The first time I tried Ines Rosales Olive Oil Tortas wasn’t a holiday, but it felt like one.
Allow me to explain. Each olive oil torta (or tortas de aceite) arrives in its own wrapping: a crinkly sheet of wax paper stamped with simple font in bright blue (or orange, green, turquoise, depending on flavor). For me, the feeling of unwrapping a torta is pretty much akin to unwrapping the most highly anticipated birthday gift. The crackers themselves are light and crispy, faintly anise-flavored, and studded with sugar crystals.
While the tortas are available for purchase at many grocery stores, my deep, undying, close-your-eyes-and-sigh-with-pleasure sort of love necessitated learning to make the snacks myself. Because as much as I wish my bi-monthly paycheck allowed for the constant purchase of what is essentially a dollar-per-cracker snack, it just doesn’t. So until I hit the jackpot, I’ll save buying the real things as a treat every now and then, and make them myself when a craving hits.
The olive oil torta recipe is not a difficult one, but it does involve a decent amount of preparation. I used to be of the belief system that when a baked good involved yeast, I was setting myself up for an entire day in the kitchen: I'd be up to my elbows in sticky dough, spend hours waiting for the concoction to rise, and leave everything within a ten-foot radius of my counter blanketed in a fine layer of flour. But here’s the thing: Baking with yeast is not as complicated as it appears.
Read the recipe in its entirety, set up your mise en place, then read through the recipe once more. Do you have a clean work surface? Extra flour? Good. The dough of your labor will be well worth the possibly annoying organization.
- 1 tablespoon finely ground aniseed or fennel seeds
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 1/2 tablespoons warm (120º F) water
- 6 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, preferably Spanish
- Flavoring, optional (see ideas at the bottom of the recipe)
- 1 tablespoon fast-acting yeast
- Granulated cane sugar for topping (omit if making savory crackers)
- 1 egg white
Use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to grind the aniseed or fennel seeds. They don’t have to be a fine powder, but the seeds should be cracked open and fairly pulverized.
Whisk the flour, salt, and a few pinches of ground aniseed or fennel seeds together in a large bowl. Combine warm water, olive oil, any extracts (if you're making your own flavor variation), and yeast in small bowl and whisk until yeast dissolves. Combine the oil mixture with the flour mixture.
Knead the mixture with the heel of your hand—inside the bowl is fine, if there’s room—for about five minutes. (Alternatively, you can use the dough hook of an electric mixer to knead.)
If it’s chilly in the kitchen, heat the oven to 200° F for the duration of kneading time, then turn it off. Cover the bowl containing the dough with a dish towel and place it in the warm oven with the door open (or find another warm space). Let it sit for 30 minutes.
After half an hour, the dough should have doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 400° F, line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and lightly dust a work surface with flour. Pinch off pieces of dough and roll each into a mound about the size of a golf ball.
Use a rolling pin to roll out each ball into a flat round, about 6 inches in diameter. Rounds should be very thin and fairly (but not very) translucent. If the crackers are rolled too thin, they tend to bubble up in the oven. (It doesn’t affect the flavor at all—they'll just look less like the packaged tortas. In fact, they look more rustic that way, which you may even prefer. Your choice.)
Is the dough resisting being rolled flat? Don’t freak out! You’ve done nothing wrong—the gluten simply needs to relax a little. Move onto the next ball and then try again.
You’ll be able to fit about four tortas per baking sheet. Don’t try to squish more on!
Brush each cracker with egg white, then sprinkle with a mixture of sugar and aniseed. Add some more sugar for good luck.
Obviously, if you’re making savory crackers, omit the sugar. If you’re adding extra flavors, now’s the time to get creative! Citrus zest, chopped dried fruit or nuts, herbs galore, even grated Parmesan or Manchego cheese and some cracked pepper. There are no wrong answers. (But if you’re doing a chocolate drizzle/dip, save that for baked crackers.)
Bake for 6 to 10 minutes, depending on how large and thick your crackers are. They can burn within that last 30 seconds, so be diligent and definitely don’t get distracted in cleanup! Pour a cup of coffee and watch the oven. Start with 6 minutes, check the crackers and rotate the pan. Continue baking for 1-minute intervals until the tortas are golden brown.
Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Serve with coffee for breakfast or a snack, or with Champagne (and maybe even a few spoonfuls of ice cream) for an evening treat.
If you have incredible willpower, wait until the tortas have cooled completely, then wrap individually in waxed paper like the packaged ones! Place wrapped crackers in a large zip-top bag. They’ll keep for about 5 days. But I won’t judge you if you don’t last that long.
- For the sweet-toothed: To the dough add 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract, vanilla extract, orange flower water, cinnamon, ground star anise, and/or citrus zest; sprinkle with chopped nuts or dried fruit; or drizzle the baked crackers with or dip into melted chocolate post-baking.
- For the savory snacker: Omit the sugar and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of dried herbs (like rosemary, thyme, or sage), 2 teaspoons of chopped fresh herbs or spices like sweet paprika or sesame seeds, or finely grated Parmesan or Manchego before baking.