When in doubt, always choose the receta over the recipe! That is what I learned the other day after attempting to make semita, a very popular Salvadoran torta. I wish I could say that I first tasted semita in El Salvador, but unfortunately that is not the case. My first experience with semita was from a prepackaged piece bought by my husband at our local global foods store. The semita was semita de pina, or pineapple filled semita, one of the most common types. Being store bought that it was, it was still good enough to make me want to learn how to make it myself! Thus, the journey began to find the perfect recipe for semita!
Semita is eaten much the same way coffee cake is eaten. Usually eaten in the mornings or for an afternoon snack, it is most always eaten with a glass of milk or coffee to dip into. Although eaten like coffee cake, semita is actually nothing like a coffee cake at all. Semita is by definition a torta, a compact, dense, low sitting cake. It is not fluffy or doughy or overly sweet. It is composed of two compact dough layers filled with jam of some kind in the middle. Sometimes you will see semita with an extra layer of jam filling, and this type of semita is called semita de alta or semita de pacha. The type of fillings vary and are usually just based on personal preference, but typical ones include pina or guava. My recipe below is for semita de guava, that is, semita with guava filling. I use guava paste instead of guava jam or marmalade because I have found the jams are too sweet for me. Guava paste has less sugar and tastes more natural while still being plenty sweet. I used the La Fe brand here.
The key to a good semita is getting the torta bread layers just right. You don't want them to be too doughy and fluffy, and you don't want them to be too moist and compact. A crust-like dough that you would use in a pie is basically what you are looking for here. Because my suegra was not familiar with making semita, I had to find a good recipe for one. I found a few recetas, and I also found a few recipes. Because my first language is English, I chose the English-written recipes over the recetas, figuring that they must be pretty much all the same. Oh, how wrong I was!
My first attempt to make semita turned out like this:
You will see in the picture that this was most definitely NOT semita. The dough was too high, fluffy, and bread-like in texture and taste. The recipe I used called for more than five cups of flour, which should have been an indication to me that the recipe would not make a traditional semita, as all that flour would make the pastry way too doughy and thick.
For my next attempt, I went with a receta for a traditional semita salvadorena. The result was something much closer to the real thing. Again, I used guava paste for the filling instead of the usual pina jam - See my post on the wonder of the guava fruit here - Fruit of Guayaba. I call slices of this semita my Salvadoran pop-tarts, because when you eat them hot, the pastry-guava combination tastes just like a deliciously hot strawberry pop-tart!
Here's my tried-and-true recipe for a pretty decent semita de guava, adapted from this recipe. You will notice that the dough of this semita, and the way it is formed, is very similar to making pie crust.
Semita de Guava:
Semita de Guava:
2 cups of bread flour
1/2 cup of sugar
1 stick of salted butter, melted completely
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp. of yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. of butter
6 oz. of guava paste
1 egg, whisked
1 Tbsp of white sugar or brown sugar or both
- Dissolve the yeast in the warm water for 5-10 minutes
- Pour the flour onto a flat surface - I used a big flat baking pan.
- Make a well in the flour to form a volcano shape, making sure that all sides are fully built up. If there is any side that is too flat, the liquid mixture you are about to add will leak out of the well.
- Add the yeast water, the sugar, the egg, the butter, and the salt to the inside of the well.
- Mix the flour with the liquids using a fork and spoon.
- Once all flour is moist, use your hands to shape dough into a ball.
- Once ball is created, set aside to rise for about two hours in a covered bowl.
- Once dough has risen (its okay if it does not double in size, semita is not meant to be a fluffy pastry), remove and place dough on a flat, floured surface.
- Divide dough into balls and remove 1/4 of the dough from one of the balls.
- Roll out the biggest dough ball into a flat rectangular shape and place into a greased 9x13 pan.
- Use a pizza cutter to cut off mess edges of rectangle so that all edges are nice and even in rectangular shape.
- Coat rectangle dough surface with 1 tbsp. of melted butter
- Heat the guava paste with the remaining 2 tbsp. of butter on low heat in a skillet until guava paste is more liquid and pliable. Make sure you are watching the whole time because it can burn easily and heats up quickly.
- Pour heated guava/butter mixture over the flat surface of the dough and spread evenly.
- Next roll out the second largest dough ball into another rectangular shape and use the pizza cutter to clean up edges.
- Place this second rectangle on top of the first, placing it directly over over the guava mixture.
- Use a fork to pinch down the edges and seal the two doughs.
- Now take your smallest dough ball and pinch off about 10 little dough balls.
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- Roll out these dough balls into long bread stick-looking pieces and place them on top of the second layer of dough to create the crisscross pattern always seen on the top of semita.
- Brush the dough all over with egg mix and sprinkle with white sugar, brown sugar, or both.
- Place semita into the hot oven and cook for about 35-40 minutes, or until golden brown on top.