissue paper; skilled hands closing the sweets; the divine semolina cake; Knef being prepared in the hot copper plate; walnut beklawa
I asked the chef the recipe for the semolina cake, which seemed the most possible to be made at home. He patiently said ok, but warned me it was not so easy to make at home. Still, I came across the challenge, because if there’s one thing I like is a mocking recipe.
Back at home…
Chef Samih was right, the thing seems simple, but it depends a lot on the kind of semolina you will use – the ideal is a medium ground semolina, not too powdery, and not too coarse (like couscous). I attempted the cake twice, and In my first attempt, I didn’t add enough milk to the batter and got a delicious semolina BRICK.
It must be prepared one day in advance because the batter has to rest overnight before baking.
Semolina Cake (20cm/ 9-inch square baking dish) – for measurement conversions, please check the link on the right side bar
- 625g sugar
- 200ml water
- Drops of lemon
- 1 teaspoon orange blossom water
- 1 teaspoon rosewater
For the cake:
- 400g semolina
- 200g caster sugar
- 40g unsweetened desiccated coconut
- 1 / 2 teaspoon baking powder
- 3 tablespoons of the syrup ready and cold
- 150ml milk (this is the minimum you will need, but you may need more, according to your semolina)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 30 g melted butter
- tahini (sesame paste)
- blanched almonds
Make the syrup:
In a small saucepan, combine sugar and water. Bring to heat and cook, stirring until it boils. Add drops of lemon and boil for 3 minutes. Let cool and mix the rose and orange blossom water.
Make the batter:
Grease a baking dish with tahini and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix semolina, sugar, coconut and baking powder. Make a hole in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the butter, vanilla, syrup and milk gradually. Mix with your hands. The semolina will absorb the milk – add more little by little, until the batter looks and feels like a thick porridge. Pour the mixture into the greased baking dish, cover and let rest for about 12 hours.
Preheat oven to 400F (or 200°C). With a knife, mark 3cm squares in the dough, and place an almond in each square. Bake until dough rise a little and pass the toothpick test, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven, cut squares where once you’ve checked the lines and return to oven for a few minutes to brown.
Heat the syrup. Soak the hot cake with the syrup while hot and let cool very well to remove from the pan. Serve with the remaining syrup.
And four years later, here it comes again, the FIFA World Cup – good times when everybody can leave their jobs early to watch football… And the day care will be closed, and you can lie down on the streets and no car will be running over you, because everybody is in front of a TV set somewhere.
Since I know absolutely NOTHING about the sport, I do what I can to be cheerful and support my country, making yellow-green desserts and at least pretend I’m watching the match.
I’m happy to do it, and I’ll be joining everyone else in the spirit, but my own way: trying to memorize the names of the players, my friend Patricia Scarpin explaining to me things like who’s that guy in black in the middle of the field, and convincing my daughter that there is no such thing as a PINK team for her to cheer for.
*EXPLAINING: For those who do not know, Galvão Bueno is the leading broadcaster of FIFA’s World Cup and other major sporting events in Brazil. The problem is that he is, how can I put it … quite annoying. Speaks too much and too loud, has the most idiotic opinions, cheers and screams. Anyway, most people find the Galvão a bit irritating, and if you look closely in the stadium audience, it’s almost guaranteed you will find a Brazilian with a huge poster with the words “Shut your mouth Galvão!” Which is ALWAYS focused on all TVs in the world, but just a Brazilian will understand.
Vanilla and Kiwi Kanten Jelly (serves 6 )
This recipe comes from the very nice blog Superziper.
I do not like regular gelatin, but I love agar-agar (or kanten jelly) – it has a very interesting texture, more firm, and hardens very quickly, even outside the refrigerator.
* 5g agar-agar / kanten (Japanese gelatin made of seaweed)
* 4 kiwis
* 3 tablespoons sugar
* 1 / 2 cup sweetened condensed milk
* 1 / 2 cup milk
* 1 vanilla bean
Peel and slice the kiwi fruit. Beat one of them in a blender with 1/ 2 cup water. Strain, mix sugar and cook in a small saucepan until it’s clear and sugar has dissolved. Pour into a cup, and complete with water. Set aside.
In a small saucepan, combine condensed milk, milk, vanilla seeds and pod. Bring to boil for 1 minute. Remove the pod and set aside.
Cook the agar-agar dissolved in two cups of water Americans and boil for 3 minutes.
Mix 1 cup of boiled agar with the kiwi fruit juice and 1 cup with the vanilla mixture.
In a wet loaf pan, pour the kiwi fruit juice mixed with gelatin, arrange the kiwi slices and let it harden a bit (I put in the refrigerator for 1 minute). Carefully pour the mixture of gelatin with vanilla over the first layer. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
To unmold, dip the bottom of the pan in hot water for a few seconds and turn onto a plate.
A while ago, I was reading one of my fave blogs, Smitten Kitchen, and for my complete surprise Deb had made the most popular Brazilian candy of all times: brigadeiros. I was even more surprised with the fact brigadeiros had been theme of a New York Times story (not just brigadeiros, but apparently America is rediscovering sweetened condensed milk, one of our main dessert ingredients).
