6:32 AM EST
Tortas de Aceite | Spanish Olive Oil Crisps
Europe is awesome because you can drink at 16 and show boobs on TV. They also take food very seriously, carefully defining the characteristics and regulating the manufacture of regional products. Long story short, I came across a document issued by the government of Andalucía detailing the qualities of an authentic Tortas de Aceite. Approximately the length of Don Quixote, the guidelines were at once detailed and vague. Concerning ingredients, their proper provenance and proportion are carefully spelled out. The color, smell, flavor and texture of the finished product are described in a pretty little table. But anything resembling a recipe or practical baking instructions is completely missing from the tome. The mere hints that do exist reflect semi-industrial production and don’t translate for the home cook. In conclusion, I’m glad I received a liberal arts degree in Spanish.
Why go through all the trouble to interpret this bureaucratic legislation? Europe takes food seriously because they respect authenticity. By creating standards and then enforcing them Big Brother actually does what it is supposed to do: preserve the integrity of locally made products that would otherwise not be protected from globalization and industrially manufactured food and drink. Also – have you even eaten Tortas de Aceite? Everything about them is amazing: their flakey texture, their aroma of anise and olive oil, their subtle sweetness, the way they pair so perfectly with coffee or tea (or a nice glass of Tempranillo). You can sometimes find boxes of individual tortas wrapped in parchment paper from the Sevilla, Spain-based company, Inés Rosales at upscale grocery stores. They are heavenly. They are also expensive. Consequently I decided to figure out how to make them at home. If I do say so myself: they are amazingly close to the real thing. Who I need to speak to in order to obtain La Marca “Calidad Certificada”?
First, a few notes (you can skip this if you just want to get to the recipe). The Spanish document calls for “azúcar invertida”, invert sugar syrup. Invert sugar is a mixture of glucose and fructose used in large scale bakeries to produce sweet, moist pastries. Invert sugar isn’t an industrial ingredient per se – you can easily make it yourself – but honey has a similar glucose/fructose profile so I used it instead.
Tortas de aceite contain sesame seeds. You taste them but never see them. So just grind them up, right? The heat from grinding any nut or seed will produce a butter. You don’t want that. Freeze your sesame seeds before grinding will result in a fine sesame powder – that’s what you want.
Anise. I love the flavor of anise, hate the texture of anise seeds. Like the sesame seeds, you only taste them in tortas de aceite, never see them. Grind the anise along with the sesame seed. Problem solved.
I had to experiment to figure out the secret behind the delicate sheen of sweetness found on Inés Rosales’ tortas de aceite. By brushing the tortas with a quick gloss of cold simple syrup – a solution of equal parts sugar and water – immediately before baking I managed to duplicate the effect.
Olive oil. It goes without saying that Spain makes some of the best olive oil in the world. These tortas are a celebration of olive oil. So use the good stuff.
• 660 g bread flour
• 10 g anise seed
• 10 g golden (lightly toasted) sesame seed, frozen
• 3 g salt
• 30 g honey
• 230 g water, lukewarm
• 13 g instant yeast (I use SAF Red instant yeast)
• 2 teaspoons anise seed flavor (I use Fontier brand organic anise flavor)
• 280 g extra virgin olive oil
• 1/2 cup simple syrup, cold
• Demerara (i.e., raw) sugar for dusting, approximately 1/4 cup
• Special equipment: pastry brush, parchment paper
Grind the frozen sesame seeds and anise seeds into a fine powder. Sift together the sesame/anise seed mixture, flour in a large bowl. Separately, whisk together the honey and warm water. Sprinkle the yeast over the honey water and let stand for 5 minutes. Add the yeasty honey water, anise seed flavor and olive oil to the flour and knead until a homogenized dough has formed. It should somewhat resemble cookie dough. Cover the bowl (not completely airtight) and let stand until dough has doubled, about 30 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 375° and place racks in the center. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Deflate the dough once it has doubled in size. Pinch off a fat piece about the size of your thumb and roll it into a ball between your hands. Roll it out into a very thin circle (about the size of a Mexican tortilla and just a wee bit thinner). Note that there is no need to flour your work surface. In other words, don’t flour your work surface.
Transfer the torta to the baking sheet, brush with simple syrup and sprinkle with sugar. Repeat the shaping process until the baking sheets are filled and bake for 10-15 minutes or until the tortas are mostly (but not completely) toasted. Carefully transfer the baked tortas to a wire rack and let cool completely. Once cooled they will be slightly brittle. Also, they will smell amazing.
Señora Rosales, I have officially given you a run for your money.
P.S. I’m running the Sleepy Hollow 10K this morning. Dressed as a Hare Krishna. But did you know Washington Irving, author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was also the US ambassador to Spain from 1842 to 1846? So yes, I planned the tortas de aceite post to coincide with today’s race.