Thursday, December 16, 2021

Ekmak #BBB

Our bake for December, hosted by Karen's Kitchen Stories, is a lovely Syrian pastry known as Ekmak.  It originally meant "sweet bread with cheese".  They are a lovely treat, with a rich, ricotta filling and contrasting berry topping.  I used our marion blackberries, as they have so much more flavor than regular blackberries, and you could probably use any fruit you liked to go with the ricotta.  My Ekmak turned out with a lovely, thin and crispy crust and a very tender crumb.

Karen reminded us that this pastry is shaped liked another boat shaped bread we once made, Adjaruli khachapuri, a savory boat bread.  Both are of course delicious, and though I have a sweet tooth I would be hard pressed to choose between the two.  Be sure to visit Karen's post and read a little history of the recipe.  We would love for you to try out this special pastry with us this month and share how it turned out!  New recipes are posted every month on the 16th. Check out our Facebook group to see the participants' baking results during that time.
makes 9-14

For the cheese filling:

20 oz (567 g) full fat ricotta cheese, preferably double cream.
63 g (½ cup) all purpose flour
2 large eggs
28 g (4 tsp) honey
¾ tsp (2.25 grams) kosher salt
(If you want a sweeter filling, you can add some sugar to taste. ) (I did add a bit of sugar.)

For the blackberry topping:
115 g (¾ cup) fresh blackberries, cut in half, lengthwise (I used frozen marion blackberries)
168 g (½ cup) blackberry preserves (I used marion berry jam)

For the Dough:
4 tbsp granulated sugar, divided
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry or instant yeast
12 oz warm water (95-100ºF), divided
500-575 g all purpose flour
¼ cup (57 g) butter, room temperature (super soft)
1 ½ tsp apple cider vinegar
8 g (1½ tsp) sea salt
(I also added a spoonful of sourdough discard)

 For the egg wash:
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp water

Confectioner's sugar
Honey for serving

Make the Ekmak:

First, mix the cheese filling ingredients until thoroughly combined. Refrigerate for at least three hours, while making the dough.

Make the Blackberry mixture:
Mix the berries and preserves and set aside.

To Make the dough:

In a small bowl, whisk together the yeast and one tbsp of the sugar. Add 6 oz of the warm water and let stand until foamy.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add 500 g of the flour, the remaining 3 tablespoons of the sugar, and the butter and mix with the paddle attachment on low until the butter is evenly distributed, about one to two minutes. Switch to the dough hook.  Add the yeast mixture and the apple cider vinegar and mix on low while gradually adding the remaining 6 ounces of warm water.

Knead on medium-low until the dough comes together. Switch to medium and knead until the dough clears the sides of the bowl and is tacky but not sticky. Add remaining flour, by tablespoons, until the dough is the right consistency.  (I needed the full amount of flour plus a couple tbsp to make up for the runny sourdough I added.)

Add the salt and knead to incorporate on medium speed. Form dough into a ball, cover, and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes to an hour.  Heat oven to 425ºF with a rack in the center of the oven. Line three baking sheets with parchment and lightly sprinkle each with flour.  Turn out and de-gas the dough and let rest for 10 minutes.  


It's a lovely, silky, stretchy dough

Divide the dough into 9-14 pieces, cover and let rest for 15 minutes.  (I made smaller balls, since 9 would yield very large pastries.)  Roll each piece into a round and place each onto a lightly floured work surface. Cover again and let rest for 10 minutes. Pat and stretch each ball into a ~6 inch round, re-cover with the plastic wrap, and let rest for 10 minutes.  

Carefully stretch each round into a 10 inch by 4 inch oval and spoon 1/3 cup of the cheese filling onto the dough. Fold the dough over along the long edges as you can see in the pictures, to create "boats".  Stretch the dough to about 12 inches long.  Place the "boats" on the parchment lined baking sheets, 3 per sheet. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let rest for 10 minutes.  Uncover and spoon a tbsp of the blackberry mixture in the middle of the cheese mixture.  Brush the dough edges with the egg wash.  Bake the ekmak for 15 minutes, once sheet at a time, turning the baking sheet around half way through.  Let cool on the pan for 10 minutes on a rack.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm, drizzled  with honey. 

Refrigerate leftovers and reheat in a 325 degree oven for about 5 to 10 minutes.

Baker's Tip: Work with dough in stages so that you can prepare three ekmak at a time and continue to shape, fill, let rise, and bake, in stages. 

