Pomegranates never fail to delight me; their crimson juices and sweet and tart arils provided such joy for me throughout my childhood that they are forever etched in my memory and on my heart. Palestinians also hold this mighty fruit in high esteem, and here I’ve paired it with a dense and sticky almond cake, topped with a light and creamy mascarpone topping, which I love, and which I hope will enliven your passion for this magical fruit, too. You will need an 8 in./20 cm cake pan.
Soft Wheat And Rye Cakes / Hönö Cakes
I first tasted m’smen traveling in Morocco. I bought a piece of the tender, buttery, flaky bread drizzled with honey from a street vendor. It was an exquisite culinary experience. So years later, in 2009, when the Arab American Family Support Center referred three strong candidates from Morocco to our training program, my first question was, “Do you know how to make m’smen?” One of the three, Bouchra, taught us how to make the bread and, much to her surprise, it quickly became one of our best sellers. M’smen, also called rghaif or melloui, is often served with fresh mint tea, but we hear from our customers that they use it for all sorts of things, including making tuna sandwiches. You can mix and divide the dough up to 8 hours before shaping, allowing ample time for the gluten to relax.
This is one of my personal favorites, and it’s also the most popular rye bread in our bakeries. It’s a light and tender loaf that stays fresh for a long time. Here, the fabulous, intense taste of dark malt and rye is supplemented by the lovely crunchiness of pumpkin seeds. If you can’t get your hands on cut rye berries, which give the bread a chewy bite, you can just as easily use cracked rye berries.
During a college study-abroad year at the Università di Bologna, William Teresa of Minneapolis, Minnesota, dated a fellow student. The couple would frequently visit her family in Cesena, a small city in Emilia– Romagna, where Teresa became immersed in the cooking lives of his girlfriend’s parents and grandparents. “They were so lovely,” he said. “It was wonderful to be in a place where food is so rooted in tradition and place, and to encounter something that has always been made by the same people, with little variation.” One of the grandmothers baked a chewy-crispy and outrageously rich almond cookie, which the family enjoyed with espresso. Teresa was instantly smitten and perfected the formula when he returned home. “They’re not like any other American cookie,” he said. “Maybe that’s why so many people ask me for the recipe.”
When he’s not working, Scott Rohr of St. Paul, Minnesota, is baking. “It’s sort of a joke with my friends,” he said. “I don’t remember a time when I haven’t baked. I grew up in one of those houses where everything was homemade. Some people come home from work and boil water for dinner. I take out eggs and butter.” For his winning recipe, Rohr started with his tattered recipe card for a cream-of-tartar-based sugar cookie, which is a copy of a similarly well-worn card from his grandmother’s kitchen. The filling and the pistachios, however, were all his idea. “I just started messing around,” he said. “It’s really hard for me to follow a recipe. These cookies aren’t complicated, and they come together fast. They look like something substantial, but they’re not hard to make. If you’ve ever baked a cookie, then you can bake these, for heaven’s sake.”
Michelle Clark’s minor obsession with a dark chocolate–chipotle truffle got her thinking: could it translate into a cookie? The St. Paul, Minnesota, resident kicked the idea around for a few weeks before formulating an unforgettable cookie. “It has fun with your tongue,” she said. “You take a bite and you get one flavor; then you chew and you get another flavor. It’s not just, ‘Here, have a sugar cookie.’” To those who may say that Clark’s unconventional entry doesn’t overtly shout “Happy Holidays,” she has a response. “Sure, it’s not your basic Santa cutout cookie,” she said. “But it has both chocolate and cinnamon, and those are both Christmas flavors to me. Besides, to have the scent of chocolate and cinnamon in the oven, well, what’s more Christmas than that?”
A last-minute need to fill out a holiday cookie tray found Kay Lieberherr of St. Paul, Minnesota, turning to the palmiers at Surdyk’s in Minneapolis. “It turned out that everyone asked for the recipe for the palmiers, and not for the cookies that I had baked,” she said with a laugh. That response sent her on a mission to develop her own palmier recipe. Using commercially prepared puff pastry makes this recipe a snap to prepare. “I love it when you don’t spend a lot of time on something, yet people think, ‘Wow, that must have taken days,’” said Lieberherr.
Slab pies turn out to be the perfect solution for cocktail hour. Inspired by a phyllo filling from The Silver Palate Cookbook, I first combined spinach, gorgonzola, and walnuts in my early 20s when I decided to have a cocktail party. I made so much, I spent five days filling and freezing tiny phyllo appetizers. They were devoured and everyone was amazed, but I never did it again. Since then, I’ve shied away from large fussy projects and tend toward simplification. Pie is all that. And this pie is all that and more.
Panades are savory bread puddings, but instead of being moistened with egg, milk, or cream, as is traditional, here a Mediterranean mix of grated tomatoes and olive oil does the trick, making for a complex casserole.