While living in Spain as an exchange student in 2002, I discovered the rich legacy of Spain’s Jews, the Sephardim, who, after expulsion in 1492, resettled in Turkey, Greece, Morocco, and North Africa (most recently Israel and the United States), taking with them their rich language (Ladino) and cuisine. This living history can be directly traced back to the 1400s, both through the names of dishes (which are recognizable to any Spanish speaker) and the dishes themselves, found throughout dozens of countries where Sephardic Jews immigrated. These include filled pastries such as borekas, boyuz (“bollos” in modern Spanish), bumuelos (bimuelos) as well as desserts. During my second time living in Spain in 2005 (Madrid), I made a point of visiting Toledo and Spain’s Jewish quarters, synagogues and museums, where I fell in love with Sephardic culture. I spent the next several years building up my cookbook library of Sephardic titles (particularly by the excellent and prolific Joyce Goldstein), but was lacking in Sephardic baking books in English (although I do have the excellent Spanish-language Dulce lo vivas/ Live Sweet: La Reposteria Sefardi/ the Sefardi Bakery (Spanish Edition)).
I was thrilled to learn of Linda Capeloto Sendowski’s “Sephardic Baking From Nona and More Favorites.” Linda’s nona (grandmother) immigrated from Turkey to Seattle (there is a very large Sephardic congregation there where Ladino is still spoken). Linda’s father is a Rhodesli (Sephardic Jews who settled on the Greek island of Rhodes; the community was nearly wiped out in the Holocaust. An excellent book on Rhodesli cooking is Stella's Sephardic Table: Jewish family recipes from the Mediterranean island of Rhodes that documents pre-war life in Rhodes).
You can find Linda’s recipes and more family stories at her website The Global Jewish Kitchen and The Boreka Diaries. The book is available as a paperback (printed in the USA; it’s a lovely large oversized volume that sits well in a cookbook holder) or Kindle book; if you’re a member of Kindle Unlimited, you can download it for free, although I recommend purchasing the paperback as it is much easier to bookmark recipes and to cook from (I have both formats).
Beginning with her family’s challah recipe, you’ll also find raisin and saffron challah, pumpkin challah (one of my favorites to make with leftover canned pumpkin), amazing cinnamon-apple rolls, and pumpkin-cranberry cinnamon rolls (be still my heart!). All of these freeze well, so you can enjoy some now and save some for later (or share with lucky neighbors / coworkers, in my case!).
On to desayuno: I’d read of the Sephardic tradition of desayuno (“breakfast,”), baked goods served on the Sabbath, but had never seen or attempted recipes for these before. They include borekas with cheese and potatoes, bulemas with Swiss chard, folares (which are symbolic on Purim as they symbolize Haman’s hanging noose), and kezadas (rice-and-cheese pies, the ultimate comfort food!). Several recipes for meat and pareve pies are also included; I loved the pumpkin borekas and rodanchas as I can never get enough of pumpkin-filled pastries during any time of the year.
Sephardic sweets include a nondairy baklava, kurabiedes (Greek nut cookies similar to Russian tea cakes), ma’amoul (date-filled shortbread cookies; my first experience was when an Iraqi student made some for me), and an entire chapter of “things to dunk in coffee,” such as cantucci (which I first tasted in Tuscany), biscotios de huevo, and biscotti. You’ll also find cheesecake, stuffed pastries (strudels, tarts), a showstopper chocolate espresso cake, honey cake (typical of the High Holidays), and a lovely pistachio pear yogurt cake for Shavuot. Linda also includes several base recipes such as blood orange marmalade, candied grapefruit peels, and ganache. Many recipes come with gorgeous full-color photos, and a handy glossary explains common Ladino names and Jewish holidays.
Linda was kind enough to share two of her favorite recipes and photos; I am reprinting them below with her permission:
A Meat and Rice Filled Sephardic Pastry
“A Pastel is a hand pie in Ladino or Judeo Spanish, and these individual small ‘pies’ use the suffix indicating smallness. Think of Pastelicos as a meat and rice filled Boreka that comes in different shapes. Other Sephardim make similar things such as meat Sambusak. Rather than half moon shapes as for Cheese Borekas, Pastelicos are triangle shape or round with little caps.
Be sure and count more than one per person when planning how many to serve. The filling amount in this recipe is for two batches of dough. Make dough recipe twice. Make one recipe, fill and bake pastelicos and then, make second dough recipe to finish using filling. Filling (gomo) is best made the night before and refrigerated.”
Yield: about 90 Pastelicos
2 tablespoons oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
1 to 2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 pounds ground beef chuck meat
1 cup washed and patted dry, finely chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup long grain white rice
Dough: (make this twice)
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup ice water
3/4 cup safflower oil
1 large egg, beaten
1/ 2 cup sesame seeds (regular white not toasted)
Heat a large sauté pan until hot over medium heat. Add oil to pan, heat for a moment, and then add onions. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon, sautéing until golden. Season onions with salt, pepper to taste. Push onions aside in pan, turn up heat to high, add ground chuck and sauté until browned and starting to stick. As you stir onions and chuck meat, break meat up with your spoons so it becomes crumbly with no large chunks of ground meat intact. Adjust seasoning if needed.
