Fanouropita: a Cake for Lost Things

While I may seem to be living right now on South Second Street in St. Charles, Illinois (at least that’s what the neighbors think), I’m actually far away in Greece exploring its food via the cookbook “Food from Many Greek Kitchens,” by Tessa Kiros.

St. Fanourios

The moment I saw her recipe for Fanouropita, a Cake for Lost Things, I had to try. It is baked in honor of St. Fanourios, a saint of the Greek Orthodox Church who lived in Roman times. According to a church website, “The pita is prepared so that the Saint may reveal to someone a lost item, find a job for someone unemployed, restore the health of someone sick, etc.”

Even if you are a skeptic, baking this cake could concentrate the mind, and perhaps help you locate what you have lost. It’s worth a prayer and a try!

The following recipe is actually a combination of a number of recipes: the result is a moist cinnamon-y coffeecake, perfumed with brandy, vanilla and orange. So good, and would be good with a little glass of Greek brandy.

Fanouropita

3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup olive or sunflower oil
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or almonds
zest from half an orange
powdered sugar for topping

Grease a 9- or 9-1/2 inch springform cake pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. (You could use a regular pan, but I would line the bottom with wax paper to ensure easy removal of the cake.)

In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and chopped nuts. Mix. Add the remaining wet ingredients: oil, vanilla, orange juice, brandy, and orange zest. Mix well. The result will be more of a dough than a batter. Scrape into prepared pan, smooth, and bake for about 40 minutes. Cool, remove from its pan, and dust with powdered sugar.

Baking notes: One recipe recommended using Metaxa, which is a Greek brandy. So this morning I went to the local Save-Way Liquor store. The funny think about these stores is that even if it’s 9:30 on a Monday morning, it always feels like midnight on Saturday. But I was able to find the Metaxa, which has a wonderful, complex fragrance. Truth to tell, though, any brandy will do. I used sunflower oil, but extra virgin olive oil would be fine.

I made this recipe twice–the first time I squeezed oranges for the orange juice. The flavor of the fresh juice was faint, and I suggest saving time by buying a small bottle of juice.

Below: ingredients, dough in pan, and the stencil I used for the top of the cake. You might be able to cut something similar with paper and scissors.

Speaking of lost things, we are about to lose our beautiful horse chestnut tree. In a big storm the other night, a massive branch came down. It is the second such branch to fall, and we are facing that the tree must come down, as it’s cracked and hollow. Trees have spirits and are homes for life. I will have to say a prayer to St. Fanourios to remind me that some lost things are meant to be.

From this morning, some adorable goldfinches. God bless you. Fran

 

Bread for the Soul: a Poppy Seed Braid

Has your soul been feeling jangly lately? I know mine has. Maybe it’s the weather, probably it’s the politics, maybe it’s the time of man, but whatever the reason, my heart and soul have been anxious. So this morning I reached for one of my favorite cookbooks, “The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking,” by Brother Rick Curry, and then reached in the cupboard for flour, for yeast and poppyseeds, and began baking. The result was this golden brown poppyseed braid. I feel better already!

What are the secrets of Jesuit  bread making? As I understand it, the secrets don’t lie in the recipes themselves, but are in the heart of the baker. I have learned the following. First, slow down. Second, pay attention. Third, be methodical. Devote yourself to the bread making.  Brother Curry also recommends being neat and orderly as you bake. So I swept the floor, scoured the sink,  and cleared the counter before beginning. The outside orderliness has a way of entering your inside self.

So here is the recipe, and I have tried to give pointers along the way, so you, too, can have a golden brown poppyseed braid, with each slice shaped like an angelic cloud.

Poppy Seed Braid Loaf

1 packet yeast
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups unbleached flour

also, cornmeal, milk, poppyseeds

Combine the yeast and warm water in a large bowl. Add the sugar and stir. Set aside for about five minutes, or until the yeast foams up.