The rest of the Bread Baking Babes

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Shekerbura #BreadBakers

Our December Bread Bakers challenge of Bread Art, hosted by Passion Kneaded, gave me the perfect excuse to try out a recipe I've been wanting to tackle for a few years now!  It's more of a pastry type bread, but there's yeast and it's definitely art.

Shekerbura is an Azerbaijani dessert. It consists of a pastry dough filled with ground almonds, hazelnuts, or walnuts, and sugar. The pastry dough is made of wheat flour, butter, milk, egg yolks, cream/sour cream and yeast, although it can also be a short pastry with no yeast. (The yeast adds a little tenderness to the pastry.)  The filling often includes cardamom, which is a total winner for me as it is one of my favorite spices.


Shekerbura typically have an intricate pattern imprinted on the dough before baking.  This is usually produced using traditional tweezers/crimpers called maggash. When I looked recently they were difficult to obtain outside of Azerbaijan, which is sad because I found them on eBay quite a few years ago for just a few bucks.  I did pick one up at the time, knowing I wanted to make the pastry at some point.  Now they do say that if you do not have a maggash, just to leave the pastry dough plain after folding the edges, but the patterns are just so beautiful!  

So there are some other options that could work.  One substitute would be the straight, "serrated": fondant crimper from this set.  I originally got some ice tongs to try back in 2017 but they were way too big and not really the right shape for crimping and so I sought out the real thing, available at the time.  (The miracle is that I was able to find the tiny tweezers in the utensil drawer after 4 years!)  Another possible option I saw were these maamoul crimpers or this pie crust crimper.  Both are wider compared to the maggash tweezers I have, so it is uncertain how the patterns would work, but they are available and inexpensive.  The maamoul crimpers are culturally and task related, the closest option.

It is good to know at least, that plain shekerbura is acceptable.

Interestingly, I found that many cultures have a similar cookie and decoration with tweezers.  The maamoul of the middle east are filled with nuts or dates and crimped with a serrated tweezer, as are the kuih makmur and kuih bangkit of Malaysia and Singapore.  And I know there are others.

The filling is dangerous.  Try not to get into it too much.  I love cardamom...  While shekerbura have traditional patterns, they may be decorated as ornately as desired.  I read somewhere that there is almost an unspoken competition in bringing out a tray of beautifully and ornately decorated shekerbura for guests.  I have seen extra bits of pastry shapes and bows, and silver nonpareils/dragees added as embellishments.  Check out Pinterest boards for some seriously gorgeous shekerbura!

(These freeze and reheat wonderfully in a low toaster oven!)

Makes ~24 shekerbura pastries

For the Dough:

500g  all purpose flour + ½ tbsp (for step 3)
200 g / 7 oz unsalted butter, cut into large chunks
2½ egg yolks
125 g / 4.5 oz sour cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ tsp dry  yeast
½ tbsp sugar
¼ cup / 63 ml lukewarm milk, divided

For the Filling:
350 g  / ¾ lb skinned hazelnuts, or almonds or walnuts (I used half hazelnuts, half walnuts)
350 g / ¾ lb granulated sugar  (I used 250g white sugar, 100g light brown muscovado sugar for flavor)
1 tsp ground cardamom (freshly ground will have more flavor than pre-powdered)
1-2 tsp Frangelico (optional)

Equipment: mixing bowls or mixer, baking sheets, and a maggash (decorating tweezers)

To prepare the dough:

Put the flour and the butter in a large bowl or mixer. Using your hands, rub them together until you obtain fine crumbs, or run the mixer on low to achieve the same consistency. Make sure that the butter is fully incorporated and that there are no large crumbs left.

In a small bowl,whisk together the eggs yolks, sour cream, and salt.

In a small dish, mix together the yeast, ½ tbsp flour, ½ tbsp sugar. Fill it with 2 tbsp of  lukewarm milk, mix, and let stand for about 2 minutes.

Add the egg and the yeast mixtures to the flour-butter mixture.

Using your hands, or the paddle attachment, mix the ingredients until fully incorporated and a rough and inconsistent dough is obtained.  Transfer the dough to a work surface. Put the remaining 2 tbsp of lukewarm milk in a separate dish. Constantly wetting your hands with milk, knead the dough for a few minutes to make it smooth.  You may also work the milk in with the mixer, just until combined, then give a few turns on the counter.

Shape the dough into a ball. Place it back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Set aside to rest for about 30 minutes.

