Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

TartQueen's Kitchen



Namourah نمورة 1

Posted on March 30, 2014 by Sahar

When I was (much) younger, I have to admit, I really didn’t like Arabic sweets.  They tasted strange and were too sweet (even for my sweet tooth).  Of course, as I’ve grown older and my palate has become more sophisticated, I’ve come to appreciate their flavor, complexity, and their place in my own heritage.

Namourah is a perfect example of a dessert I loathed as a kid but love now.  In fact, I take it to parties sometimes and it’s usually one of the first items to be devoured (and there is a lot of food at the parties I go to. Food people, you know).

Namourah is a dessert that is ubiquitous all over the Middle East.  The basic recipe (which I’ll be showing you in this post) is made with a simple syrup flavored with orange or rose water.  However, it is also made with honey and some recipes add coconut.  I like to keep it simple.

This recipe is a classic Arabic dessert in that it’s very sweet and rich.  It’s meant to be eaten in small doses with a group of friends and family with small cups of Arabic coffee.  In a typical Arab home, these types of desserts are served only when there is company over.  Otherwise, fresh fruit is generally in order.

 

This is an eggless cake made with semolina flour.  As a result, this is a very dense cake (especially after the syrup is poured on). And, what leavening that takes place (and there isn’t much) happens when the baking soda and baking powder react with the acids in the yogurt.

You can make this cake vegan is you like by using soy or coconut yogurt and vegan margarine.  However, I can’t guarantee your results will be quite the same.

Traditionally, the baking dish is greased with 2 tablespoons of tahineh.  However, I prefer to use regular pan spray.  I find the ease of cleaning outweighs tradition in this case.

This recipe also uses clarified butter and qatr (simple syrup).  To see explanations of how to make these, please see my post from October 31, 2013, Knafeh (http://www.tartqueenskitchen.com/?p=1973).

This recipe is an adaptation from what is, to me, my holy grail of Arabic cookbooks, “Sahtein”.  It was originally published in 1976 by the Arab Women Union of Detroit.  It was my first Arabic cookbook and still my first go-to for many recipes despite my now 20-book Arabic cookbook library.  My mom’s original 1976 printing is held together with rubber bands now.

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Semolina. Yes, the same flour used to make pasta. Also known in Arabic as "smeed" سميد

Semolina. Yes, the same flour used to make pasta. Also known in Arabic as “smeed” سميد

 

2 tbsp. Tahineh or use pan spray

4 cups smeed (Semolina سميد )

1 1/4 c. clarified butter

1 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1 1/4 c. laban (yogurt لبن) (I prefer to use full-fat yogurt; I prefer the flavor and texture)

2 tbsp. yogurt

3 c. Qatr (simple syrupقطر)

1/2 c. whole blanched almonds

 

1.  Either grease with the tahineh or spray an 11″ x 17″ baking dish.  Set aside.  Preheat the oven to 400F.

2.  In a large bowl, mix together the smeed (semolina), sugar, and butter.  Set aside.

Smeed, sugar, and butter ready to be mixed.

Smeed, sugar, and butter ready to be mixed.

Mixed.

Mixed.

3.  In a small bowl, mix together the yogurt, baking soda, and baking powder.

Yogurt, baking soda, and baking powder ready for mixing.

Yogurt, baking soda, and baking powder ready for mixing.

Mixed. Watch for a few seconds and see how the powders, especially the soda, react to the acid in the yogurt.

Mixed. Watch for a few seconds and see how the powders, especially the soda, react to the acid in the yogurt.

4.  Add the yogurt mixture to the smeed mixture.  Blend well.  It will be a little crumbly and dry-looking.

Getting ready to mix. The yogurt just keeps growing.

Getting ready to mix. The yogurt just keeps growing.

Mixed. The batter will be dry and crumbly-looking. But, it will stay together and spread easily.

Mixed. The batter will be dry and crumbly looking. But, it will stay together and spread easily.

5.  Take the mixture and spread it in the baking dish as evenly as possible.  Use your hands if necessary.

The cake batter spread in the pan.  Be sure the batter is as evenly as possible in the pan.

The cake batter spread in the pan. Be sure the batter is as evenly as possible in the pan.

6.  Spread the remaining 2 tablespoons of yogurt evenly over the top of the cake.  With a very sharp knife, cut the cake into roughly 2″ pieces either in diamond or square shapes (this is necessary so the syrup will soak evenly into the cake after baking). Top each piece with a blanched almond.

Yogurt on, cake cut, almonds placed. And, yes, I'm terrible at cutting evenly. Go figure.

Yogurt on, cake cut, almonds placed. And, yes, I’m terrible at cutting evenly. Go figure.

7.  Bake the cake in the oven for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, rotate the cake and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until the cake is a golden brown.

Remove the cake from the oven and cut along the original cut lines, if necessary (and it usually is).

The baked cake. I like it a little on the darker side. I think he flavor is better. Just take care not to let it burn on the bottom or sides.

The baked cake. I like it a little on the darker side. I think he flavor is better. Just take care not to let it burn on the bottom or sides.  As you can see, I had to cut the pieces again along the original cut lines.

8.  Pour the qatr over the cake and let it soak in (trust me, it does).  When the cake warm to room temperature, it’s ready to eat.

Pouring over the qatr. Do this as evenly as possible so the whole cake gets an even soaking.

Pouring over the qatr. Do this as evenly as possible so the whole cake gets an even soaking.

Yes, please.

Yes, please.

