Seriously Simple Sesame Cookies

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Although it’s hard to compete with the oatmeal coconut no-flour cookies, these cookies are lately gaining a place of favor in our family. They are delicious, extremely easy to make, convenient for little hands to shape, and not that bad in nutritional terms. Lovers of sesame seed, like us, will find these addictive.

Recipe is as following:

1 cup flour (almost any kind will work)

1 cup sesame seeds

4 tbsp of your preferred sweetener (maple sugar, date sugar, honey)

1 egg

5 tbsp coconut oil

1 tsp baking powder

Mix everything together. You should have a pliable, workable mass. If it comes out too dry, add a little water or an extra egg.

Form round flat cookies, place on cookie sheet and bake until edges are just slightly golden. It should only take a few minutes. Don’t overbake!

Allow to cool and store in airtight container.

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The perfect pastry

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Strudel is one of my favorite kinds of pastry because it’s so versatile – basically, anything can go inside – and because, though it is made with white flour, the dough is plain and unsweetened, and the emphasis is on the filling, which can be as little sweetened as you choose. Here is my favorite recipe:

Dough:

2 cups plain white flour

An egg

A pinch of salt

2 tbsp coconut oil or butter – I’m a huge fan of coconut oil, because I usually want to make all my desserts parve rather than dairy, but butter would work just as well.

Just enough water to make the dough into a pliable, elastic ball that can be easily rolled out.

The rolling out, very thin, is the secret of a good strudel – the dough gets all the delicious flavors of the filling.

Filling: there are literally a myriad of variations, but here is my favorite. In a bowl, combine 5-6 thinly sliced apples with raisins, chopped nuts, some ground coconut, and cinnamon. Sweeten as desired. I usually put in a spoonful or two of honey. You could also spread a thin layer of jam over the dough once it’s rolled out.

Roll out the dough, spread the filling evenly, and roll in. Be careful not to tear.

Carefully, transfer the rolled-up strudel to a tray lined with baking paper and brush with beaten egg. Sprinkle poppy seeds on top (optional). Put into oven on medium heat. Bake until the top is golden, which should take around 30-40 minutes.

Serve warm and enjoy with a nice cup of tea or coffee.

Harvesting and Using Carob

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Although it isn’t quite carob season yet, I’m already gearing up for it, especially now that I have a nice new food processor which is going to make turning the pods into powder a breeze! Those dark brown pods are just loaded with nutrients, they are naturally sweet, which means that when using them in baking you can use less added sugar, and best of all, they can be picked for free!

Read more about harvesting and using carob in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“Carob trees grow all over Israel (and in similar climates), and the dark brown pods can be picked in the summer. They keep extremely well, so you can pick a big bunch and then process it at your convenience. Make sure the pods you pick are ripe. They are supposed to look and feel dry and to come off easily from the tree. Choose the biggest, shiniest, healthiest-looking pods.”

Image above: carob powder in the process of making.

The rewards of making bread

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Above: a fresh, hot out of the oven, deliciously smelling loaf of bread with onions, caraway seeds and poppy. It was made, in concession to my family’s preferences, with instant yeast and half whole wheat, half white flour. 

Bread is one of the most rewarding and cost-effective things you can make in your own kitchen – anything you bake yourself will save you money, too, vs. any store-bought bread of comparative quality. Far from being time-consuming, it simply requires some planning ahead. Here is the total time it takes to produce a beautiful loaf like the one I made yesterday afternoon:

  1. Mix dough – 15 minutes, more or less, including kneading.
  2. Wait for dough to rise: this varies according to weather, flour used, and yeast (instant or sourdough starter). Can be anything between 1 and 24 hours, but during this time you don’t need to babysit your bread – you just put the dough in a warm place to rise and go on doing other things.
  3. Punch dough down after it has risen – 1-2 minutes.
  4. Wait for dough to rise again: the second rise is usually shorter.
  5. Roll out/shape into loaf (or loaves): 5-10 minutes.
  6. Bake: 20-40 minutes, depending on size of loaves and heat of oven.
  7. Clean up: 10 minutes max.

Total work time: 30-40 minutes. This really isn’t so much at all, when taking into account the deliciousness of the bread and the fact that I know exactly what I put in it (olive oil, organic maple syrup and home-grown eggs, vs. cheap commercial oil, white sugar and I don’t know what else).

So roll up those sleeves, take out your rolling-pin and get to mixing, kneading and baking. You can read more of my posts about bread-baking here, here and here.

