Bola is the Spanish word for a ball. It is also the name of a particular cake, presumably because the cake is made from a ball of dough. The standard bola is made from a yeast dough. Italian Jews have a version they call bollo, brought to them by Spanish Jews in the 15 th century, which they eat on Sukkot and to break the fast on the Day of Atonement. The Jewish Manual, a 19th-century English cookbook, has recipes for 4 kinds of bola: a plain bola, bola toliedo, bola de hispaniola, and bola d'amor. (The latter is nothing like the standard bola but, rather, an incredibly elaborate confection layers of egg yolks and sugar, decorated with myrtle and gold leaf!)
serves 10 to 12 (2 cakes)
1 envelope active dry yeast, or 1/2 cake compressed yeast
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup lukewarm water
4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup margarine, softened
1 cup chopped candied peel
1/2 cup chopped candied ginger
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup ground almonds
3 tablespoons water orange flower water (optional)
sugar sprinkles for decoration
1. Mix the yeast with 1 teaspoon sugar, then add lukewarm water. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 20 minutes.
2. Sift the flour and salt into a warmed bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture. Lightly cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and leave for 15 minutes.
3. Warm 4 tablespoons of the margarine, then stir the margarine and eggs into the yeast mixture and gradually add the flour, beating until the dough is smooth.
4. Knead dough on a floured board until it no longer sticks to your fingers, about 10 minutes. Transfer dough to a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
5. Chop the peel and ginger. (If the ginger is in syrup, reserve syrup.) Mix the peel and ginger with the brown sugar, cinnamon, and ground almonds.
6. Roll out dough into a round about 1/2 inch thick. Spread with half the remaining butter. Fold dough in half and roll out again into a round about 1/2 inch thick. Spread with remaining butter and fold. Cut dough in 4 pieces, and roll each out into an 8-inch round. Warm two 8-inch round cake pans, then line each with a round of dough. Cover each round with the peel-and-almond mixture and cover with the remaining rounds of dough. Cover with a cloth and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.
7. Preheat oven to 425°F and bake cakes for 30 minutes.
8. Meanwhile, place in a saucepan the remaining sugar, the water, and 1 tablespoon of liquid from the preserved ginger; if using dry ginger, add a few drops orange-flower water.
9. Put over medium heat, and boil the syrup for 10 minutes.
10. Brush dough with the syrup, then continue to bake for another 30 minutes.
11. Remove cakes from the oven, brush again with syrup, and decorate with sprinkles.
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