Stir in the egg, oil and salt. Add the flour and beat with a spoon, until the dough is a shaggy mass. Sprinkle with a bit of flour and knead until smooth (about five minutes). If the dough is sticky, add two tablespoons more flour. If it seems dryish and firm, add two tablespoons more oil. Take out the dough, clean the bowl, and pour a couple tablespoons oil into it. Place dough into the bowl, and turn it to coat with oil. Cover with a plastic bag, and  let the dough rise until double for about one hour.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and sprinkle with cornmeal. Deflate the dough, and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into 3 parts. Roll each piece into a rope, about 15″ long. Braid the ropes together, handling the dough gently. Lift the braided loaf onto the prepared baking sheet. Cover and let rise for another 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. When the dough has doubled in size (about 30 minutes), brush it with milk or cream, and sprinkle with poppy seeds. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden. Allow to cool before slicing.

Gather your ingredients. Verify that the yeast is not past the expiration code. Make sure your cup of coffee is ready!
Read the recipe over, and visualize the steps.

The yeast may take from 5 to 30 minutes to bubble up.

The dough after kneading, and after rising.

Above, dividing the risen dough, rolling into 15″ ropes, braiding, placing on prepared baking sheet, allowing a second rise, and ready for preheated oven.

The bread is done when the bottom is golden, not just the top.
This bread is fine-grained and tender because of the egg and oil. It makes wonderful toast, with a crackly crust and soft interior.

Baking notes: The most difficult part of this for a beginner is after the three cups of flour has been added. Is the dough too dry or too sticky? This variability can happen because of the flour you use, the size of the egg, and the exactness with which you measured the oil and water. Usually, three cups of flour is just right, though, so try that. You can use sesame seeds instead of poppyseeds, or not use any at all.

Spring

We are in the heart of a tumultuous spring, with days of rain, gusts of wind, birds flying everywhere singing and nesting, storms, thunder, and a general sense of nature’s urgency. I never think of spring as sweet and gentle–it’s entrance into the year can be quite violent. But wonderful. Peace to you. Fran

A robin, pausing to think about something.
A cardinal in the red bud tree.

Warm Hummus with Almonds and Chili Butter

Hummus, a tangy dip of crushed chickpeas and sesame paste, has become more and more popular. It’s enjoyed by both meat-eaters and vegetarians, and has become a staple at many gatherings. Served with bread and sliced carrots and celery, it’s good for lunch. Even Aldi now offers four or five different varieties of hummus. It’s become as American as pizza!

So when I ran across a recipe for baked hummus in “Mezze: Small Plates to Share,” by Ghillie Basan, I had to try it. The hummus was bubbling and smoking when I pulled it out of the oven, and Jim and I fell on as though we were starving. I had made pita bread (see my post Sacred Bread, March 7, 2016 for the recipe), and we tore it apart and scooped up the dip, tangy with lemon and garlic, and with the added heat of red pepper flakes. So good.

Warm Hummus with Almonds and Chilli Butter

2 15-oz. cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 garlic cloves,  crushed
4 tablespoons olive oil
freshly squeezed juice of two lemons
2 tablespoons tahini
2 cups whole milk yogurt
salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
pita bread, to serve

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Oil an ovenproof dish with olive oil. (I used a 9-inch round earthenware dish, or an 8 x 8 inch square Pyrex dish could be used.)

Pour chickpeas, cumin seeds, crushed garlic, olive oil and lemon juice into a blender. Whizz until the mixture is a thick paste. You may have to stop and start the blending a number of times, scraping the mixture down into the blender, so the mixture forms a paste. Add the tahini, salt and pepper, and continue to blend. Add the yogurt and keep blending, (stopping and scraping down several times) until smooth. Tip the mixture into the oiled baking dish.

Toast the sliced almonds in a little frying pan until they begin to brown. Add the butter and stir until it melts. Stir in the red pepper flakes. Pour this mixture over the hummus. Place into the preheated oven and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the hummus puffs up a bit and the butter has been absorbed. Serve immediately with fresh pita bread.

Notes: This is good baked or unbaked! With the juice of two lemons and the crushed garlic, either way, the flavor pops. You might consider making this in a food processor. The blender worked, but I had to stop and start, scraping the mixing down, quite often. So the food processor might work better. The appearance of the baked hummus is like that of the surface of the planet Venus, interesting, but maybe not beautiful! Garnishing with a little sprig of mint or parsley helps.

Below, hummus ready for oven, toasting the almonds, adding the butter, the yogurt and the brand of tahini I used.

