This month is Spain’s recipe month at Tobias cooks and I wanted to pick a recipe from Andalusia. The Arabs or Moors as they were called then, occupied Andalusia from the 8th century through the 12th century. This has deeply influenced Spanish language (several thousands words in Spanish have Arabic roots like algoritmo,alcohol, café, calabaza, escabeche, aceite, etc); deeply influenced Spanish music, such as Flamenco, which relies on similar vocalisations (zajal in Arabic) , scale, and instruments (tambourine, drums, hand-clapping); deeply influenced Spanish food, such as these tortas de aceite which were created in 1910 from an oldMoorishrecipe in Sevilla, Andalusia.
It is astounding when you take a look at history to see how things change and evolve in a cyclical fashion. During the time of the Moorish occupation Arabic was the language of science, the library in Cordoba had 600,000 volumes! Anybody who wanted to get an education in those days would study and become proficient in Arabic (the English of our era) and Europe, nearby, was in the Dark Ages.
These olive oil sweet crackers come from Seville, in Andalusia, Spain. I tasted them at an upscale market in Dallas and immediately adored them and knew I had to make them. Easier said than done! Getting a hold of the recipe for these tortas de aceite proved to be a challenge! I tried a recipe, then another, with disappointing results. Finally, I came up with my own concotion and I am very happy with it. It produces the same crunchy, extra-light, redolent of anise and cinnamon and sugar, confection that the folks at the Ines Rosales factory in Seville have been making by hand since 1910 from an old Moorish recipe.
INGREDIENTS: This quantity will yield about 45 tortas
- 3.5 ounces of extra-virgin olive oil (100 ml)
- peel of half a lemon or orange
- 1 tablespoon of anise seeds (or ground anise)
- 3.5 ounces of white wine (or fresh orange juice)(100 ml)
- 2 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour (250 g)
- 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon of ammonium powder
- 3 tablespoons of sugar plus more for sprinkling on the tortas
- 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon plus more for adding to the sugar sprinkled on the tortas
- 1/4 cups of sesame seeds, toasted till golden
- Peel the lemon (yellow part if possible only) to get a long strip. Place the lemon peel and the olive oil in a small skillet and heat the oil until the peel starts to brown. Remove the peel, add the anise seeds and cool the oil.
- Sift the flour, baking powder and ammonium powder in a mixing bowl. Add the cinnamon and sugar and mix in.
- Add to the flour mixture the olive oil, anise seeds, wine or juice. Mix to combine well. You should obtain a moist and firm dough.
- Let the dough rest for 30 minutes in a bowl or plastic wrap. If not using right away, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one day.
- Line several cookie sheets with parchment paper or silpat. Place 1/2 cup of sugar (with a pinch of cinnamon if you like) in a small bowl. Place the sesame seeds in another small bowl.
- Form small walnut- sized balls of the same size if possible from the dough and line them up and cover them with a piece of plastic wrap. Take one ball at a time and press on it with your fingertips on the parchment-lined cookie sheet till it gets as thin as possible, ideally 1/2 mm or 1/16 of an inch.
- Sprinkle the tortas with a bit of sugar and sesame seeds.
- Bake in a preheated 325F (160C) oven for about 15 minutes or until browned around the edges and dry.
- Serve with hot chocolate or coffee for breakfast. These will keep in a tightly sealed metal container for several weeks. If they last that long!
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