Thursday, December 18, 2014

Almond Phyllo Swirl

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I love Moroccan food. Although I've had limited experience (mainly dining at Cafe Mogador in NYC), what I've tasted of Moroccan flavors is right up my alley, and really reflects many ingredients from my own Middle Eastern/Armenian heritage. Therefore I was intrigued when I received a review copy of Sharing Morocco by Ruth Barnes, and couldn't wait to try some recipes.


The book has a huge range of authentic Moroccan recipes (with beautiful photographs), including fresh vegetable based dishes and tagines of all kinds. The Marrakech Fish Tagine with Olives and Chickpeas is high on my list to try, along with Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons, Olives, and Artichokes. The Chicken Pastry Pie (or Bastilla), Seafood Briouats, and Spicy "Cigars" Stuffed with Lamb are beautiful savory dishes using the dreaded but delicious phyllo dough.


I decided for my first experiment from the book to try a dessert recipe. I honed in on a few different options, but discovered a few missing details that would have made preparing the recipes much easier. For example, the various Baklava recipes state to assemble in a "medium baking dish." This would be where I'd really love a reference of size. My medium, may not be someone else's medium.


The Moroccan-Style Raspberry Souffle with Rose Water uses ramekins, but doesn't specify what size. I've had this issue in other cookbooks before. There are many ramekin sizes, and it's really impossible to guess if we should aim for a 4 ounce or perhaps an 8 ounce ramekin. That's a huge difference.


The recipes in the book are incredibly straightforward and broken down into simple steps. Although I love the simplicity of the recipes, I think they could use a bit more detail, and perhaps better editing. I decided to make the Almond Phyllo Swirl and found some discrepancies in the ingredients.


For example, it calls for 10 sheets of phyllo, and then tells you to divide the filling into 3 and use 2 sheets of phyllo per roll. That yields 6 sheets of phyllo, not 10. I'm not sure if I was missing something here, and perhaps should have made 5 total rolls, but then the filling would need to be divided much differently.


In the end, even with a bit of uncertainly, my Almond Phyllo Swirl turned out quite well. I had a few cracks where the filling started to ooze during baking, but that's nothing a little confectioners' sugar dusted on top won't fix. Also, the 10-inch pan was too large for my swirl, so the edges expanded a bit during baking and unraveled, but again, it was a minor cosmetic issue that didn't affect the flavor of the dessert at all.


I actually used a mixture of 3 nuts instead of just almonds. My filling was made up of almonds, walnuts, and cashews, but I'm sure you could use whatever you enjoy. In any case, the filling was delicious, and very different from the walnut-cinnamon-sugar filling my family usually uses for our baklava. Although it is fairly sweet, the lack of sugar syrup or honey on top helps it from becoming overwhelmingly sweet. Just plan on serving small portions.


I'm really excited to try some of the savory recipes from Sharing Morocco. There are a lot of awesome flavors here and I look forward to unleashing them in my kitchen. Although there may be some useful details omitted from some of the recipes, overall the book offers authentic, straightforward, and simple Moroccan recipes, and would be a great asset to anyone interested in learning about Moroccan cooking.


Almond Phyllo Swirl (L’hensch)
Serves 6 to 8
(From Sharing Morocco by Ruth Barnes, printed with permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press)

This delicious dish looks as unique as it tastes. Shaped like a snake, it is a traditional Moroccan dessert of layers of rich pastry filled with almonds and orange blossom water.

3 cups raw almonds (I used a mixture of almonds, walnuts, and cashews)
1 egg, separated
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar plus 1 teaspoon for garnish
2 tablespoons orange blossom water
1 teaspoon almond extract (I used 1 tablespoon of amaretto)
10 sheets phyllo dough (I used only 6 sheets to make 3 rolls)
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted (I used less, about 5 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon cinnamon, for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Grind the raw almonds and place in a mixing bowl.

3. Lightly beat the egg white and add it to the ground almonds.

4. Add the confectioners’ sugar, orange blossom water, and almond extract to the almond mix.

5. Thoroughly mix all the ingredients to form a paste and then form into sausage-shaped rolls (approximately 3).(I felt it was easier to form the paste into "rolls" once I had my phyllo dough laid out and buttered and was ready to roll--I would just arrange the paste into a long strip instead of pre-rolling it--see step 9)

6. Unwrap the phyllo dough and place it on a flat surface. While you are working with a phyllo sheet, keep the rest of the block covered with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel to prevent it from drying out.