 

 

Baking Soda & Baking Powder. A Primer. 1

Posted on February 22, 2012 by Sahar

A friend asked me over the weekend if I knew the real difference between baking soda and baking powder.  I replied that it was a very good question.  I know that they both react with liquid, acid, and heat to cause whatever baked goods they’re in to rise.  I also know that if you use too much baking soda in a recipe, your food will taste like soap.

But beyond that, I must admit, I never gave the difference much thought.

Well, now I have and I’ll share the answers to this question.

As always, I have turned to one of my all-time favorite books on baking, In The Sweet Kitchen, by Regan Daley (Artisan Books, 2001).  If you don’t own this book and you enjoy or even simply interested in baking and making desserts, then, by all means,  buy a copy.  The first half of the book talks about method, ingredients, equipment, method, and technique.  The second half is all about recipes.  And they are wonderful.

All the following (paraphrased) information is from Ms. Daley’s book (pp. 194-7).

Baking Powder & Baking Soda

 

Baking powder and baking soda are what are known as “chemical leaveners”.  These are used when the recipe isn’t suitable for a natural leavener (i.e. yeast) or mechanical methods (i.e. creaming, beating or whipping).  Chemical leaveners (when fresh) also provide a much more reliable method of leavening.  Many recipes with chemical leaveners also use some form of mechanical leavening, to ensure a lighter, more tender result.

Baking Soda: Baking soda is commonly used as a leavener in baked goods such as cakes, quick breads, and cookies.  It has no leavening power on its own and must be activated by the presence of acid and liquid.  These elements together help the baking soda release carbon dioxide in the form of air bubbles which helps the baked goods to rise.

Acids with the power to activate baking soda include cream of tartar, buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream, molasses, dark brown sugar, maple syrup, citrus juices, or even non-alkalized cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed).  In some cases, although there is a moderately acidic ingredient in a recipe, it may not be acidic enough or a large enough quantity to provide the necessary leavening.  Honey, light brown sugar, and cocoa may sometimes fall into this category.  If this is the case, then baking powder is added to the recipe as well to provide the necessary leavening.

Baking soda releases carbon dioxide quickly once it is mixed with a liquid in the presence of an acid.  So, be sure that the baking soda is mixed thoroughly with the dry ingredients before the liquid is added, pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake immediately.  If too much time elapses, the carbon dioxide will dissipate and your recipe may not rise fully at all or not at all.

If you replace a non- or low- acid ingredient for an acidic ingredient in a recipe, you must replace introduce another acid (i.e. lemon juice or vinegar in sweet milk) or add baking powder to the recipe to achieve leavening.

A secondary function of baking soda is to neutralize acidic ingredients.  For this reason it is sometimes used in recipes with a high proportion if ingredients like buttermilk, lemon juice, or other sour flavors. If you replace sugar with a large amount of an acidic sweetener, such as honey, molasses, or barley syrup, add an additional 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda to the recipe, even if it is the principal leavener.

The substitution ratio for baking soda to baking powder is 1:4.  This means, for every 1 teaspoon of baking soda substituted, you use 4 teaspoons baking powder.  However, baking powder will not neutralize the acidic flavor of some ingredients.  So, the final product may taste more acidic than you like.

Baking soda will last 9 to 12 months when properly stored in a cool, dry place and in an airtight container (especially if you’re going to use it for baking).  To test the potency of baking soda, combine equal quantities of soda and vinegar.  If it bubbles vigorously, it’s good.

Be sure not to use the baking soda you use to neutralize the odors in your refrigerator or freezer.  Since baking soda absorbs odors, it could be a rather rude surprise.

Testing the baking soda. Equal parts baking soda & lemon juice

 

Baking Powder:  Baking powder was originally a mix of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), a moisture absorbing starch (usually cornstarch),  and tartaric acid (cream of tartar).  When introduced to liquid, the mixture releases carbon dioxide that produces air bubbles which leaven your baked goods.  However this mixture, called “single action” baking powder, releases its carbon dioxide as soon as it is mixed with liquid.  Unless you move quickly, the baking powder will lose its potency and your recipe won’t rise properly or at all.

Almost all commercially available baking powder now is called “double acting”.  This means that the baking powder reacts both with liquid and the heat of the oven. This type of baking powder gives the baker a little more time without compromising the finished product.  However, it is still best to get the recipe in the oven as quickly as possible.

The tartaric acid in the original baking powder has been replaced with two different acid salts; most commonly monocalcium phosphate and sodium aluminum sulphate.  However, adding aluminum to baking soda is controversial.  it is best thought to be avoided as a foodstuff and some people feel that recipes that use large amounts of baking powder, like biscuits, can have a metallic taste.  Additionally, there are some who cannot tolerate any amount of sulphates.  Many bakers also feel commercial baking powders don’t produce as delicate a product.  You can find in some health-food and specialty stores aluminum-free (or non-alum) baking powder.  However, it tends to be expensive and doesn’t keep well.  But, many bakers prefer it.

Ms. Daley has a recipe for a make it yourself at home baking powder: for every teaspoon of baking powder called for in a recipe, combine 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar, and 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch.  Blend well and use immediately.  It loses potency with prolonged storage.

 

Ingredients for homemade baking powder. Many serious bakers prefer homemade baking powder to the commercial brands.

testing the homemade baking powder. Equal parts powder mix and warm water.

 

Baking powder, when stored properly, will last up to a year.  Keep it in a cool, dry place.  To test the potency of baking powder, place 1/2 teaspoon in a small amount of warm water.  If it fizzes and bubbles away, it’s good.

Testing the commercial baking powder. Equal parts baking powder and warm water.

 

Hope this helps.  Happy baking!

 



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