Basic Halva

 

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Halva is a confection made from raw tehina and sugar, sometimes stabilized with additives.  In Israel, you’ll see halva stalls with huge slabs in every imaginable flavor, from rose water to pistachio to chocolate to coffee.

2 cups sugar
½ vanilla bean, scraped
Zest of 1 lemon
1½ cups tehina
Pinch kosher salt

Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper. Have ready another sheet of parchment paper.

Combine the sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest with ½ cup water in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then cook, without stirring, until the mixture registers 245 degrees on a candy thermometer.

While the sugar syrup is cooking, place the tehina and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle. Beat on medium speed.

When the sugar syrup reaches 245 degrees carefully stream it into the tehina with the mixer running. Mix until the syrup is incorporated and the mixture begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Working quickly with a flexible heatproof spatula, transfer the mixture to the prepared pan. Press the top of the halva flat with the sheet of parchment paper and your hands. Let cool completely to room temperature. Cut into squares and store at room temperature, well wrapped in plastic wrap.

Will keep for up to a week.

 

Maidstone Biscuits

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This is a very simple recipe for a crunchy almond flavored biscuit from the Middle Ages.

1/2 cup butter
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons chopped, blanched almonds
1 teaspoon rosewater (or substitute) *

Cream the sugar and butter together in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Stir in the rosewater and almonds. Fold in the flour to form a stiff dough. Form pieces of dough into balls about the size of a golf ball in your hands and flatten them onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes at 350 degrees. When baked the biscuits should be golden brown in color.

* It was traditionally flavored with rosewater, which is still available in specialty food stores. If you can’t obtain rosewater, you can use vanilla or even orange extract instead.

 

Asbusas (Ancient Egyptian Cookies)

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Abusas are an ancient Egyptian cookie:

2 lbs semolina (this is cream of wheat)
2 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 pound butter
16 ounces of plain yogurt
slivered almond halves

Bring all ingredients to room temperature. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and semolina (cream of wheat). Rub the butter into this mixture by hand until very well blended. Add the yogurt and mix with your hands until the dough feels smooth. If it feels dry add one tablespoon of water at a time until a firm dough forms.

Butter a 13x9x2 inch pan and pat the dough into the pan. With a sharp knife slice the dough in 2 x 2 inch squares. Press one almond half onto the surface of each piece. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown.

 

 

Fruit and Mutton Pie

 

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Leaf lard pastry dough
3 cups cooked mutton or lamb, cut small
1/2 cup currants
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup sultanas
1/2 cup mixed peel
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
5 medium cooking apples, peeled and chopped
1 level tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a pie dish with two thirds of the pastry, reserving one third for the lid. Fill the pastry case with layers of mutton and apples. Season as you layer and sprinkle sugar, nutmeg and chopped prunes on each layer. Roll out the pastry for the lid and press onto lower pastry to seal. Put slits in the pastry lid with a sharp knife to let out the steam. Bake for 10 minutes then turn the oven down to 350 degrees for about 40 minutes.

Roman Beets & Chicken

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Marcus Terentius Varro (116 – 27 BC), a Roman scholar, recorded this recipe for Beets with Chicken. It tastes pretty good, but be prepared, as the chicken comes out beet colored:

10 small beets
1/4 cup mead or sweet white wine
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 lb cooked chicken pieces

Wash and peel whole, small beets and put them into a saucepan. Add mead or sweet wine, olive oil, and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, add chicken pieces, and cook until done.

 

Ancient Egyptian Date Candies

 

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This recipe was found on an ostraca (pottery shard) that dates back to 1600 BC. Here’s is a modernized version:

1 cup of fresh pitted dates
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1/2 cup ground walnuts
small amount of liquid honey
1/2 cup finely ground almonds

Put the dates, cardamom, cinnamon, and walnuts in a food processor and run at high speed to make a paste. Take chunks of this paste and form it into walnut sized balls. Brush these with some liquid honey and roll them in the ground almonds to coat them.

 

Ancient Egyptian Bread

 

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Ancient Egyptian bread was made of barley, millet, and once available, wheat. Though not always combined, sometimes two or all three of these were used in a single recipe. Bread was a very simplistic form. Yeast did not exist in Egypt until well into the Middle Kingdom and was not particularly popular until the New Kingdom era, so loaves were what we would consider today “flat” breads.

Bread consisted of only three simple ingredients:

  • Flour made from barley, millet or wheat.
  • Water
  • Leavening: leavening nowadays means yeast, but Egypt used sourdough starters or spent brewery grains which, unknown to them, had yeast in it.

To this basic recipe, flavorings were often added prior to baking: sesame seeds, honey, herbs, oil, egg washes, fruits and even sometimes bits of leftover chopped meat were added to help spice up these supplementary loaves.

 

Ancient Egyptian Bread Recipe:

  • Mix three parts flour to one part water. Mix with your hands until it forms a sticky dough. If needed, add more water. You’re looking for the dough to pull away from the side of the bowl, as in normal bread.
  • Use a sourdough starter or ground brewery grain if available. You can grind brewery grain in a food processor.
  • Let rise for thirty minutes, separate into rounds, place on a baking sheet and insert into a 300 degree oven. If you have an outdoor fireplace that is food safe or barbecue grill these work wonderfully to recreate the same sorts of cooking environments these recipes originally came from.
  • Cook for around 45 minutes. Check halfway through with a knife, when it comes out clean, pull your bread from the oven and let it cool.
  • Slice like a pizza and serve with the accompaniments of your choice.