Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra‘s Warm Bread and Honey Cake (Interlink 2010) is just the kind of book to pull out on a Sunday morning and find a perfect recipe for lunch or brunch or dinner. It entices because it not only has a global reach, but the recipes are juxtaposed as they would be in your mind had you traveled and collected recipes and memories. You’ll find recipes from China next to Arab or Greek treats. It will be hard to decide which to make first.
The chapter on Small Cakes, Pastries & Savories captures the depth of Gaitri’s knowledge of different cuisines. She starts with Lemon Shortbread Cookies (Goudse Moppen (p. 225) from The Netherlands and follows it with a similar butter shortbread, Ghorabiyah (p. 226) that are made in North Africa, the Balkans, and India. She includes a Guyanese recipe for Pine Tarts (p. 234) filled with pineapple jam (p. 235). These recipes are clear, simple, and unusual. Then the chapter changes course and focuses on Chinese steamed cakes, like Moon Cakes (p. 236) and Steamed Sweet Red Bean Buns (p. 248). The fine photographs by Vanessa Courtier show the little pinched buns on a steamer waiting for filling.
She sees the original Balkan breads as a pre-Christian product that was used in pagan rituals, which is one of the reasons why they were never taken to church to be blessed nor were they cut with knives. This last piece of information is particularly interesting, because it explains why the Hungarian pogaca has a deeply cut cross-hatched pattern on its surface. If bread could not be cut, it had to be broken, and the cuts would help. (p. 253)
It is tempting to think that they relate to Hot Cross Buns served at Eastern – and tempting to make them for the holiday.
RECIPE: Lemon Shortbread Cookies)
9 oz. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
5 1/2 oz. butter, softened
3 1/2 oz. super-fine sugar
1 egg yolk
zest of 1/2 lemon
Makes about 30 cookies
1. Mix flour with baking powder and salt and set aside. Use paddle attachment of a mixer to cream butter and sugar together until light in color. Beat in egg yolk and lemon zest. Add dry ingredients, and knead lightly until all comes together.
2. Transfer to large sheet of parchment paper. Shape into “sausage” 11-12 inches long. Chill dough for at least 1 hour or until firm enough to slice.
3. Pre-heat oven to 350F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Remove dough from refrigerator. Unwrap. Use sharp knife to cut rounds 1/2″ thick. Spread rounds evenly and well apart on cookie sheets.
4. Bake 15 minutes or until outer edges are golden-brown.
5. Transfer cookies to wire rack until cool. Store in airtight container.
(adapted from Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra’s Warm Bread and Honey Cake)