Thursday, December 18, 2014

Almond Phyllo Swirl

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.


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