Za’atar bread

Za'atar bread loaf, sliced

We bought a really big pack of Za’atar a couple of weeks ago, and the first thought I had (apart from cooking more cauliflower fritters) was that it would somehow make its way into bread.

First we made some sourdough manakish: a sort of flatbread topped with a paste made of za’atar and olive oil. That was very good!

Then I had an idea: what about making a hybrid between manakish and a ‘classic’ loaf?

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Sesame seed bread

Two sesame seed bread loaves cooling down on a rack

Sesame seeds are used mostly as a decorative element in Spanish food, e.g. as topping on burger buns or in “rosquilletas” (a sort of bread-based snack). The dishes with a much stronger presence of sesame seeds were all originating from Andalusia, such as tortas de anís and mantecados—possibly related to the Arab influence, but I’m hypothesising here.

I think I started “sesame seeding” my life after I tried Japanese food for the first time and I wanted to replicate some of the flavours at home. Apparently there was some mysterious ingredient called “sesame seed oil” that provided that extra “something” that my attempts were missing so far (no wonder something was amiss—I was using olive oil to cook Japanese stuff 😅). What a discovery!

Later I progressed to learn how to make hummus at home. It had a mysterious ingredient called tahini…! And once I discovered what it was, I wanted to put it on everything.

Then I started learning about all the sauces and dips you can make that involve tahini: whisk with a bit of water and it turns into a smooth dip. Add some garlic and it becomes nicely punchy. Or you can add lemon and yoghurt and it’s tangy and addictive. So many variations! All of them so tasty!

Of course, I also learned about the Divine Trinity: cumin, nigella and sesame seeds sprinkled on crackers or anything that deserves a good oomph. And there’s also my beloved dukkah, which you might have heard me talk rave about already many times.

But—and this is a big but—neither of these recipes really puts sesame front and center. I wanted to make something that would unashamedly declare its sesameness. Something where “sesame” was in the name of the recipe.

And so I came up with this sesame seed bread!

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Mona de Pascua

Mona de Pascua
Mona de Pascua
Mona de Pascua

This is a sweet cake that is produced around Easter time in the Valencian region, and it’s also one of my favourites!

In fact, I like it so much that I learned to make it, because it’s impossible to source it in London, and I was missing it lots each time I spent Easter in the UK.

One of the defining features of this bun is that it uses eggs both in the dough and in the decoration, which has many variations: you can brush the top with beaten egg, or whisk the egg white with sugar until it stiffens and use it to decorate the top the bun, or you can even place an egg on the bun before baking, which makes it look like an egg nesting on the bun (this is most typical of the smaller, individual pieces). Often, the eggshells are dyed with food colouring, so this makes for very colourful pieces that you’re sorry to eat.

A Mona with egg on it – taken from the Wikipedia page

Tradition has it that you should take a mona with you on a country side walk on Easter Monday, to celebrate the arrival of Spring. Then, when you find a nice and calm spot, you sit down and eat your mona outdoors, while enjoying the early warm weather and the sight and scent of flowers (hopefully without too many insects!).

And if your mona includes eggs, it’s quite traditional to ‘crack’ them on the forehead of your family members or friends… preferably by surprise! 🤪

Not my forehead or the forehead of anyone I know! Source: Alicante Vivo
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