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mktye
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The cakes are for an International Officers' Wives' Club luncheon -- every month a couple of different countries host (this month is Jordan and Norway) and a number of the members help with the cooking (~125 members attend the luncheons). For the people who will be doing the cooking, there is a tasting about a week before where the ladies from the host countries provide the dishes prepared how they like to cook them and explain their recipes. Then the cooks are assigned recipes and quantities and have at it.

So the recipe I am making is a little vague because at least a few things have been lost in translation (it also calls for the cakes to be baked at 180 F and corn "flour"). But that is the part I like -- to "make it work" and the challenge of recreating the original dish as closely as possible.

The recipe as written:

Cake:

3 eggs

½ cup corn oil

½ cup white sugar

¼ cup milk

1 cup plain yogurt

½ cup white flour

1½ cup corn flour

1 cup coconut powder

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 teaspoons baking powder

In a mixing bowl, mix corn flour, flour, baking powder, vanilla and coconut powder. In a separate mixing bowl, mix eggs, sugar, milk, oil and yogurt. Then combine the ingredients of the first bowl with the second. Bake in an 11x8 pan in oven set at 180 degrees Fahrenheit for 30-45 minutes or until brown.

Cake Topping:

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

Mix water and sugar together in a pan on the stove. Bring to a boil and continuously stir until mixture is slightly thick. Pour on top of cooled cake.

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Recipe as made:

Cake:

3 eggs

½ cup mild-flavored oil

½ cup white sugar

¼ cup milk

1 cup plain yogurt

2 teaspoons vanilla (another option is to flavor with rosewater)

½ cup bleached, all-purpose flour

1½ cup semolina (or white, degerminated, corn meal, such as Quaker brand)

1 cup unsweetened, dried coconut

2 teaspoons baking powder

In a mixing bowl, mix semolina, flour, baking powder and coconut. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, milk, oil, yogurt and vanilla. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Bake in an 9"x9" pan in oven set at 325 degrees 25-35 minutes or until lightly browned.

Cake Topping:

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

Mix water and sugar together in a sauce pan, bring to a boil and boil 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until mixture is slightly thick. Pour hot syrup on top of cooled cake.

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I just re-read the posts a little more closely. The powdered coconut that I described is like the texture of almond flour. not powdered coconut cream, as V.H. described. It's basically finely ground unsweetened coconut and is excellent for baking -- I use it to make coconut dacquoise and in cookies.
Thanks! I may pick up some of that also because my friend who was with me at the tasting said she thought she detected a piece of coconut in her serving of cake.

I'll probably end up trying both. Luckily, rwtye's coworkers are always happy to help us take care of leftover baking tests. :(

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Thanks! I may pick up some of that also because my friend who was with me at the tasting said she thought she detected a piece of coconut in her serving of cake.

I'll probably end up trying both. Luckily, rwtye's coworkers are always happy to help us take care of leftover baking tests. :(

I can think of a lot of people, not just rwtye's coworkers, who are always happy to help you take care of leftover baking tests!!! :(

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Thanks, V.H. (especially for the in-store directions!).

It sounds like what I need...

The cakes are for an International Officers' Wives' Club luncheon -- every month a couple of different countries host (this month is Jordan and Norway) and a number of the members help with the cooking (~125 members attend the luncheons). For the people who will be doing the cooking, there is a tasting about a week before where the ladies from the host countries provide the dishes prepared how they like to cook them and explain their recipes. Then the cooks are assigned recipes and quantities and have at it.

So the recipe I am making is a little vague because at least a few things have been lost in translation (it also calls for the cakes to be baked at 180 F and corn "flour"). But that is the part I like -- to "make it work" and the challenge of recreating the original dish as closely as possible.

yum! That sounds like a fantastic way to spend an afternoon.

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I have a sack of Bob's Red Mill Organic Coconut Flour in my pantry. According to the label: "It lends baked goods an incomparably rich texture and a unique natural sweetness." I haven't used any of it, and I have had it for a few months. I'm embarrassed to say that I can't recall exactly where I got it--I think it may have been at P Street Whole Foods. It was one of those--"Ooh, that looks interesting!" purchases. But it sounds like this may be what you have been looking for. I'd be interested in the cake recipe you are working on.

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Now I need to decide on american-style yogurt vs. greek-style yogurt and white corn meal vs. semolina (which I also picked up at Grand Mart). Although the recipe says "corn flour" (which was determined at the tasting to be corn meal), I know that semolina is what is traditional so I am leaning toward using that in the initial (and hopefully only) test cake.

yum! That sounds like a fantastic way to spend an afternoon.
This is the first year I've been a member and it has been fun. :(
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It was one of those--"Ooh, that looks interesting!" purchases. But it sounds like this may be what you have been looking for. I'd be interested in the cake recipe you are working on.
Glad to hear that I'm not the only one who buys obscure ingredients and then finds a use for them. :(

(I posted the recipe, as written, up at the top of the thread to try to make this thread have a little more logical flow. :( )

Obviously, you don't want to bake the cake at 180 degrees F. Converted from C to F, it is 356 degrees, but in baking a test cake yesterday, I'll drop it down to 325 next time.

