Kitrina Koulouria Astypalitika

Saffron, Allspice and Pepper Biscuits

EVER SINCE I tasted these bright yellow biscuits in a bakery in Astypalaia about fifteen years ago, I’ve been addicted to their slightly peppery taste and crunchy texture. When I first sampled them, I was startled by their lightness. The circles were fragrant with allspice, nutmeg and another aroma that I couldn’t make out. The baker told me it was saffron that the women of the island collected from the hills each November, especially for these Easter cookies. The fat in the yeasted dough was a creamy chlori, the ricotta-like fresh cheese produced by shepherds from the milk of the island’s semi-wild goats. It was these cookies that triggered my interest in island cooking. They were so unlike anything else I had ever tasted!

I’ve experimented with various soft cheeses in the dough, since it’s impossible to find anything like the chlori. Ordinary ricotta didn’t work. My best results were with a combination of yogurt, cream and butter. This baking-powder version, which is a variation on the original yeasted biscuits, produces excellent results quite quickly.

These are great as snacks, with coffee or drinks, and are an ideal accompaniment to soft cheese, both sweet and creamy ones, like manouri and ricotta, and sharp ones, like Gorgonzola, Roquefort or any other blue.

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Ingredients

  • ½ cup milk
  • teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
  • 3 tablespoons honey, preferably thyme honey
  • cups unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
  • ½–1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup thick sheep’s milk yogurt or Drained Yogurt
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (½ stick), softened
  • ½ cup half-and-half
  • ¼ cup olive oil or safflower oil

Method

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

In a small saucepan, combine the milk with the saffron threads and simmer gently over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring, until the milk is deep yellow (the saffron threads won’t dissolve completely). Stir in the honey, remove from the heat and let cool.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, white pepper, allspice and nutmeg in a large bowl.

In a medium bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the yogurt with the egg and butter until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the cooled saffron milk, the half-and-half and oil and beat for 1 minute. Add to the flour mixture, stirring with a rubber spatula, to make a soft, oily dough; do not overmix.

Divide the dough in half, and shape each half into a log about 12 inches long; don’t worry if the dough isn’t perfectly smooth. Place on an ungreased baking sheet about 2 inches apart, and bake for about 30 minutes, until the loaves are firm and the tops are starting to turn golden.

Reduce the heat to 200°F and leave the loaves in the oven for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

As soon as the logs are cool, slice each into ¼-inch-thick slices, using a serrated knife. Place the slices directly on the middle rack of the oven and leave them to dry completely, 1 to 1½ hours. (You may need to do this in batches.)

Let the biscuits cool completely on racks. Stored in airtight containers, they will keep for up to 6 months.

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