Friday, December 27, 2013

Lebanese Spinach Pies (Fatayir)

Spinach fatayir are a family favorite. My husband's grandmother made legendary fatayir, and while her recipe may be lost forever, my father-in-law claims these are as close as he has ever tasted. There are a few tricks to know before getting started, but the most important is tasting the filling before assembly. Adjust salt and lemon to taste, remembering that the acidity of lemon juice dissipates with heat, so some of the tartness is lost through baking; we like our spinach pies with a kick of tart so I often add more lemon juice to compensate. Salt is the other component of note, once that filling is wrapped in dough, it is too late to add anything, so taste before filling and adjust as desired.

There are a few other tricks as well, noted in the how-to method with pictures below. The basic recipe is as follows:

Spinach Fatayir

Basic 5-cup Bread Dough (use only half the sugar for a more savory dough, the dough should be slightly sticky/wet so it is easier to roll and fold)
2 lbs fresh or frozen whole leaf spinach
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1-2 leeks, chopped (can substitute shallot or onion)
1 bunch parsley, minced
5-6 green onions, white and some green stem, minced
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
juice of 1 lemon (or more to taste)

1/2 cup oil (half margarine/butter, half olive oil) melted

If using fresh spinach, it should be chopped and sauteed lightly in a pan with a bit of olive oil to release the water, just until it wilts. Remove to plate and allow to cool before squeezing any remaining water out by hand. Frozen spinach should be thawed and then squeezed by hand to extract as much water as possible, chop lightly. Place spinach in a large bowl.

Heat oil in a large fry pan and add onion and leek/shallot and saute until translucent. Remove to bowl with spinach and proceed to add all remaining ingredients, with the exception of the melted oil. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

See folding methods below. Brush with melted oil. Bake 18-20 minutes at 400-degrees

Fatayir made by dividing the dough into balls, flattening to circle shape and then filling each.

Fatayir made by rolling the dough thin and cutting the shape with a cookie cutter before filling.
I have experimented with both methods of folding fatayir and I prefer a less traditional way of rolling the dough as thin as possible, which means I depend on the stickiness of the dough to the counter to pull the dough until it 'window panes' at which point I can see the counter top through the dough, not all over, just in some places. This method may not be ideal for the beginner, so I made a second batch (see the sacrifices I put my family through to make a recipe as comprehensive as possible?) just to test the filling to dough ratio if dividing the dough, and it is documented here as well.

The recipe as written will make 24-30 fatayir using the rolling dough method with a 4 1/4-inch circle cookie cutter and 1/4 cup spinach filling in each.
Two dozen fatayir with the method of dividing the dough into 24 equal dough balls, rolling, flattening, or stretching the balls flat to at least 5-inch circles and then filling them with 1/3 cup filling. 
The method for folding is the same and since I prefer the more nontraditional method, most of the pictures below illustrate the rolling dough method unless otherwise indicated.

Here is the dough ball method, divide dough into four equal portions, then divide each quarter of dough into six equal sections. Roll each (some stealing of little bits from bigger pieces to give to the smaller is done) into a ball and cover the bunch with plastic wrap as you work so the dough does not dry out. 
Alternatively, if rolling the dough, start by dividing the dough into four equal sections, cover the other three as you work to keep them from drying out and roll the dough as thin as possible. Lift and pull the dough gently to stretch it thin. This requires a somewhat sticky work space, so do not over flour before rolling the dough.
Place 1/4 cup of filling on each circle, but move quickly so the dough does not dry out. If it does, simply dampen the edge of the circle with your finger to encourage it to stick as you fold the triangles. 
To fold the fatayir, grab the opposite sides of the circle and bring them together over the filling, pinching one edge to seal it. Be careful to keep the filling out of the joint or the oil will keep the folds from joining and they will break apart when baked. 

Take the remaining flap and pull the middle section toward the folded dough, again being careful as to not let the spinach filling come in contact with the edges that are being folded and pinched together.
Finish the triangle shape by pinching the open corners to enclose the filling completely. Sometimes the middles pull open a bit no matter how careful you are to keep the filling from touching the dough, a small opening in the middle is perfectly acceptable, even desired by some grandmothers (or so I am told.)
A perfectly folded fatayir takes some practice. Even after 15+ years of making them, I rarely get them all folded as perfectly as the one in the picture. Tell your loved ones to eat the ugly ones first (I bet they don't complain.)
Remove the dough around the circles that are cut so it doesn't dry out as you work; roll it again after it has had time to rest with all the remaining cut edges. There is no discernible difference in texture between the dough only rolled once and those rolled a second time and made from the cut edges. 
Brush the fatayir generously with melted oil, both now before the baking and again just before they are done to give them a more beautiful golden brown color and to enhance the flavor.
Place the pies on the pan as shown here with enough space for some expansion as they bake. They do not need to rise very long before baking, I often put them right into the oven as soon as they are folded. They should be baked soon after assembly though since the dough is thin and the filling is wet, they can break down if allowed to sit too long. 
Brush each fatayir a second time, the saltiness of the margarine/butter is essential to great flavor, but the oil also lets the dough 'fry' just a bit to enhance the crust further. Bake them approximately 20 minutes in a 400-degree oven until they develop a beautiful golden brown color. Remove from pan to cool on rack.