I made yesterday's cake with greek-style yogurt and semolina. I boiled the syrup for 15 minutes (I read that in another Haresa recipe I found online) and poured it on (as directed), but it did not soak the top half of the cake well enough. I plan on spooning it on next time to see if that will help.

Overall, it is definitely a cake that I'll make again. It is very subtle in flavor, and while sweet, is not too rich. I'll probably make another cake this weekend with american-style yogurt and cornmeal to see if there is any noticeable difference and then post a final, corrected version of the recipe.

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So I made another test cake yesterday using american-style yogurt and white cornmeal. The change in yogurt really made no difference other than adding ~5 minutes to the baking time. Spooning the cooked syrup over the cake, instead of pouring it on all at once, may have helped a little in distributing the syrup throughout the cake, but I think time is what helps most with that. However, using cornmeal instead of semolina, well... that is a different story.

I used Indian Head stone-ground white cornmeal which is my usual go-to brand because it has a lot more flavor than Quaker and other national brands of cornmeal. But that may have not been a good thing since the cake ended up tasting like a sweet cornbread. The coconut flavor was pretty much lost under all the corniness.

So my dilemma: Do I make the cakes for the luncheon using the semolina which results in a more traditional-tasting cake (and a cake with coconut being the dominant flavor like the one at the official tasting). Or do I make it as written in the recipe because everyone else at the luncheon will be receiving a recipe that calls for corn meal? Hmmm.

(I've also put that question to TPTB at the IOWC, so the decision will probably not really be up to me.)

I did briefly think of buying less-flavorful cornmeal and trying a third test-cake, but that is getting ridiculous, even by my standards. :( And then there is that box of white grits teasing me from my cupboard... would that possibly make a good and readily-available substitute for semolina? :blink:

Cake pics:

post-24-1200322440_thumb.jpg

Semolina version on the right, cornmeal version on the left (note how the syrup has equilibrated with time throughout the semolina version, it was not like that initially).

BTW -- One of the other ladies (Hi Amber! :o ) from the IOWC called me last night to ask me how my first test cake had turned out. She'd also been looking for more information, googled "haresa" and ended up here. :(

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Interesting, MK. I would go w the better-tasting cake, i.e. semolina which you say allows the coconut to taste like coconut and perhaps bring a copy of your modified recipe along, or simply, explain adjustments and reasons.

FWIW, I've made a cornbread from one of Wolfert's cookbooks that calls for ricotta, club soda and farina, as in Cream of Wheat, that resulted in a very fluffy texture.

Of course, using grits would evoke Italian cakes made with polenta. Reminds me of Peter Reinhart's unorthodox recipe for cornbread in which he asks you to soak coarse-grained cornmeal (i.e. polenta or what WFM now sells as grits) overnight, room temperature, in buttermilk. Texture is amazing!!! Since yogurt and buttermilk are interchangeable in recipes...

I would just poke more holes in the surface of the just-baked cake to pour in the warm syrup. Maybe increase amount of syrup, too, just a bit. Why not add a little orange blossom water, too?

ETA: After googling to see if latter suggestion was at all keeping w tradition, I found a recipe that calls for lemon in syrup poured cold, onto warm cake. No cornmeal. Cut into diamonds and sprinkled w pistachio crumbs: Recipezaar (as linked via Jordo Media's list of dishes and recipes). Cf. feedback from Little Tomato to the right of the recipe where s/he provides an alternative name for the eid-cake and calls rosewater a traditional flavor.

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FWIW, I've made a cornbread from one of Wolfert's cookbooks that calls for ricotta, club soda and farina, as in Cream of Wheat, that resulted in a very fluffy texture.
Isn't farina pretty much the same as semolina? Possibly just a slight difference in the size of the grind?
Of course, using grits would evoke Italian cakes made with polenta. Reminds me of Peter Reinhart's unorthodox recipe for cornbread in which he asks you to soak coarse-grained cornmeal (i.e. polenta or what WFM now sells as grits) overnight, room temperature, in buttermilk. Texture is amazing!!! Since yogurt and buttermilk are interchangeable in recipes...
This brings to mind something I was just thinking about -- besides the fact of all the recipes using semolina in this cake, why am I so sure that something corn-based is not considered a traditional ingredient in Jordan? Most people would say corn-based polenta is a traditional Italian food, but it was not introduced to Italy until the 1500s. Yeah, defining "traditional" is the sticking point, but it is certainly something fun to ponder while folding the laundry. :(

And as far as differences between polenta and grits... we've had that discussion before: click.

I would just poke more holes in the surface of the just-baked cake to pour in the warm syrup. Maybe increase amount of syrup, too, just a bit. Why not add a little orange blossom water, too?

