This little Central American country is tucked away between Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The food of these 4 neighbors is very similar. Corn and thick tortillas made from corn flour are a staple and fruits like pineapple papaya, guava and mango grow easily. These fruits are eaten as snacks, for dessert or are used in shakes , sweets, cakes and cookies. The traditional semita is a tray bake made from a rich and buttery yeast dough with a thick layer of pineapple jam hidden in the middle. Semitas can also be filled with other fruit like guava or mango and there are super-sweet versions made with dulce de leche caramel or grated unrefined cane sugar (panela). The last version is sometimes baked with 5 layers – with 2 layers of filling and 3 layers of dough – and is then called a semita alta. But I prefer the thinner classic version with pineapple. I like the way the sweet but slightly tangy filling surprises you when you bite through the crunchy crust into the soft cake-like dough.
Semita cookie from El Salvador
For 12 large pieces
15 grams (5 tsps) instant yeast
200 grams caster sugar + extra for sprinkling
625 grams (5 cups) flour
225 grams (1 cup) soft butter
pinch of salt
350 grams (1 heaped cup) pineapple jam
Put the yeast in a little bowl with 60 milliliters / 2 tablespoons lukewarm water for about 10 mins. or until bubbles rise.
Mix all the other ingredients save for the pineapple jam with 50 milliliters / 2 scant tablespoons of lukewarm water.
Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rise in a warm place for about an hour.
Preheat the oven to 180°C / 375 °F. Keep a piece of dough aside for decoration and divide the rest in two pieces.
Cover a baking tray of 40×25 cm / 16×10 inches with baking paper. Roll out one of the two bigger pieces to 40x25cm / 16×10 inches and place on the baking tray.
Spread the pineapple jam over the dough. Keep about ½ cm / ¼ inch from the edges uncovered.
Roll out the second large piece of dough to a rectangle of 40½x25½ cm / 16¼ x10¼ inches and cover the pineapple jam layer with it. Press down the edges well. Roll out the remaining dough into thin strips and place on the simita in a criss-cross pattern.
Sprinkle with sugar and bake in the middle of the oven until golden brown and done. Leave to cool slightly in the tray for 10 mins. and transfer to a rack to cool completely.
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