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Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Sugar Canes
Photo by 星期三

 OCast açúcar, çacúcar, açúcar candi or piedra (crystalized sugar), L. Saccharum officinarum, Ar. súkkar, Pers. sakar, sakkar, Sans sarkara (milled), Eng. sugarcane. Some historians maintain that sugarcane was cultivated in New Guinea in 6,000 BC. At first it was not processed. The canes were sucked. Garcia Maceira and other  historians claim that it originated in Bengala in western India. Some think it was in India since 1,000 BC while others claim that crystallized sugar was being processed there in 3,000 BC.

It is known that it was refined in India in 300 AD. In 510 BC soldiers of Darius, the Persian Emperor, found it in eastern India and it is thought that it was taken back to Persia although there is no proof. Two hundred years later Alexander the Great did take sugar cane to Greece and it spread to Italy. It is mentioned in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 6:20). Dioscoredes, Pliny, Galen and Seneca knew about it. A Hindu document dated 500 AD indicates that Indians were making molasses and crystalline balls of sugar by boiling the cane. Arabs spread sugarcane and the technology to Syria, Cyprus, Sicily, North Africa, and Spain. 

Muslims produced various grades of crystalline sugar according to the molasses content, color, grain size and form. Some historians have reported that the cultivation of sugar began in 760 in Spain, fifty years after the Arab conquests began and they were cultivating sugarcane in Motril and Malaga but Castro states that this is not confirmed. García Maceira claims that it was introduced during the reign of Alhakem II (961). Others maintain that during the 9th and 10th C, it spread to Levante and in the south (i.e. 37ºN-30ºS), around the lower Guadalquivir River, Seville, Almuñecar and Salobrea. Marín states that sugar was imported to Iberia until the 10th C by which time it was cultivated in Iberia. By 1150, 74,000 acres (30,000 hectares) were dedicated to the cultivation of sugar which was processed in 14 sugar mills in Granada. The rest of Europe was introduced to sugar during the crusades in the 12th C.

Sugar  was not diffused in Aragon and Castile until the 13th C. with the Christian re-conquest of Al-Andalus cities. Then sugar came to be known by the name of the area in which it was grown such as “Al-Andalus sweetness.” Then Christians copied Hispano-Arab recipes using sugar. It was used in meat, fish and poultry dishes as well as cakes and other desserts. It was thought that sugar could not spoil any dish. In Hispano-Arab and Christian recipes, it was added to food while cooking and sprinkled on just before serving, which could be scented. 

In the 14 C, sugar was available granulated, in a cone shaped loaf or crystallized (Sp. cande, Ar. qándi).  Açúcar cande, mentioned by Juan Ruíz, around 1350. It originated in Candia, the Greek island. It was pink, white or various shades of brown. It was obtained by boiling four or five times until it became hard, crystallized and white or boiled less if brown. See alfeñique. Contrary to brown sugar today which is white granulated sugar with molasses added, medieval brown sugar was raw sugar after boiling from which the molasses was not been totally removed. Sugar was such a popular product in a vast variety of desserts that even Spanish classes beneath nobility would not think of inviting a guest without offering sugared fritters, marzipans, almond pastes or turrons. Sugar was present at all feasts and weddings. By the 15th C. Motril had 15 sugar factories. During that time, the English were importing sugar from Alexandria. In England, brown loaves the most common were as they were cheaper than white sugar. The English maintain that sugar was only used in medicine until the 13th C. Then extravagant households were serving about ½ teaspoon (about 0.15 ozs) per week (or less than ½ lb per year) to members of the household as opposed to US calculations in 1999 that 158 lbs of sugar were consumed per person annually. Certainly, the Arabs were using more than ½ teaspoon a week for numerous recipes demanding sugar in the medieval Arab world. Dioscorides recommended it for stomach, the vagina and kidney problems. It was placed directly on the eyes for optical disorders. [Castro. Alimentación. 1996:242:244:245 etc; Curye. 1985:14; Enyc Judaica 1971:6:1396; ES: Eigeland. May/June 96; ES: Sugar. Jun 20, 04; Font. Plantas. 1999:669:944; García Maceira. 1875:6-10; Ibn Razīn/Merín. 2007:43-44; Nola. 1989:xxxi-2; OXF Eng Dict. 1989:XVII:Su:135; Ruíz/Brey. 1965:1337b:207; and Villena/Calero. 2002:121]


BRAIDS, sprinkled with coloured sugar
Photo from: coquinaria.nl

1 c semolina
3/4 c wheat flour
1/4 c hot water
1/4 c sourdough

pinch of salt (even sweet pastry needs some)
2 tsp. mashed saffron
2 tsp. hot water
1 egg
canola oil for deep-frying
1/3 c finely chopped pistachio nuts or almonds

2/3 c honey
black freshly ground pepper to taste
½  tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cassia
½ tbsp finely ground lavender flowers

½ c sugar


Prepare the dough: Sift the semolina and the wheat flour. Moisten the semolina by adding hot water little by little. Then add sourdough, salt, and ½ of the flour, knead until elastic. 

Dissolve the saffron in hot water add the egg and beat the mixture. Mix this with the dough. Little by little, add the rest of the flour. Knead until the dough reaches the consistency of a soft dough for bread. Put the dough in a bowl, covered with a moist towel, and leave it in warm place. Let the dough rise for at least two hours. Sourdough takes longer than other dough to rise.

While the dough rises, make the sauce. Mix the honey with the other ingredients.

Add finely chopped nuts to the dough. Divide the dough in six or eight portions. Sprinkle the worktop and hands with flour. Take one portion of the dough, roll it and pull it into the shape of a thin string. Cut this in three equal strings of equal length, and braid them. Take care to pinch the ends of the strings together. Make six to eight braids. Let the braids rest for fifteen minutes before deep-frying.

Heat oil in a deep-frying pan. When it begins to boil, fry the braids one or two at the time until golden brown. Turn them once while frying. The process will take just a few minutes. Drain the fried braids on paper towels.

Heat the spiced honey slightly in a microwave. Put the braids on a plate. Drizzle some of the spiced honey over them, and sprinkle with sugar.

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