ETA: After googling to see if latter suggestion was at all keeping w tradition, I found a recipe that calls for lemon in syrup poured cold, onto warm cake. No cornmeal. Cut into diamonds and sprinkled w pistachio crumbs: Recipezaar (as linked via Jordo Media's list of dishes and recipes). Cf. feedback from Little Tomato to the right of the recipe where s/he provides an alternative name for the eid-cake and calls rosewater a traditional flavor.

It is also interesting you bring up the vanilla. In the original recipe I was given, it says to mix in the vanilla with the dry ingredients. That did not make much sense, but then it dawned on me that Masha'el, who provided the recipe, is Muslim and would most likely use powdered vanilla instead of a liquid vanilla extract that contains alcohol.

Although the tweaks sound good (the use of honey and lemon in desserts always appeals to the Greek part of me), I think I will stick with the vanilla for the cakes for the luncheon because there was no lemon, rosewater or anything like that in the cake provided by Masha'el at the tasting and I'd really like to try to replicate her version as closely as possible. :(

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Although the tweaks sound good (the use of honey and lemon in desserts always appeals to the Greek part of me), I think I will stick with the vanilla for the cakes for the luncheon because there was no lemon, rosewater or anything like that in the cake provided by Masha'el at the tasting and I'd really like to try to replicate her version as closely as possible. :(
I must have skimmed over the requirement to replicate a cake you've all sampled.

As for what I said about cornmeal, how one views tradition is determined by how one defines tradition, of course. And my knowledge of Middle-Eastern food is slight. However, as someone who's been in the thick of arguments regarding what's new and old in Italian cooking elsewhere, my criterion would include not only the factor of time (hundreds of years), but dissemination, and a range of uses that suggests the ingredient has become intrinsic to the culture that appropriates it. In other words, the foreign element has become native and familiar.

You don't see a whole lot of Italians from any region slathering butter on ears of steamed corn. However, cornmeal has long found a place in homes both north and south. Italians grow corn themselves. They make porridges out of it (i.e. a staple of Ancient Rome before bread), cookies, cakes. They thicken soups with it in Liguria. Make dumplings...

Jordanians and cornmeal? I don't know. I wonder if your recipe is an ingenious solution to a lack of semolina in a family member's new home in the United States (i.e., diaspara cooking; hybrid).

Or perhaps there are long-rooted traditions in the Middle East proper that evolved because ground corn was readily adaptable to established cuisine? In a quick search, I found this this NYT article in which NHJ says corn is a crop in ME & African and cornmeal used, but not familiar to us since its role is in humbler, filling meals as opposed to the stuff of cookbooks. I'd be curious to learn what Masha'el says.

* * *

Semolina/Farina: Don't know, but I assumed so, since the stuff I had for breakfast is not what I'd add, raw, to dough for yeast-bread or pasta. Do you have a local source for a finer grade?

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As for what I said about cornmeal, how one views tradition is determined by how one defines tradition, of course. And my knowledge of Middle-Eastern food is slight. However, as someone who's been in the thick of arguments regarding what's new and old in Italian cooking elsewhere, my criterion would include not only the factor of time (hundreds of years), but dissemination, and a range of uses that suggests the ingredient has become intrinsic to the culture that appropriates it. In other words, the foreign element has become native and familiar.

You don't see a whole lot of Italians from any region slathering butter on ears of steamed corn. However, cornmeal has long found a place in homes both north and south. Italians grow corn themselves. They make porridges out of it (i.e. a staple of Ancient Rome before bread), cookies, cakes. They thicken soups with it in Liguria. Make dumplings...

Jordanians and cornmeal? I don't know. I wonder if your recipe is an ingenious solution to a lack of semolina in a family member's new home in the United States (i.e., diaspara cooking; hybrid).

Or perhaps there are long-rooted traditions in the Middle East proper that evolved because ground corn was readily adaptable to established cuisine? In a quick search, I found this this NYT article in which NHJ says corn is a crop in ME & African and cornmeal used, but not familiar to us since its role is in humbler, filling meals as opposed to the stuff of cookbooks. I'd be curious to learn what Masha'el says.

As am I. :( I hope to be able to have a chance to talk with her at the luncheon tomorrow, but as one of the official hosts, she'll be pretty busy.

Thanks for sharing your views. Such arguments are fascinating, but, unfortunately, I don't usually have the time to really delve into them. Your point about if something has widely disseminated is very good and one I'll remember the next time I find myself pondering such things.

For this cake, I still strongly feel that semolina is the traditional ingredient because so many recipes call for it. Alas, I won't be using it in the cakes for the luncheon. I got word yesterday to use cornmeal. So I am off to the commissary this morning to buy some less-flavorful Quaker white cornmeal and hope for the best.

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For those still following along at home... I made the cakes for the luncheon using Quaker white, degerminated, corn meal. And they tasted pretty much exactly like the cake made with the semolina. In other words, the coconut flavor was the star. I think getting machine-processed cornmeal without the germ was the key -- it is rather tasteless. :(

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