My first sourdough loaf

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I have wanted to try making sourdough bread for a long time, and last week I’ve finally taken the plunge. I used simple instructions for sourdough starter that called for nothing but flour and water, and was a little skeptical at first, leaping with joy when I saw the first foamy bubbles – hurray! It’s working! I’ve captured myself some real wild yeast.

By day five, my starter acquired a prominent yeasty smell and I decided it’s time to dive into baking. I used whole rye flour, opting for sticky dough that is stirred rather than kneaded. After proofing the bread for about 8 hours in a warm kitchen, I eased it into English cake tins and let it stand a couple hours more before popping it into the oven.

Unfortunately, I left rather too much room for rising, forgetting that rye bread, especially sourdough bread, does not rise that much. As a result I got flat and, let’s face it, sorry-looking loaves, but the taste was very satisfying – full, complex, a little sour, with a very pleasant chewy texture. It was delicious warm, covered with melting butter, and was definitely worth the effort and waiting.

I saved a bit of the dough for next time’s starter and froze it, because bread-making happens somewhat sporadically around here. I hope next time I get a loaf that is good-looking as well as great-tasting.

A friend of mine, who makes delicious sourdough bread in the way of a little kitchen business, tells me that her secret to great-tasting bread is in the flour: she buys whole rye and spelt in bulk, soaks and sprouts the grains, then oven-dries the grains and only then grounds them into flour which she uses for bread-making. For practical reasons (my oven is tiny) I can’t do the same, but I still think I did pretty well for a first-timer. I’m excited about this venture into the world of traditional slow-rising breads.

Sourdough Simplicity: book review

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For a while now I’ve been meaning to review a very useful little book by my friend Rose Godfrey, Sourdough Simplicity. It’s really a very handy, practical instruction manual for those just striking out in the world of sourdough starter. Personally I’ve been wanting to try sourdough for a while, and was only stopped by my husband’s “eek!” factor. Now I’m more inspired than ever to give it a shot.

I’ll be honest: despite Rose’s just warnings about whole-grain sourdough bread coming out dense, if I do make the effort at sourdough, it will only be with whole grain flour (either wheat, rye or spelt). I just don’t see much point in making a starter, keeping it going, investing in a long rise process, making the gamble of an unpredictable product, and all this to get what essentially is still white bread from refined, nutrient-stripped flour (though undoubtedly superior in taste to the usual quick-rise bread).

Yes, traditionally fermented bread is in many cases better tolerated by those with grain allergies, as opposed to quick-rise bread made with baker’s yeast. But still, from a nutritional standpoint, it isn’t much. It might not give you an allergic reaction, but it won’t give you much of anything else, either.

Either way, Sourdough Simplicity is a great way to get going in that confusing new world of sourdough starter. It also provides many great recipes, creative ways of utilizing leftovers, and troubleshooting tips.

“I needed a method that was pure simplicity and a recipe that tasted great. In the end, I found that sourdough baking did not have to be complicated, and it could fit all my objectives. I started with a wonky oven that had 4 distinct heat zones and still managed to bake delicious breads. My loaves are not always Pinterest-perfect, but they are tasty, nutritious, and easy to make. There is always some minor variation from loaf to loaf, and we are OK with that.”

Making carob powder

The pods of the carob tree are rich in minerals and vitamins, and can be utilized to make tasty, naturally sweet powder that is often used as a cocoa/chocolate substitute. Now, I personally can always tell the difference between carob and chocolate, but I still like the taste very much and think it’s great in brownies and other baked goods. As a bonus, unlike cocoa, carob is naturally sweet, so when using it I can cut back on added sugar.

Carob trees grow all over Israel (and in other similar climates) and the dark brown pods can be picked in the summer, for free, if you know where to look. They make a tasty, chewy snack right off the tree – only beware of the little hard seeds. They also keep extremely well, so you can pick a big bunch and then process it in parts at your convenience.

Make sure the pods you pick are ripe. They are supposed to look and feel dry and to come off easily from the tree. To make sure, break one in half and taste it. Pick the biggest, shiniest, healthiest-looking pods.

Wash the pods and boil them for around 30 minutes to soften them. This way they will be easier to de-seed. Cut them lengthwise with a sharp knife, remove the seeds, break into pieces and place on a cookie sheet. Dry in the oven on low heat – really low, as you don’t want to burn them (it will give the powder a bitter tinge), or in the sun. The pod pieces should be really crisp.

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Throw your dried carob pieces into the food processor. Once you have mostly powder, sift to remove any chunks that are left, then return them into the food processor and repeat. I know my end product isn’t really like commercial carob powder – I could have used a finer sieve, but I didn’t bother. I know it will be quite good enough in my brownies.

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Once the powder is ready, it can be stored in a tightly closed glass jar for a long time.