Friday, March 29, 2013

Hobz tal-Malti (Maltese Bread)

Yes, you can make this at home using a regular oven!

Step 1 - Preparing the starter

This is what the starter dough should look like

100g Plain Flour*
12g Gluten *
Pinch of Yeast
100ml tepid water

Mix flour and gluten together, add pinch of dried yeast, add water and work into a very sticky dough with a spoon. Cover with cling film and let rise for 6+ hours. No salt at this stage.

Step 2 - Feeding the starter

Starter dough after 6+hrs 
100ml tepid water, 
100g of flour 
12g of gluten.

 Mix flour and gluten together. In the same bowl that has the starter, add the 100ml water and dissolve lightly but not completely. Add the flour and mix everything together into a a very sticky dough. No salt at this stage! Cover and let rise again for 6+ hours.

Step 3 - Making the bread

Step 2 Starter after 6+hrs 
400g plain flour
48g gluten
7g instant yeast
300ml tepid water
1-2 tsp salt 

Take 1/2 of the dough from step two and put it in a large mixing bowl. Wrap the other 1/2 in cling film or an air tight plastic bag and store in the fridge for your next baking session! This will eliminate steps 1 and 2 next time you want to bake this bread again.

Mix the instant yeast in the 300ml tepid water and let it foam for a good 5-10 minutes. Add the flour (mixed with the gluten, very important to mix the flours beforehand) and salt to the mixing bowl with the 1/2 step 2 dough and add the water with yeast. Work into a dough, knead on a surface for a good 10 minutes until you have a nice elastic dough. Cover the bowl and let rise for about 3 hours.

During these 3 hours, you need to fold the dough twice. Fold the dough after the first hour (you should fold it 4-5 times each fold, if that makes sense :-P) and then again after the second hour. You can view this youtube video a instructions of how to fold the dough. It is important to just fold the dough and not knead the dough.

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 450 Fahrenheit. If you have a pizza stone, the result will be much better. If not you can bake the bread on a floured baking sheet, but I cannot stress enough the importance of investing in a pizza stone if you intend to bake this bread! 

After 3 hours and 2 folds, the dough should have doubled in sized. Place on a floured surface and gently shape into a ball, pressing the sides with the palm of your hands. Again, do not knead the dough as you would destroy the air bubbles that have been created with the folding process.

If you are looking to make Ftira, please click here.

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Initially dough should be very sticky
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Covered in cling film and wet kitchen paper
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Final proof

Dust well with flour. Cover and let it prove for another 45 minutes. Before popping in the oven, add more flour to the surface or just flip the dough upside down (as the bottom will be uneven therefore more flour sticks to it), dust with more flour on top and pop on the pizza stone. Bake for a good 50 minutes if making one loaf. If you are splitting the dough to make two loaves, bake them together for 35 minutes.

Enjoy the bread! 

*High Gluten Flour - Bread flour in the US has only 4% of protein which is not enough for this kind of bread. I usually buy Bob's Red Mill Gluten Flour and add 12grms of this to a 100grms of plain flour. If you manage to find bread flour with at least 12% of gluten content then you don't need this. Do not add more than 12grms per 100g of flour otherwise the bread will turn out into a rubbery spongy texture.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Ottijiet tal-gunglien (Sesame Dunkers)


8oz plain flour
8oz self-raising flour
½ tsp baking powder
9oz butter or margarine
4-5oz confectionary sugar 
Zest of an orange and lemon
1 tsp toasted aniseed
1 egg, beaten
Juice of an orange
Milk and Sesame seeds to decorate with


Put the flour, baking powder, butter and icing sugar in a bowl and mix using the rub-in method until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Throw in the orange and lemon zest, toasted aniseed, eggs and orange juice and form a dough.

On a floured surface, cut dough into walnut-sized pieces. Roll out in the shape of a pencil and form the "8" shape. Press ends together well.

Dip the figure of 8 in milk and then put it in a plate with sesame seeds to coat the top of the cookie.

Place on a greased and wax paper lined baking sheet and bake in a 390 degree Fahrenheit oven until golden brown.

The cookies might still be a bit soft after cooking. Its important to let them cool well as this process will make them crunchier. Do not store them while they are still hot, they need to be completely cold before storing in an airtight container.

These cookies are extremely popular in Malta. Nearly every household is always stocked with a bag or two of these cookies. It is customary to offer something sweet with coffee or tea when you have visitors and these make a great treat and are the best tea/coffee dunkers out there! 

Sfineg tal-Incova

Sfineg tal-Incova (Deep fried anchovy balls)


Pizza Dough
Anchovy Fillets

There are several ways to prepare sfineg. These are traditionally sold during lent in Malta, very simple yet very tasty. Traditionally, according to "Recipes from Malta" published in 1972, a batter made out of flour, baking powder and water was formed and set to rest for about an hour. Pieces of anchovies were then dipped in this thick batter and deep fried in fat.

A quicker version can be made using store-bought pizza dough (however much of the authenticity will be lost  because as you can see, the original recipe doesn't use any yeast in the batter).

Using store bought pizza dough you can roll u walnut sized balls, stuff a piece of anchovy in side and deep fry.

Alternatively, if you are making home made pizza dough, you can go ahead and knead in pieces of anchovies in the dough and just fry it like that.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Torta tal-Gamm (Mom's quick strawberry jam pie)


Left over figolli dough
Strawberry Jam


I do not know whether this is an authentic Maltese pie, but my mom always used to make it when she had left over dough from figolli. Therefore for me personally it is as authentic as it gets and it was only right to include it in this blog. It is super simple and a delicious treat to have with tea or coffee!