Drying Daffodils

One of my most popular posts has been about drying daffodils (April 20, 2011). And since daffodils are still blooming, I thought I would mention again how it’s done. Simply place the daffodil between the pages of a phone book, close the book, place other books on top to weigh it down, and about one month later, the daffodil is dried.

In my experience, daffodils are unique in being so easy to dry–roses, daylilies, peonies, irises–they all need special handling. The real difficulty of this method nowadays is finding the phone book!

Spring in the Garden

We’ve been having an extraordinarily beautiful spring! Birds are singing and everything is coming up fresh and green. Even this grackle looks gorgeous. Peace to you. Fran

fern with pulmonaria
celandine poppy
bleeding heart

Crackly Sugar Cookies and Spring Things

Does the world need another sugar cookie recipe? Well, given that all sugar cookies are useless things when compared to a stalk of broccoli, I guess not. But this one is so good I can’t resist offering it here. Anyway, we can exercise tonight. Crackly Sugar Cookies have a wonderfully old-fashioned flavor, buttery and rich, with a delicate crisp crust and a soft interior. So good with a cup of tea. It’s the sort of cookie that used to be called a tea cake. Something to enjoy on this beautiful spring day.

Crackly Sugar Cookies

1-1/4 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3 eggs yolks, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cream the softened butter with the sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs yolks and vanilla. (I advise doing these two steps with an electric mixer.) Sift the dry ingredients together then add to the batter in two parts. (This is easiest done with your impeccably clean hands.)

Form dough into balls the size of a walnut, or use a small ice cream scoop and place on prepared sheet about two inches apart. Do not flatten. Bake for approximately 11 to 12 minutes, or until edges are golden. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Photos below show that I forgot to lightly beat my egg yolks, but cookie turned out fine anyway! Second photo shows baked cookies.

For a blue bird sort of day!

A sure sign of spring–two red admiral butterflies fluttering around in the garden a few days ago. This one landed long enough for me to take a picture.

Then he landed on Saint Fiacre’s head.

The mother mourning dove I mentioned a few weeks ago seemed to have abandoned her nest.

The parent doves a few days ago.

At any rate, the mother dove is back on her nest today, so we’ll see what happens. Peace to you. Fran

Bleeding hearts this morning.

 

Easter Special

It almost looks like some giant robins laid these eggs in the garden, but actually I dyed them this morning. I love this color blue! Here’s how:

Hardboil some eggs. (Cover your eggs with water, bring to a boil, and set aside for 15 to 20 minutes.) In a separate small bowl, pour in about one cup of boiling water, a splash of vinegar, 10 drops of blue food coloring and one drop of green food coloring. Mix. Lower the hardboiled eggs into the dye, and gently stir them around to dye evenly. After about five minutes, remove with a spoon and set on paper toweling to dry. I used McCormick Assorted Food Colors & Egg Dye. Hope you enjoy!

Speaking of robins, two of them had a dust up in the garden yesterday. I think they’re being territorial! Peace to you, Fran

Frosted Brown Sugar Cookies and some Sparrows

I have the kitchen window open for the first time in months, and spring is blowing in. Bird song and warm breezes fill the air. Of course, last night we were wakened with hail rattling the windows, so I guess hail could come in, too! But that’s spring for you, along with the dark clouds, thunder and rain that have been rolling through the area all day.

As I enjoyed the breezes in the kitchen this morning, I baked Frosted Brown Sugar Cookies. These are admittedly very beige cookies, but once you have tasted one, they will be forgiven their beige-ness. The cookies themselves are soft and delicious, but their sole reason for existence is to be slathered with the buttery, caramel frosting. So good!

Frosted Brown Sugar Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup sour cream
1-3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Brown Sugar Frosting
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons milk or cream
1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl, and set aside.

In another bowl, cream the softened butter and brown sugar. Beat in the egg and sour cream thoroughly. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and mix just until combined.

Drop by tablespoonfuls (or a small ice cream scoop) onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until cookie bottoms are golden brown. Let cool.

To make frosting: Melt butter over low heat in a small saucepan. Add brown sugar and cook and stir for 2 minutes. Gradually add the milk, and bring to a boil, stir constantly. (This will only take a few moments.) Remove from the heat and stir in powdered sugar. Use immediately to frost cooled cookies, as it will stiffen up if left to cool completely. Makes 26 cookies.