7. Take one sheet of the phyllo dough and brush it with melted butter.

8. Place a second sheet of the phyllo dough on top of the first and brush its surface with butter.

9. Lay one of the filling rolls lengthwise on top of the buttered phyllo dough, about 1 inch from the edge. Roll up the pastry and make into a coil. Place it in the center of a buttered, 10-inch round, nonstick baking pan. (to be honest, if you're only making 3 rolls, a 10-inch pan is probably too large. Next time I would plan to use 8 sheets phyllo, divide the filling into 4 and make 4 rolls. This will fill out a 10-inch pan better and give a bigger swirl shape; or I would use a smaller pan)

10. Repeat steps 7 through 9 until all 3 pieces form a large swirl in the pan.

11. Beat the egg yolk (I added a splash of water as well) and brush it over the top of the entire swirl.

12. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown.

13. Sprinkle with the cinnamon and remaining teaspoon of confectioners’ sugar.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Cranberry Sage Pie

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If you want to make the ultimate pie for Christmas, look no further than this Cranberry Sage Pie from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book. Not only is the filling vibrant red, but the tart and sweet cranberries and mild herbaceous sage really highlight holiday flavors in this gorgeous seasonal pie.


The pie crust is perfection, super flaky with the delicious flavor of real butter. Arrange a pretty lattice or keep it simple with a standard top crust, cut with ventilation slits. A sprinkling of demerara sugar, or in my case raw sugar, adds a bit of sweetness and crunch to the golden brown crust.


The filling contains fresh cranberries, both whole and chopped, dried cranberries that are plumped in boiling water, grated apple, a combination of sugars, starch, and some fresh sage ground right up into the sugar so its flavor adds a really mellow layer of sage flavor to the whole pie. It doesn't overwhelm, although it adds a peculiar but tasty dynamic that really allows this pie to shine.


I baked this pie in my brand new Le Creuset pie dish, conveniently in the bright red Cherry color, which really is a lovely vessel for this pie. It seems extra festive, don't you think?


The lattice is a wonderful touch to allow diners to see the bubbly red filling leaking out of the edges, but even a classic round top with holes or slits cut into it will allow for a beautiful peek at the filling. There are so many creative ways to decorate and crimp your pies--I love trying different techniques.


This pie is definitely one of my new favorite holiday pies! It brings the essence of cranberry sauce and sage--both often seen on the dinner table but not so much in dessert--into a whole new light. You may never look at these ingredients the same way again.


I love that this pie is more on the tart side than sweet, yet there is definitely enough sweetness in the filling and on the crust to mellow out the cranberries. It really is a perfect balance. I wouldn't change a thing.


The recipe calls for arrowroot as its thickener, but in the introduction of the book, the authors also state that they like potato starch and tapioca starch, putting corn starch at the end of their list of preferences. They stick to flour only for the apple-based pies. Since I don't have arrowroot or potato starch, but do have TONS of tapioca starch (I use it for dumpling dough), I used that for my thickener, and it really turned out splendid. The filling actually stayed together better than many other pie fillings over the years...


Definitely add this pie to your list for this holiday season! It would be excellent on a Christmas table, and even perfect for a ringing in the New Year.


Cranberry Sage Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie; serves 8 to 10 people
(Adapted from the Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book)

Crust:
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup cold water
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 cup ice

Filling:
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh sage
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons ground arrowroot (I used tapioca starch instead)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
4 cups whole cranberries, fresh or frozen (two 10-ounce bags)
1 small baking apple, such as Northern Spy or Golden Delicious
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Egg wash (1 large egg whisked with 1 teaspoon water and a pinch of salt)
Demerara sugar, for finishing (I used raw sugar)

To make the crust: Stir the flour, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add the butter pieces and coat with the flour mixture using a bench scraper or spatula. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture, working quickly until mostly pea-size pieces of butter remain (a few larger pieces are okay; be careful not to overblend).

Combine the water, cider vinegar, and ice in a large measuring cup or small bowl. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the ice water mixture over the flour mixture, and mix and cut it in with a bench scraper or spatula until it is fully incorporated. Add more of the ice water mixture, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, using the bench scraper or your hands (or both) to mix until the dough comes together in a ball, with some dry bits remaining. Squeeze and pinch with your fingertips to bring all the dough together, sprinkling dry bits with more small drops of the ice water mixture, if necessary, to combine.

Divide the dough in half and shape the dough into flat discs, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight, to give the crust time to mellow. Wrapped tightly, the dough can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for 1 month.

Remove the dough from the fridge 5 to 10 minutes before you being rolling. Dough that is too cold will develop cracks when it is rolled.

Lightly flour your work surface and roll out one of the discs of dough until it is 2 to 3 inches larger than the pan you are using and about 1/8 inch in thickness. Fold the dough in half and lay it across one side of a well-buttered pie pan (no need to butter if you are using a ceramic pie dish), positioning the seam in the center. Unfold the disc and gently slide and fit the dough down into the pan; do not pull or stretch the dough. Make sure there are no gaps between the dough and the pan; if there are air bubbles, burst them with a fork.

