In just less than two weeks time I’ll turn forty.
I don’t like parties very much, either going to them and even less hosting them. It’s too much pressure and, cynical and miserable as it might seem, I get tired of having the same conversations about what I do for a living with strangers who I’m unlikely to meet again.
But I wanted to mark the occasion somehow, so instead I’m having a family party, which is so much nicer. Everyone knows each other, everyone likes each other, and there’s none of that nauseating small talk. Big family though, extended, so that’s parents, brother, cousins, aunt and uncle and relatives from Canada even, oh and the one non-family concession of Matt and his kindred (who are as close as family anyway). And as it’s not a massive do, though there’ll be thirty heads including children, I plan soley (with the help of my family of course) to cater generously and have instructed my guests to arrive hungry.
I’m planing the menu. This summer we’re taking a road trip to Spain, with Matt and his family again. Last year I bought a giant paella pan from the car boot sale, and the pan’s purchase, along with our pending summer jaunt has inspired me to veer in that culinary direction, not so much themed as inspired by the food of Spain (though probably lilting towards Italy and North Africa a bit too). But I’m imagining how great the pan will look actually full of Paella, and licking my lips at the thought of roast pork belly, chorizo stew, manchego and membrillo, the list goes on.
Last time we were at Borough Market we bought from Brindisa, the magnificent Spanish food shop there, some Torta De Aceite – the delicate thin olive oil biscuits studded with anise seeds and sprinkled with granulated sugar. They often come individually wrapped in waxed paper with beautiful graphics on which you find yourself pinning to the noticeboard or tucking into a diary. I do anyway.
So, after much internet investigation I found a handful of recipes, and after further experiementation and family tasting sessions I’ve come up with an amalgamation of them which really works.
Torta De Aceite
3.5 oz Olive Oil
the peel of a lemon
2 tablespoons anise seeds
3.5 oz warm water
9 oz plain white flour
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon dried yeast
3 tablespoons sugar (plus more for sprinkling)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (plus more for sprinkling)
1 or 2 egg whites, beaten until frothy
sesame seeds (optional)
Set the oven to 175º
I placed the oil in a small pan along with the peel of the lemon (pared off in one long curly piece) and warmed it until the lemon started to brown. The lemon was removed, the pan taken off the heat and half the anise seeds added. This was left to cool.
The flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt were combined in a bowl, and the water and yeast were mixed together until the yeast dissolved. This was then added to the dry ingredients along with the oil and seed mixture and it was all combined to create a very oily and very soft dough. I left it to rest and rise a bit for thirty minutes or so.
I lined baking sheets with parchment and pinched walnut-sized balls of the dough which I placed onto the baking paper and pressed with my fingers to flatten into large and extremely thin disks – about 1mm thick, or thinner even in places. They didn’t expand any wider so could comfortably be butted up next to each other. The disks were brushed with the egg white, sprinkled with more anise seeds (or sesame seeds, but I liked the anise seeds better, and there’s something to be said for fewer ingredients where possible sometimes) and a little granulated sugar mixed with a little more cinnamon. Then baked for 12-15 minutes.
They’re ready when they’re brown on the edges and in a few patches on top. Take them out and cool them on a wire rack. You have to be careful though as the time difference betwen perfection and annoyingly over-baked seemed to be about 30 seconds, so watch them like a hawk (a hawk who’s been trained to make biscuits and to have the desire for them to turn out nicely).