Orange & Sesame Cookie Rings
2 eggs + 1 for egg wash
7 Tablespoons white sugar
1/3 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
½ cup corn or sunflower oil
3 to 3 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
white (‘washed’) sesame seeds
1. Sift 3 cups flour with the baking powder. Separately, sift another ½ cup and set that aside. (You may not need the last half-cup.)
2. Break two eggs into a large mixing bowl, add the sugar, and beat to a thick and creamy consistency, pale yellow in color. Reduce speed to low and blend in the orange juice and oil.
3. On medium speed, add 1 cup of the sifted flour & baking powder into the liquid. When the flour and liquids are well blended, keep adding flour gradually, blending each addition thoroughly. When the dough becomes too stiff for your mixer blades, switch to dough hooks or a long-handled wooden spoon to mix in the remaining flour. Add only as much flour as is needed for the dough to pull away from the sides of the bowl and form a soft ball, not a hard, dry lump. For the amount of liquid I’ve given, that should be at most 3 ½ cups of flour. (Relative humidity will affect how much flour you use, as will the flour itself.)
4. Knead the dough just enough to add some elasticity. Kneading for a long time will produce a more elastic dough, which is helpful for making twisted ropes, but the finished cookie will be harder, too, with a smoother and more compact texture, lots of snap but less crumbly. If you want to experiment (you do), divide the dough into batches and knead them for different lengths of time. Note how long you knead each, and see which gives you the texture and consistency you like. This is subjective, and you should allow your personal taste – or childhood recollections, you lucky devil – to guide you.
5. Prepare baking sheets with a light coating of oil and dust them with flour, tapping off the excess. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Pour a half cup of sesame seeds into a small bowl and set it aside. You can replenish this as needed.
6. Pinch off pieces of dough no bigger than a walnut in its shell, and roll them into uniform balls. Using your palms, roll the dough back and forth in front of you on a wooden board, pressing down gently on the dough while stretching it out lengthwise into a rope – 6” long if you’re making plain rings, and 12” or 13” if you’re making twisted shapes. The rope should be of uniform thickness and the longer rope will obviously be thinner, like a pencil. (The dough will begin to rise and fatten up before you get it into the oven.) If dough sticks to the board, flour the board very lightly.
Traditional Sephardic biscocho shapes include a plain ring, a twisted rope ring, and a pretzel. To make simple rings, just press the ends together. For a very neat edge you can trim the ends on a diagonal and then press them together. To make twisted rings, fold a long dough rope in half, grasp it lightly with two fingers at either end and raise the folded end up in the air. Give it a few twists, and press the ends together. Depending upon how elastic your dough is, it will stretch a lot or a little as you twist it. That’s fine – some people prefer small rings, others make them as big as a bracelet. However, if the dough is so elastic that the cookie flops when you lift it (to dip in the sesame), then you’ve kneaded too long.
The pretzel shape is easier than you’d think. With a long rope laying horizontally, lift the two ends and draw them downward toward you, then pull them together and lay one side of the rope over the other to form an upside down heart shape. Where the two lengths intersect, give them a twist or two, and lay the loose ends diagonally across either side of the upper half of the pretzel, pressing down gently to hold them in place.
7. Repeat until the baking sheet is full, leaving at least an inch between each cookie. Brush the tops with beaten egg and dip them in the sesame seeds to coat generously. As an alternative to sesame you can sprinkle them with blended sugar and cinnamon (though you’ll never taste the orange) or chopped walnuts.
8. Bake 20-25 minutes in a moderate oven (350°-360°F). They should be very pale golden, but not white.
9. Once all the cookies have been baked, lower the oven temperature to 210°F. Stack all the cookies on a baking sheet and return them to the oven for another 15-20 minutes, or turn the oven off altogether, and leave them in it until it cools. Either method will crisp the biscochos without turning them dark brown.
Biscochos need some time for the flavor to develop. Let them cool thoroughly before eating them. Serve them alone or with cheese (kashkaval, gruyere, Emmenthal, or a crumbly cheddar), and some fruit or olives. To drink? Take your pick: coffee, tea, milk, raki, ouzo, a glass of wine, or maybe a good gin tonic. Biscochos are versatile.
If you manage not to finish them off at one sitting (it is soooo tempting), store in an airtight glass jar.