I was really happy the rest of the world can now enjoy these little fudgy balls of deliciousness, and here is my contribution to the list of different flavors to play with. Enjoy!
Strawberry Brigadeiros, or “Bicho de Pé” (makes 50 small balls)
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- 3 tablespoons strawberry jelly
- 1 tablespoon butter
- drops of pink gel food coloring
In a heavy saucepan, mix all ingredients. Cook over medium heat, always stirring, until mixture thickens and pulls from the sides and bottom of the pan. Transfer to a bowl to cool completely. With your hands lightly greased, roll balls (a teaspoon is a good amount) and roll in pink sugar, or sprinkles. Place balls in pretty paper liners.
In my ideal world, there would be no wars, everyone would have free cable and all meals would be a 5 star hotel breakfast.
I love breakfast, although almost never I get more than ten minutes to sit down and eat something before I start my day. When I bought my waffle iron, I really was dreaming of deliciously peaceful breakfasts every day. But the thing sees the light of the kitchen only every now and then, mostly lazy Sunday mornings, when everyone wakes up together in the mood to make some waffle mess.
- 1 3 / 4 cup flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 / 2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 3 eggs (whites and yolks separated)
- 1 1 / 2 cup milk
- 1 / 2 cup canola oil
- Vanilla extract
In a small bowl, whisk together egg yolks, milk and oil. Set aside.
Add the egg yolks and milk mixture to dry ingredients and mix well. Add egg whites, and incorporate gently.
Brush melted butter on the waffle machine and proceed as manufacturer’s instructions. Serve immediately or freeze for up to six months.
- 400g strawberries
- 100g of sugar (or more if you like it sweeter)
In a tall microwavable container, mix strawberries and sugar. Bake in microwave on full power for 1 minute, mixing well half the time. Repeat this process until strawberries are soft, the sugar dissolves and a syrup has formed. Serve warm or at room temperature. May be stored in refrigerator for a week.
It was my mother in law’s birthday, so we decided to give her something totally handmade, from candy to packaging. But it had to be something super easy, so my 2 year old could make most part of it.
Here’s what we came up with: super easy and delicious fudge and adorable house paper boxes. I managed to do all along with the kid and she enjoyed it from start to finish.
First, I downloaded and printed the template for the houses here (such a lovely blog!). You can have your house already with lovely patterns, but I chose blank and let the little girl go crazy with her finger paints. That’s what we’ve got:
The fudge recipe comes from Technicolor Kitchen, another great blog – it’s great and easy to do with kids since there’s no oven involved,and sooo delicious.
Fabulous five-minute fudge (from Technicolor Kitchen)
- 2 cups (12oz/336g) semisweet chocolate pieces
- 2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk (196g/one-half of a 14-ounce can)
- 1 tablespoon water
- ¾ cup (90g) chopped walnuts, toasted if desired ( I used pistachios, but fell free to use whatever strikes your fancy)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper (a 9-inch square pan was used here); set aside. In a medium microwave-safe bowl, combine chocolate pieces, sweetened condensed milk, and water.
Microwave, uncovered, on 100% power (high) for 1 minute; stir. Microwave about 1 minute more, or until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth, stirring every 30 seconds. Stir in nuts and vanilla. Pour mixture onto prepared cookie sheet and spread evenly.
Chill fudge about 30 minutes or until firm. Cut into 3.5cm (approx. 1-1/2-inch) squares (i cut in really small squares, with a sharp knife)
After a 48 hour period without internet connection, I’ll try to be fast and write the recipe for this wonderfully delicious caramels, before something happens again.
The most important thing I have to say today: PLEASE. MAKE. THESE. Specially if you happen to have some real vanilla, a really good butter and some fleur de sel at home – then go make them right now.
And if your mom has a sweet tooth and great taste, I think these caramels would be a great little gift for Mother’s Day, you just need a pretty bag and some ribbon.
Vanilla butter caramels with fleur de sel (slightly adapted from David Lebovitz’s recipe)
- 3/4 cup (180 ml) heavy cream
- 1 vanilla pod
- 1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel, plus more to sprinkle
- 1/2 cup light corn syrup
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 tbsp (60 g), butter (salted or not), room temp.
Line a 9 inch loaf pan with foil and grease with butter or cooking spray. Set aside.
In a small sauce pan, mix cream, half of the butter and fleur de sel. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrap the seeds. Add the vanilla seeds and pod to the saucepan and bring to a simmer. Take away from heat, remove the vanilla pod, and set the cream aside.
In a medium, heavy-duty saucepan, place sugar and corn syrup. Cook, stirring gently, until sugar has dissolved. Stop stirring and then cook until the mixture reaches 310F° (150°C) in a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and slowly add the cream mixture to the caramel, stirring with a wooden spoon.
Cook until caramel reaches 260F (127°C). Remove from heat, add the rest of butter, stirring until smooth. Pour caramel into prepared pan and let rest form 10 minutes, then sprinkle some fleur de sel. Let cool completely and cut into pieces with a lightly oiled knife. Wrap with waxed or cellophane paper. Can be stored in an airtight container for up to one month.