Saturday, January 25, 2014


Last Wednesday we had dinner at Architect’s house and she made ravioli stuffed with chicken and mushrooms topped with a creamy Alfredo sauce.  It seems like, in winter, soup and pasta are favorite go-to dishes for our little crew. Quick, easy and just the right sort of comfort food for the cold evenings like those in the northeast recently. 

Brrrrrrr….it’s downright frosty!

Anyway, when we have dinner at Architect’s house, it is always my turn to bring dessert.  You may recall that I told you about a cake recipe from the Jerusalem Cookbook that I wanted to try, Helbeh.  It uses a spice that the chefs frequently use called fenugreek, one of the key ingredients in curry.  I have to admit, and the authors acknowledge that some people are quite skeptical about making a cake using such an aromatic, robust, exotic spice.  They go on to say you will either really love or really dislike this cake.  After having made this little loaf of lusciousness I can see why they say that.  The flavors are quite distinctive and may be off-putting if not soothed by the wonderful rosy, orangey, sugary syrup you spoon on the warm cake, fresh out of the oven! 

Despite my uncertainty, I’m glad I beaconed some boldness and made it…we loved this dense but oh-so-moist cake and I will look for an excuse to make it again....soon.  Afterall, I have the ingredients now! I don't see my 80-something year old Irish mom liking this cake, but I will insist she at least try it.

You will need to set aside a few hours when making Helbeh since there are several steps involved and the dough has to rise for about an hour.  The baked cake also needs a day to rest, so plan ahead.  It would be a perfect finale for any dinner party, especially one featuring Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. 

I looked for fenugreek at a local vitamin store and the clerk suggested the powered fenugreek – apparently it aids in milk production of breastfeeding moms (haven’t had to worry about that lately).  The powdered version did not sound very appealing to me so I continued my fenugreek-finding quest with younger daughter.  We (and by we I mean her) finally found the elusive seeds at our local Coop. I found the rose and orange blossom waters at Whole Foods.

From:  Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi
Page 290

3 cups fine semolina
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup pine nuts, blitzed into large crumbs
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup sunflower oil
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted plus more for greasing the pan
1 1/2 teaspoons fenugreek seeds
2 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons fast-rising, active yeast
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons whole almonds, blanched and peeled (I did not blanch or peel)

1 1/2 cups superfine sugar (I used confectioners sugar)
6 1/2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons rose water
1 1/2 tablespoons orange blossom water

Mix the semolina, flour, and pine nuts in a large bowl. Stir in the oils and butter until well combined and then set aside.

Bring the fenugreek seeds and the water to boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes or until the seeds are plump and tender. Strain out the fenugreek, reserving the cooking water. Add the fenugreek to the semolina mixture. Add the yeast, baking powder, and salt.

Measure out 3/4 cup of the hot fenugreek water (add more water to equal 3/4 cup if necessary). Slowly stir the liquid into the semolina mixture. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until completely smooth.  Don’t be alarmed…the dough will be a bit crumbly but persevere and form into a smooth, silky ball.

Grease a 9 1/2 inch cake pan with butter and line the bottom and sides with parchment paper. Place the dough in the pan and press it down until it covers the bottom and is level and smooth. Using a knife, score the surface of the cake with series of lines at 45-degree angles, forming diamonds. Place one almond at the center of each diamond. Cover with a clean, moist towel and allow the dough to rise in a warm place for one hour. Preheat the oven to 425F about 45 minutes into the dough-rising process.  BTW…the dough rising is very subtle; don’t expect the dough to double.

After the dough-rising hour, bake the cake on a lower oven rack for 20 minutes. Lower the heat to 400F and bake for another 20 minutes or it is golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, prepare the syrup. Mix the sugar and water together in a small saucepan with a wooden spoon. Bring the mixture to a boil and then add the lemon juice. Gently simmer for 4 minutes and then remove from heat. Allow the mixture to cool a bit then add the rose and orange blossom waters.

When the cake is finished baking, remove it from the oven and immediately spoon the syrup all over, letting it drip down the sides of the cake while still in the pan. Let the cake cool completely in the pan, then cover well with aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Serve the next day. 
Along with the ravioli, we had a wonderful bottle of wine and a delicious salad. It's All Good.

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