Trim the dough overhang to allow 1 to 1 1/2 inches of excess, measuring from the inner rim of the pan. Cover the crust with plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, preferably 1 hour or more, and tightly wrapped, up to 3 days before using. The rolled out, fitted, tightly wrapped crust can also be frozen for up to a month.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the other disc of dough into a circle approximately 12 inches in diameter and about 1/8 inch thick. To cover pie with a pastry round, simply place dough round on a parchment lined pan and chill for a minimum of 30 minutes. If making a lattice top, use a pizza cutter or fluted pastry wheel to trim one inch of dough from either side of the circle, and then cut the remaining shape into 8 strips of equal width (this will result in a 4-by-4 lattice--you can cut from 12 to 18 thinner strips and create a 6-by-6 or 9-by-9 lattice respectively, depending on your preference of lattice style). Transfer the lattice strips to a parchment lined pan and chill for a minimum of 30 minutes.

To make the filling: In a heatproof bowl, pour boiling water over the dried cranberries to cover by about an inch. Allow them to plump while making the remaining filling.

In a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, combine the chopped sage, granulated and brown sugars, salt, arrowroot, cinnamon, and allspice. Process until the sage is fully blended. Pour the sugar mixture into a large bowl.

Use the same food processor bowl to briefly process 2 cups of the whole cranberries to a rough chop; add them, along with the remaining 2 cups whole cranberries, to the sugar mixture.

Peel the apple and shred on the large holes of a box grater. In a colander, drain the plumped dried cranberries of excess water, but do not press or squeeze them out. Add the shredded apple and the drained dried cranberries to the bowl with the rest of the filling and mix well. Stir in the vanilla extract and egg, and mix well.

Pour the filling into the refrigerated pie shell, arrange the lattice or pastry round on top, and crimp as desired. Chill the pie in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes to set the pastry.

Meanwhile, position the oven racks in the bottom and center positions, place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack, and preheat the oven to 425° F. Brush the pastry with the egg wash to coat; if your pie has a lattice top, be careful not to drag the filling onto the pastry (it will burn). Sprinkle with the desired amount of demerara sugar.

Place the pie on the rimmed baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pastry is set and beginning to brown. Lower the oven temperature to 375° F, move the pie to the center oven rack, and continue to bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown and the juices are bubbling throughout, 35 to 45 minutes longer.

Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. The pie will keep for 3 days refrigerated or for up to 2 days at room temperature.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chicken Braised in Saffron, Almond, and Egg Yolk Sauce (Pollo en Pepitoria)

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I absolutely love Spanish flavors, whether they are found in traditional tapas dishes, such as Patatas Bravas, or in more homey, comfort food dishes, like Soupy Rice with Chicken. Spaniards definitely have it going on regardless of what they're cooking, and I love experimenting in my kitchen testing out both familiar and unusual Spanish recipes.


As the days are getting shorter, and the weather getting colder and colder, I can't help but crave comfort foods, namely those that are slow-cooked and slathered with delicious sauce. Braising is perhaps the ultimate cooking technique for winter, and this Chicken Braised in Saffron, Almond, and Egg Yolk Sauce, or Pollo en Pepitoria, was just screaming for me to make it on a cold and rainy New England day.


If you Google the Spanish name, you'll find this appears to be quite a popular dish. I found lots of recipes and photos, but I decided to stick with the recipe in my favorite Spanish cookbook, Spain by Jeff Koehler. His recipes are authentic, simple, and, quite frankly, perfect.


This particular dish uses a traditional Spanish technique for thickening sauces--a picada. Garlic, almonds, bread, and saffron make up the base of this paste which also contains egg yolks from hard boiled eggs. And don't worry, you won't be wasting the hard boiled egg whites. They are chopped up and used as a garnish.


With the addition of sauteed onion, bay leaves, white wine, and chicken stock, the sauce for this braised chicken dish is absolutely outstanding. There is so much depth of flavor. This aromatic dish is a lovely way to keep warm on a cold day. And PS, I finally got to break in my new Le Creuset 4 1/2-quart deep saute pan. The color is Marseilles, and I'm absolutely in love... swoon!


Chicken Braised in Saffron, Almond, and Egg Yolk Sauce (Pollo en Pepitoria)
Serves 4
(Adapted from Spain)

2 hard-boiled eggs
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/4 pounds/1 kg free-range chicken drumsticks and thighs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
All-purpose flour for dredging
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 small bay leaves
4 garlic gloves, roughly chopped
2 small slices baguette, day old or toasted
15 unsalted toasted almonds without skins
1 pinch saffron threads, dry-toasted and ground
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups chicken stock or broth

Peel the eggs and remove and reserve the yolks. Roughly chop the whites and set aside.