Stir parsley and rice into meat mixture. Stir meat mixture for a moment. Add
1 cup water to cover meat and rice; cover pan. Reduce heat to low, and let steam until water is absorbed and rice is cooked, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and cool filling before using. Refrigerate overnight in a covered bowl.
Place flour in a medium bowl and add salt. In a two-cup glass measuring cup, whisk together ice water and oil to emulsify. Slowly pour liquid into flour, stirring with a fork. When dough holds together, use your hands to gather dough into a ball. Dough should be soft and pliable.
Divide dough into 42 to 48 walnut-size pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece into a smooth ball. When all are rolled, use a rolling pin, and roll each ball into a circle, no larger than 3-inches in diameter, taking care not to go over edges with the rolling pin making them too thin.
Heat oven to 400° F. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with silpats or parchment paper. Place a heaping teaspoon of filling in each circle. Close filled circles by folding dough in a triangle shape or pinching edges into a triangle with a rope edge (repulgo). Place Pastelicos on baking sheets. Brush all Pastelicos with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake until golden and crispy, about 15 to 17 minutes. Repeat with second batch of dough to use remainder of filling. Yield is 84-92 Pastelicos.
After Pastelicos cool, they keep well for two days in refrigerator or freeze them in airtight containers. Reheat in a 300° F oven for 10 to15 minutes to recrisp.
Some communities add additional flavorings to their Pastelicos, my Nona like lots of black pepper and parsley but you could try, cinnamon, allspice, Baharat, or cumin.
Sephardic Tea Biscuits, Biscotios de Huevo
“The first generation of my family in America—my grandmothers and great aunties–came from Turkey. The women used to sit and rest a bit in the afternoon after preparing dinner and finishing their housework. They traded bits of gossip about the community and themselves (char lashon) with a cup of Turkish coffee (kave Turko) and a biscuit (biscotio) in hand. These circular biscuits topped with sesame seeds are not sweet like cookies nor are they savory. They are perfect for dunking in coffee, espresso, or even tea. Biscotios keep a long time in an airtight container and are very portable. It is good to keep several in a small plastic bag in the bottom of your handbag, just in case. (I guess we all turn into our mothers or fathers eventually!)”
Yield: 80 biscotios
4 extra large eggs
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup oil
6 cups flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoon ground anise
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons freshly grated orange peel
1 egg, well beaten, in a shallow bowl
1 cup sesame seeds, in a shallow bowl
Crack eggs into a small glass bowl and check for shells and blood spots. Place eggs in mixing bowl of stand mixer and beat at medium speed for one minute. Add orange juice and beat until well blended. With mixer running on low speed, slowly add sugar, then oil. Turn up speed to medium and continue mixing until well blended.
In a separate bowl combine flour with other dry ingredients and orange peel. Add one-half of flour mixture to liquid mixture while mixer is turned off. Start mixer on lowest speed for 30 seconds, then raise speed to medium and mix until flour is well incorporated. Turn off mixer and add remaining flour. Start mixer on lowest speed until flour begins to incorporate; increase speed to medium for several moments. Dough should be soft but not sticky.
Remove dough from mixing bowl, gather it into a ball, and let dough rest for 10 minutes on work surface.
Heat oven to 350⁰F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Divide dough into 4 quarters. Wrap 3 pieces in plastic wrap. On a lightly floured work surface roll remaining piece of dough into a log about 1 and 1/2 inches in diameter. Cut log in 20 even pieces. Roll each piece out to a 4-inch long rope. Use a small knife to nick rope on outer edge at 1/3-inch intervals, creating a design. Draw rope into a circle and pinch edges together nicked side out.
Arrange bowls with beaten egg and sesame seeds next to cookie sheets. Dip one side of each biscotio into beaten egg, then sesame seed, and place on prepared baking sheet, sesame side up.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden in color. After all biscotios are baked, turn oven down to 200⁰ F. Return biscotios to oven. Turn off oven after 30 minutes and leave biscotios in oven for two hours to crisp or overnight with oven door closed. Cool biscotios on a rack and store in an airtight container.
I greatly enjoyed learning about the author’s family history and the Sephardic community in Seattle (I’ve done a fair amount of research on Ladino and had run across this story several years ago). This is a beautiful tribute to a rich culinary tradition, and Linda’s gorgeous full-color photography will inspire you to bake your way through it. Although I was familiar with some of the Sephardic baked goods like borekas, others like the gorgeous kezadas were new to me, and I loved the additional European baked goods like pissaladiere and strudel. There is truly something for everyone in “Sephardic Baking” no matter your baking expertise; the clear instructions and photos ensure that even novice bakers will produce fabulous baked goods.
In Linda’s words, “Eat Well, Enjoy Life!”