Fennel tortas and lemon pot de crème
Many of us have eaten them. Either in Spain, or when we have lashed out and bought a packet of Inés Rosales tortas, individually wrapped in their instantly recognisable white and blue paper. There is something about tradition and the sense of handmade that gets me every time. Especially when you know that it is not a cute marketing ploy to suck in consumers.
These olive oil tortas have been around in Seville for generations. They are a curious mix of sweet, savoury and salty. Hard to pigeonhole. More-ish to eat. Traditionally they are a breakfast biscuit to eat with coffee, or used to dip into another Spanish classic, the crema Catalana. The tortas need to be handmade to achieve the best results. The dough is a yeast dough that doesn’t go through any proving time, an unusual procedure in itself. Once divided, the dough is formed into balls and then flattened. The women at the Inés Rosales factory, known as labradoras, sit in neat rows flattening the balls of dough in the palm of their hands with a curious technique. Try as I might, I cannot get the action right to achieve this, so I suggest flattening them on a bench, but using your hands, not a rolling pin. The rolling pin gives a different result that doesn’t seem as nice.
It’s really important to get them as thin as possible. Once they go into the oven, be very alert as they can turn quickly from nearly cooked to burnt if you are not vigilant. And let them cool down as they need to be completely cold to attain their delicious crispness. Here I have paired them not with crema Catalana, but with its French cousin, a pot de crème. I love the combination of the sweet/savoury notes of the torta with the acid and creaminess of the custard.
I am sure you will start to find more uses for this Sevillian treasure – triple cream cheeses, serrano ham, the list could go on and on.
- 2 cups plain or 00 flour
- 2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp instant yeast
- 3 tbsp raw sugar
- ⅔ cup blood-temperature water
- ½ cup good olive oil, plus a little extra for oiling the trays
- 1 egg white
- castor sugar and raw sugar for dusting
- Preheat the oven to 230ºC.
- Combine the flour, fennel and salt in a bowl.
- Combine the yeast and the sugar, then pour on the water. Whisk and let sit for five minutes to activate the yeast. Add the olive oil.
- Pour the liquids onto the dry ingredients and mix for three to five minutes. I do this in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Remove the dough from the bowl and give it a little knead. Divide the dough into 15 pieces and roll each into a ball.
- Oil a heavy baking tray and sprinkle with a little castor sugar.
- With the palm of your hand, start to flatten out a ball of dough on a bench. Keep pushing it out until you have a disc about 10 centimetres across. It should look quite translucent.
- Carefully lift and place on the tray. Repeat the process until the tray is full. Whisk the egg white until frothy, and brush each torta, then sprinkle with a little castor sugar and a little raw sugar.
- Place in oven and bake for six to 10 minutes. They need to be brown and lightly caramelised, but be watchful, as they can burn in a blink of an eye.
- Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for a few minutes until they become crisp. Repeat until you have cooked all the tortas.
Lemon pot de crème
- 400ml cream
- 100g sugar
- 2 lemons
- 4 egg yolks
- Preheat the oven to 145ºC. Bring a pot of water to the boil for the water bath.
- Combine the cream and 75 grams of the sugar in a saucepan.
- Zest and juice the lemons. Add the zest to the cream. Place the juice in a small saucepan with the remaining 25 grams of sugar.
- Bring the cream to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Bring the lemon juice to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and reduce the liquid by half until it is quite syrupy.
- Place the yolks in a large bowl and pour the cream mixture over them while whisking, then whisk in the lemon syrup. Strain the mixture into a jug.
- Pour into ramekins and place the ramekins in a baking dish lined with an old tea towel to stop them clattering. Pour boiling water into the baking dish so it comes three-quarters up the dishes. Cover with foil and place carefully in oven.
- Cook for 18 to 20 minutes or until just set with a little wobble. Remove from oven and refrigerate. These are delicious served with pure cream.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 24, 2018 as "Not without my torta".
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