In a cazuela, heavy casserole, large saute pan, or deep skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, lightly dredge in flour, and cook until golden, turning as needed, about 8 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a platter. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, the onion, and the bay leaves. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the onion is soft and nearly translucent but now browned, 8 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic, cooking until it is golden and fragrant, about 1 minute; remove and reserve. Add the bread and fry until golden, turning as needed, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic, bread, almonds, saffron, and 1 tablespoons water to a small food processor and grind using quick pulses, checking after each pulse for desired consistency, and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the reserved egg yolks and 1 tablespoon more water and mash into a moist paste.

When the onion is ready, return the chicken to the pan along with the picada, turn to coat the chicken, and then pour in the wine. Let the alcohol burn off for 2 minutes, pour in the stock, and bring to a simmer. Cook uncovered over low heat for about 50 minutes, or until the chicken is very tender but not falling off the bone and the sauce thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper, if needed.

To serve, divide the chicken among plates, cover with the sauce, and garnish with the chopped egg white.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Maple Buttermilk Custard Pie

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This is a lovely seasonal pie featuring a tangy, creamy filling sweetened with maple, and a toothsome crust speckled with crunchy cornmeal.


It's unusual compared to most holiday pies (think pumpkin, pecan, apple, etc) but it still truly reflects the flavors of the season. Although it can be a little sweet and a little rich, the essence of the buttermilk and sour cream really offset the sweetness.


The crust is fantastic, mirroring a traditional pie crust but with some cornmeal in the mix to add some much needed texture to compliment the silky smooth filling. One thing I really love about making custard-based pie filling is the ease.


No need to peel/slice/chop fruit. Just whisk together some basic ingredients and pour it into a partially baked crust and then finish it in the oven for about an hour (that's how long this baked in my ceramic pie dish).


I actually made this pie this year for Thanksgiving, but it would be excellent on any other holiday table. I'm happy to share the recipe just in time for Christmas in case you're looking for something outside of the box that still features seasonal flavors. This is an excellent choice!


Maple Buttermilk Custard Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie, Serves 8 to 10
(From The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book)

Cornmeal Crust:
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup stone-ground cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/4 pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup cold water
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 cup ice

Filling:
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon stone-ground white cornmeal
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla paste (or vanilla extract)
1 cup sour cream
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup maple syrup (preferably Grade B)
1 cup buttermilk

To make the crust: Stir the flour, cornmeal, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl.

Add the butter pieces and coat with the flour mixture using a spatula. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture, working quickly until mostly pea-size pieces of butter remain (a few larger pieces are okay; be careful not to overblend).

Combine the water, cider vinegar, and ice in a large measuring cup or small bowl. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the ice water mixture over the flour mixture, and mix and cut it in with a bench scraper or spatula until it is fully incorporated.

Add more of the ice water mixture, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, and mix until the dough comes together in a ball, with some dry bits remaining.

Squeeze and pinch with your fingertips to bring all the dough together, sprinkling dry bits with more small drops of the ice water mixture, if necessary, to combine.

Shape the dough into a flat disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight, to give the crust time to mellow.

Wrapped tightly, the dough can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for 1 month.

Once dough has been chilled in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, roll out and shape into a 9-inch pie plate. Use a fork to prick all over the bottom and sides, 15 to 20 times. Place the crust in the freezer. Position the oven racks in the bottom and center positions, place a rimmed baking sheet on the lowest rack, and preheat the oven to 425°F.

When the crust is frozen solid (about 10 minutes), line it tightly with a piece or two of aluminum foil. Make sure the edges are completely covered and there are no gaps between the foil and the crust.

Pour pie weights or beans into the pan and spread them so they are concentrated more around the edge of the shell than in the center. Place the pan on the preheated baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, until crimped edges are set but not browned.

Remove the pan and the baking sheet from the oven, lift out the foil and pie weights, and let the crust cool for a minute. Use a pastry brush to coat the bottom and sides with a thin layer of egg white glaze (1 egg white whisked with 1 teaspoon of water) to moisture-proof the crust. Return the pan, on the baking sheet, to the oven’s middle rack and continue baking for 3 more minutes. Remove and cool completely before filling.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Place the partially prebaked pie shell on a rimmed baking sheet.

To make the filling: In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, salt, and melted butter. Add the vanilla paste (or vanilla extract) and the sour cream and stir until smooth. Add the eggs and egg yolk one at a time, blending well after each addition. Add the maple syrup and buttermilk and mix everything together.

Strain the filling through a fine-mesh sieve directly into the pie shell, or strain it into a separate bowl and then pour it into the shell.

Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, rotating 180 degrees when the edges start to set, 30 to 35 minutes through baking.

The pie is finished when the edges are set and puffed slightly and the center is no longer liquid but still quite wobbly. Be careful not to overbake or the custard can separate; the filling will continue to cook and set after the pie is removed from the oven. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours. Serve slightly warm, at room temperature, or cool.

The pie will keep refrigerated for 2 days or at room temperature for 1 day.

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