Gather the left over dough and roll into a ball. Roll out and place dough in a pie dish. Trim the edges. Put a thin layer of strawberry jam. Roll out left over pieces and cut into 1cm strips and form a trellis. Bake in a 350 oven until crust is golden brown. 

Easter Figolli

Easter Figolli

Ingredients for the dough

1lb 12oz plain flour
4oz self-rising flour
15 oz sugar
15 oz margarine
Zest and Juice of a Lemon
1/2 tbs Vanilla essence
Pinch of Salt
Water to bind
4 egg yolks (save the whites for the filling)

Ingredients for the filling

1lb Almond Meal
1lb Sugar
4 egg whites (slightly beaten)
1tbs Almond Essence


Mix the flours and salt together and add margarine using the rub-in method until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and the lemon zest and mix in. Add the yolks. lemon juice and vanilla essence and add water accordingly until you have a pliable dough. Do not knead or overwork the dough, it is a very delicate dough.

I find it easier to split the dough into 4 equal sized balls. The less you work this dough the better. Wrap up in cling film and chill in refrigerator. You can prepare the dough the night before or even a couple of days before, it keeps well in the fridge.

Preparing the filling

Beat the egg whites slightly for about a minute or so. Add the almond essence, almond meal and sugar and mix until you have a paste. You might need to add a dash of water or milk. Mixture should not be too dry but it shouldn't be runny either. It should be sticky to the touch but firm enough to retain its shape.

There are different variations of Almond meal which is called "Intrita" in Malta. A less expensive version can be found in Malta which is made of blanched peanuts flavored with almond essence. "Intrita pura" is self-explanatory, it is pure ground almonds. In the US it can easily be bought from Trader Joe's. It has a nice texture as it also contains the skin of the almonds which gives it an earthy organic texture. Alternatively, if you do not have a Trader Joe's close by, you can purchase Red Bob's Mill Almond Flour, which is a finer grind of almonds without skins. Otherwise if you have a Greek supermarket close by, you can easily find ground almonds by the pound. 

Making the Figolli

In Malta, figolli cutters are easily available for purchase. They are like giant cookie cutters which unfortunately cannot be easily found in the US. But fear not, you do not need these special cutters to proceed. You can draw whichever shape you like on a piece of paper, cut it out and then put it on the dough and cut around it with a knife. Traditionally, the shapes of figolli in Malta are Mermaid, Lamb, Heart, Butterfly, Guitar and "Qoffa" (wicker basket). I have scanned 4 shapes that I made today (forgive my failure at artistic drawing!) and they can be accessed here. Just print them out and you're good to go! 

Take the dough out of the refrigerator and let it set to room temperature. If you are working in a warmer environment, you might need to take out one portion of the dough at a time as if the dough gets too warm it would be impossible to work with. On a floured surface, roll out the dough. Previously I had mentioned that I split the dough in 4 equal sized balls. This is done so as to avoid overworking this delicate dough. Cut two identical shapes. Spread (or pipe) a thick layer of the almond filling, about 1/3 of an inch (1cm) leaving about 1/3 of an inch (1cm) space around the edges. Brush some milk around the edges and cover with the other identical shape, slightly pressing the edges to ensure they are sealed well. 

Bake in a 350 (Fahrenheit) preheated oven for about 30 minutes. Take them out of the oven and let them cool on the baking tray (do not try moving them to a cooling wire rack when they are still warm or else they will break). After completely cool, they will firm up and they can be transferred to a cooling rack to cool off properly.

Decorate with royal icing or chocolate or whatever takes your fancy really. Some people prefer them plain without any icing or chocolate! Traditionally, Easter Eggs are decorated with royal icing and a chocolate Easter egg wrapped in colorful foil is placed in the center of the figolla. If you are feeling particularly artsy, you can use fondant to decorate with. 

This is a recipe which I have worked on for so many years. I must have around 7-9 variations of figolli recipes. The original figolla recipe uses only plain flour and uses orange blossom water in the filling, but many people find the taste of the orange water to be too overwhelming. However, if you want to stick to the authentic version, use only plain flour (will result in a crunchier figolla), omit the vanilla essence and add a dash of orange blossom water to the Almond filling. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Qassatat tal-ispinaci u ncova (Anchovy and Spinach Pies)

Ingredients (Dough)
1 lb (454g) plain flour
6 oz (170g) shortening or margarine
1tsp salt
Water to bind 

Ingredients (filling)
1 package frozen spinach (or fresh)
1 can anchovies
10 large pitted olives
14oz (400grams) canned peas
(optional capers and garlic)


Using the rub-in method, combine flour and shortening and salt until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. You can speed up this processed by putting everything in a food processor. Add cold water to bind until you have a soft pliable dough. Wrap in cling-film and put in refrigerator to chill. 

In a skillet, fry the onion until translucent. Add the spinach and cook until tender. Throw in the anchovies, sliced olives and canned peas and mash everything up until you end up with a mushy texture. Take off the heat and chill.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough and cut rounds of dough around 4" inches in diameter. Glaze the inside with beaten eggs, put a spoonful of filling in the center and gather the dough up towards the center making pleats as you go along. This might take some practice as it is somewhat tricky. Hold the pie in one hand while pressing on the filling with the other hand bringing the pleated edges closer (they will open up in the oven). Glaze with egg wash and bake in a 400 degree oven until golden brown.

This kind of Qassatat is particularly associated with Lent in Malta even though nowadays they are sold year round.  The tradition is to attend a Good Friday Procession (one in almost each town in Malta) and while you're out you treat yourself to a couple of these pies while observing the no-meat tradition on such a day. However, these pies are so good that one hardly considers it a sacrifice to consume these instead of meat! 

Forom tal-Figolli (Figolli Shapes)