Monday, June 05, 2006

Hiris and Harissa

HIRIS may seem aloof at first, cool and with a paper-like texture. It pairs two of the most dangerously anosmiac notes – orris and musk – and therefore it may not be as satisfying as it could be to some individuals. The first thing I noticed about Hiris is that it’s a really bad idea to try it on paper – even more than other perfumes. It smells like paper, and the scent becomes completely camouflaged on the scent stripe. The second thing I noticed was that when applied to my skin, it smelled surprisingly of cedar (and slightly green at that), and at the same time also very gourmand – like flour, or more accurately, certain Morrocan semolina cookie that my step-grandmother used to make (she called them “sweet patties” but I don’t know the real name and can’t find anything about it at the moment; I will need to find a good Moroccan recipe book next time I am in Israel). These cookies are only slightly sweetened with honey, and flavoured with coriander and a tinge of fennel. The spices strangely complement the interesting, sand-like gritty texture of the cookie, as the semolina crumbs don’t-quite-dissolve in your mouth while the butter and honey melt on your tongue… I love perfumes that smell gourmand but are not really sweet. I only wish this gourmand phase could have lasted longer in Hiris…

The initial introduction of flour and rice paper moves to the background faster than I would have liked it to be, and reveals a delicate scent of tiny blossoms – a delicate, almost fragile lily of the valley, in which the scent of the flower’s stems and leaves provide an underlining cool greenness such as of dew-laden flowers in early morning, when the scent is not at its peak yet. The result is so remote from lily of the valley that it is easily interpreted as the scent of white iris petals unfolding after the rain and releasing their scent surrounded by damp branches and dried stems which are found near a pond, where the iris rhizome develop their strange, watery-coolness and aloof powdery-earthiness.

The dry down (which arrives faster than expected), is musky with a hint of opoponax and slightly vanillic, which makes it warm and a lot more approachable than it may be expected. The only downside of this perfume for me is it’s unsatisfactory lasting power. I need to reapply almost every hour to be able to notice it’s there. But also let’s not forget that I want to remember biting into those cookies again, and again, and again…

Top notes: bergamot, mandarin, coriander, rosewood
Heart notes: orris, lily of the valley, jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose
Base notes: cedar, musk, vanilla

The pastries in the photo above are nothing like the "sweet patties" (which I could find no image of recipe of yet) in their barely-there sweetness and the interesting spices, but nevertheless are another favourite Middle Eastern semolina pastry which I love its flavour as well as texture - and happen to know how to make. It is called Harissa, of all things. Like many other Middle Easter pastires (i.e.: baklava), this pastry is baked without sugar, and is sweetened only after baking (and while still hot), by soaking it in Honey Syrup.
So here comes the recipe:

Sweet Semulina and Honey cake from the Middle East

For the Honey Syrup:

1 ½ cups Sugar
½ cup Water
1 Tbs. Lemon Juice
1 ½ Tbs. Rosewater (or Orange Flower Water)
75gr. Butter

- Boil the wataer, sugar and lemon juice until it thickens and covers a spoon. Remove from heat and melt in the butter. Add the rosewater. Set aside and cool down to room temprature.s

For the Dough:
2 ½ cups Semulina (aka Cream of Wheat – yes, the same one used as a breakfast cereal in the West, but be sure to not get the “healthy” variety, with the bran… It should be as white as sand in Hawaii)
1 cup finally shredded coconut (unsweetened)
½ cup all-purpose unbleached white flour
1 Tbs. pure vanilla extract
1 Tbs. baking powder
75 gr. Butter
1 ½ cup Buttermilk
Blanched almonds for decoration

- Preheat oven to 180 Celsius
- In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients (flour, semolina, coconut, and baking powder)
- Cut the (cold) butter into small pieces and add to the dry mixture
- Rub with your fingers until the little crumbs form
- Pour in the buttermilk and vanilla extract, and mix well until a dough forms
- Line a 9” round spring-pan with parchment paper, and press the dough evenly in the pan
- Cut the unbaked cake (before baking) into diagonal lines, to create diamond shapes
- Press one blanched almond onto each diamond
- Bake in the oven for 40 minutes (or until the edges of the cake turns gold)
- When the cake is still HOT, pour the cool syrup onto the cake, gradually – to allow all the syrup to soak in evenly and thoroughly

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At June 06, 2006 2:19 PM, Blogger katiedid said...

Oooh, that recipe! Back when my kids were still in preschool, one of the other playgroup moms used to make this to share with the rest of us parents. It's so, so, so sweet. Like, so sweet you have to take a break half way into each diamond, and then finish the cake later. So delicious though. I think she gave it another name, though... is there another name for it in Egyptian culture?

At June 07, 2006 6:31 PM, Blogger Ayala Moriel said...

I am glad to know that other Middle Eastern moms are sharing it around! I don't know the Egyptian name for it. The version I make though doesn't end up all that sweet, well, it is sweet, but not as sweet as baclava (which is so sweet to the point of burning my tongue!). I just love these cakes. They have as many variations as there are people who make them. I had a recipe that was flavoured with orange peel and had a layer in the middle of ground walnuts... Love that sandy texture of cream of wheat!

At June 08, 2006 6:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, so I was at a local Kosher market yesterday, getting some of their great dolmas and lemon pistacios (got some for you, but ate them all!) and asked if they had harissa. He runs to the refrigerator section and hands me the hot paste Harissa as is popular in North Africa. Had no idea what I was asking about. No complaints however, about the baklava there, and the BEST feta ever (from Bulgaria.)

I shall keep up the search for the harissa cake, which I remember older Kosher bakeries offering, but many of them have left the area or the owners died off.

At June 10, 2006 9:12 AM, Blogger Ayala Moriel said...

Anya, youare right - harissa is also a red paste from Morocco and Tunisia (maybe also Algere? I am not sure). It can be either hot/spicy or sweet. It is made primarily of peppers - sweet and hot, garlic, olive oil and spices (such as coriander and cumin). It is similar to the Yemenite Zehug, whic is also delicious. I like to use this in sandwiches - it works magnificently in avocado sandwiches, served fresh vegetables such as fennel, carrots and red bell pepper on the side (or sliced very thinly inside the sandwich).

Now, it's your turn to tell me more about the lemon pistachios I am missing!

At July 10, 2007 9:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...,7340,L-5541,00.html

At November 23, 2009 9:09 PM, Blogger Nereis said...
I have a feeling the semolina cookies you were referring to are mammouls, which luckily I can easily buy from Patisserie Royale in Toronto. Hope this might put an end to your ongoing cookie quest. :D


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