While the dough rests, prepare the filling. If you are using already skinned nuts, grind them finely in a food processor.  In a mixing bowl, combine the ground nuts with the sugar(s). Add the ground cardamom and Frangelico, if using. Mix until fully incorporated.

To skin hazelnuts at home you can either roast and rub the skins off, or blanch, ice bath and rub, and then toast.  This post covers both methods.

Divide the dough into balls, each weighing 40-50 g.  (I originally used 50 gram balls and cut them with a 4-inch round cutter, saving the scraps for new balls.)  Work with one ball at a time and cover the rest.  

Roll each ball into a 4 inch (10 cm) circle.

Place the circle in the palm of your hand, slightly folded, and put 2 rounded tablespoons of the filling in the center.  Pat down to compact just a little.


Starting at one end, begin sealing the left and right edges towards the center to obtain a half-moon shape.  Sealed shekerbura must have enough filling to be somewhat plump and never flat.

Using your thumb and index finger, start pinching and twisting the dough along the seal to decorate the edges.

Arrange the pastry on a baking sheet, lined with parchment (baking) paper. Continue working with the rest of the dough balls, arranging them on the baking sheet as you are finished decorating their edges.

First attempts were so bad, I had to use a pasty press to
fix the crimp.  Got the hang of it eventually!

Now decorate the tops. Holding a pastry in one hand,  and a maggash (tweezers) in the other, pinch the dough with the maggash at an angle and slightly lift it upward. Continue until you obtain a row of pattern. Create similar rows, each at an angle to the next one, until the entire surface is decorated.

This is the traditional herringbone pattern for shekerbura.

If maggash is not available, leave the top of shekerbura plain, without any patterns.

This is how shekerbura pastries look before they go in the oven.

Bake on the middle rack of the oven preheated to 175ºC (350ºF) for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges just begin to change their color and the bottom is light brown.  Take care not to overbake the pastries – the tops should be light in color when baked. If you did not decorate your pastries with the tweezers, dust them with powdered sugar after they have cooled off. 

Be sure to check out the other artful bread creations this month! #BreadBakers is a group of bread loving bakers who get together once a month to bake bread with a common ingredient or theme. Follow our Pinterest board right here. Links are also updated each month on this home page.

We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient.


Saturday, December 11, 2021

Apple Cider Sugar Cookies

If you love soft sugar cookies, apples, and those instant apple cider drink mixes, you will probably love this cookie!  This treat is taken from a Betty Crocker recipe that calls for a pouch of sugar cookie mix and I was surprised and pleased when I saw the short ingredient list!  Feel free to use their recipe and a mix if it is something you have on hand.  For us it still has corn syrup (allergies) and is just not something we ever buy since it is so easy to make from scratch in just a few minutes.  (Incidentally, Hain baking powder is corn free.)  So this is just a scratchified version of the Betty Crocker cookie.  They are fabulous, so soft and tender. 
I recommend using a crisp, tart apple like a Fuji or Granny smith for these cookies.  Something that will hold its shape and give a pop of appleness.  Hubby loves soft cookies, and these ones elicited a moan and eye rolling so I would say they are good!
Apple Cider Sugar Cookies 
makes ~ 3 dozen
2 tbsp sugar
1 package (0.74 oz) apple cider instant drink mix (do not prepare), divided
1 + ½ tsp ground cinnamon, divided
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups flour 
¼ cup oil 
½ cup butter, (one stick) softened
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla (optional)
¾ cup finely chopped peeled apple (1 medium)

Heat oven to 375°F. In a small bowl, mix 2 tbsp sugar, 1 tsp of the apple cider drink mix, and ½ tsp of the cinnamon and set aside.

In large bowl or mixer, combine ¾ cup sugar, remaining drink mix, 1 tsp cinnamon, soda, baking powder, salt and flour together.  Pour in oil while stirring on low and mix for 1-2 minutes until fully incorporated and mixture is a coarse powder consistency.  Stir in the softened butter and egg until a soft dough forms. Stir in apple pieces until combined. If using a mixer, stir for no more than 30 seconds. Shape dough into ~36 (1¼-inch) balls. 

Basic sugar cookie mix + oil

egg and butter mixed in

add finely diced apples

mix just to combine

Roll balls in the reserved sugar mixture.  Place 2 inches apart on parchment lined cookie sheets.  Discard remaining sugar-spice mixture after rolling balls.

Bake 7 to 9 minutes or until edges are set and light golden brown.  Cool 1 minute on cookie sheet then remove to cooling rack.  Cool completely, about 20 minutes.  Store covered in airtight container.