Baking notes: The cookies are done when the tops are still a little squishy when you touch them. Wish I knew a more technical term than this! Though whether you bake them for nine, ten, or eleven minutes, they will be good. You could also top each cookie with a roasted pecan or a chunk of chocolate. That would be good, too!

The golden-brown bottom of a baked cookie.
Frosted and ready to go.
The daffodils popped up over during the warm weekend. Also up are the hellebores and pulmonaria.


Last Friday, Jim and I went to Spring Bluff Fen Nature Preserve in South Elgin. Felt like we had the whole world to ourselves. And we saw warblers and this little song sparrow.

View at Spring Bluff Fen

I enjoy the sparrows in our own yard, too, like this little one.

Lastly, from Johnson’s Mound, some Spring Beauty.

I continue to read from Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems. Rumi was a 13th century Persian poet who reached across cultural boundaries. It is said that his funeral was attended by Persians, Muslims, Jews, Christians and Greeks. So I am listening closely to what he had to say. Peace to you. Fran

Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.
Don’t try to see through the distances.
That’s not for human beings. Move within,
but don’t move the way fear makes you move.

Rumi

Shortbread Chicks and a Robin

I was at the Kane County Flea Market this Saturday, and the moment I saw a little chicken cookie cutter for sale in a basket with other antique cookie cutters, I almost shouted “stop the presses,” because I immediately changed what I would post about today. I thought of a wonderful shortbread recipe I have, and how perfect it would be to make little shortbread chick cookies. Or are they hens? Whatever they are, I’m enjoying them.

I’ve used this shortbread recipe before, to make little glittering stars for Christmas. This recipe is truly wonderful–the dough is easy to mix and can be re-rolled. The cookie itself is buttery and melts in your mouth.

Shortbread Chicks

2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

one beaten egg for glazing
yellow granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, beat the softened butter until smooth, and then add the sugar and vanilla. Beat well until fluffy. (This can be done with a large spoon.) Mix the flour with the salt. Add to the butter mixture, and stir briefly, to start to bring it together. Then mix the dough together with your impeccably clean hands. It will be a bit crumbly.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough until it is about 1/4″ thick. (Divide the dough in half, and roll out one batch at a time.) Cut dough out with your  cookie cutter and set aside. Using a pastry brush, brush each cookie with the beaten egg, then sprinkle with yellow sugar. Place on prepared baking sheet, and repeat with the rest of the cookies.

Bake for about 13 to 15 minutes, or when the edges of the cookie turn golden brown. This makes approximately three dozen cookies, but it will depend on how large your cookie cutter is.

Baking notes: Be sure that the butter is softened. It shouldn’t be separated or oily, but it should be soft enough to beat with the spoon. You can make the colored sugar by mixing 1/4 cup granulated sugar with two drops of yellow food dye. Toss the sugar until evenly colored. You can use any cutter for this recipe–a bunny, an Easter egg . . . whatever you might enjoy. This recipe comes from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book.

Below are my flea market finds–the chicken cookie cutter, a little nutmeg jar, and a flow blue bone dish. I think the bone dish was part of a dinner set. Diners would daintily set any bones onto the dish when they were finished eating. The little pansies came from the flea market, as well. Couldn’t resist!

Below: Colored sugar mixed in a teacup, the butter and sugar mixture, the crumbly dough, cut out cookies, the markings on the cookies, made with the dull side of a dinner knife, and the finished cookies.

Robin

I saw this robin perched in a rose bush that is just leafing out. He (or she) is so sweet!

Lastly, I found another wonderful poem by the Persian poet Hafiz. Hope you enjoy! Peace. Fran

A Potted Plant

I pull a sun from my coin purse each day.

And at night I let my pet the moon
Run freely into the sky meadow.

If I whistled,
She would turn her head and look at me.

If I then waved my arms,
She would come back wagging a marvelous
tail
Of stars.

There are always a few men like me
In this world.

Who are house-sitting for God.
We share His royal duties:

I water each day a favorite potted plant
Of His–
This earth.

Ask the Friend for love.
Ask Him again.

For I have learned that every heart will get
What it prays for
Most.

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