Serve warm or at room temperature with a wedge of lemon if desired. Store leftovers in a sealed container. Fatayir can be reheated in a 425-degree oven for 5-7 minutes with excellent results. 


Monday, December 23, 2013

Walnut filled Star Bread

This recipe is all technique, so scroll through the pictures below to see how to put these simple ingredients together to make this beautiful breakfast bread:

Basic 5-cup Bread Dough
1 1/2 cups walnuts
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons margarine - divided 2 T. for filling, 2 T. melted for brushing over risen dough

Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.
1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons hot milk (microwave for 20-30 seconds)
Whisk together ingredients until no lumps are visible. 

Place walnuts, powdered sugar, cinnamon, and 2 T. margarine in bowl of food processor.

Pulse all ingredients to fine paste, leaving only small bits of walnuts visible.

Divide the filling into three equal portions.

Divide the bread dough into four equal pieces and shape each into a ball.

Lightly flour the work surface. The dough needs to stick a little so do not over flour.

Roll the dough out slightly larger than a 14-inch round pizza pan. Press the pan into the dough to leave an indented circle to use as a guide to stretching out subsequent circles. 

Spread out one portion of the filling on this bottom layer. Be less generous in the middle than on the outer edges, since the middle tends to get doughy and not cook through if the filling is too heavy.

Roll out another circle of dough to approximately 14 inches and lay it over the first layer of filling. Stretch it to meet the indented circle made by the pan and spread the second ball of filling over it. Note in the picture, breaking the filling into chunks around the circle edge makes spreading it easier. Repeat until all filling and dough balls have been used. 

Poke the middle with a fork through the dough layers. The bread can rise unevenly in the middle without the holes. 
Wet the outside edge of the bottom layer with a bit of water if it has dried out and fold it up over the top, pinching it evenly all around the edge. 
Use the rolling pin to flip the dough over, seam side down and place it on an oiled (Pam spray) pan. Be gentle with this procedure, the bottom layer of dough is thin and could rip through to expose the nut mixture, ruining the design. 
Gently press the dough to shape it back into a circle and out toward the edges of the pan. 
Use a small dish (this one is 3 1/2" in diameter) to mark the center of the dough and cut through all the dough layers to create four equal sections. 

Cut each of those four sections into 3 equal sections for a total of 12. 

Then twist the dough, a half twist shows the seam side up. 

 The completed twist will place the seam side down, this is desired. 

Twist opposing sections toward on another. 

Each section should appear to make a point as they twist inward. 

Poke more holes with a fork into the top in a decorative design to encourage an even rise.

The edges of the dough can be pulled gently outward until they fill the pan. Don't fret about areas where the pan shows through, they fill in as the dough rises and bakes.  Cover with plastic wrap or damp towel and allow to rise in a warm place about 1 hour.

NOTE: The bread can go into the refrigerator overnight (or up to 12 hours) to be baked in the morning. Simply remove the bread and allow it to come to room temperature, which should encourage it to finish the rise and be ready to bake in about an hour. 

Once the dough looks plump and about double in size, it is ready to bake. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons margarine and brush the top to encourage browning and a shiny beautiful appearance. Bake at 375-degrees for 20-25 minutes.
Brush the bread a second time with the remaining margarine as it nears the desired golden brown color. Do not underbake, the walnut mixture can make the bread doughy if not allowed to fully take on a golden hue, waiting for the bread to bake is the most difficult part!
While the bread is still warm, frost with the glaze, allowing the frosting to soak into the bread a bit which allows more of the beautiful design to show through.  It is ready to eat anytime, warm or room temperature and keeps well overnight if covered.

Serve by cutting into wedges. Each wedge can be halved, but almost everyone will be back for a second portion. This bread easily serves twelve.

Enjoy! Please feel free to leave a comment, I would love to hear if you make modifications and other successes with filling. 

Note: Another beautiful option for this bread is using Nutella, there are recipes and videos from a number of sources around the internet. Admittedly, one came to me through social media prior to making my version but I created this recipe completely myself, only having seen the picture as an idea for this shape. 

Bread Dough by Hand

I am the first to admit that I am not an artisanal bread baker, I simply don't have the interest. What does interest me though is having my meager effort result in successful bread. My number one goof in the past had been leaving out either the yeast or the salt, (both of which must be present to create tasty bread) so I came up a sort of mnemonic to help me remember both the recipe and as an aid to keep me from forgetting a vital ingredient; my hand.

The picture above is the recipe for my Basic 5-cup Bread:

  • 5 cups of flour, 5 fingers = 5 cups, that is easy enough (and all my mixer will hold.)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons yeast, or the same as 1 packet.
  • Salt, 1/2 tablespoon (I know how much that looks like in the palm of my hand, my normal method of measure) but that also measures out to 1 1/2 teaspoons.
  • Sugar, up to 1/4 cup, (the size of the scoop left in my sugar bucket.) Sugar, according to taste, can either be left out completely, substituted for any other form of sweetener and/or reduced for a more savory dough. 
  • Oil, 1 tablespoon, is designated to the pinky finger because I rarely even add it, however it does enhance the crumb and adds moisture, so just eyeball about a tablespoon into the bowl. Bread is forgiving.
  • The palm of the hand represents the water 1 1/2 to 2 cups, which holds all the other ingredients together.

The flour, salt, and yeast represent the trinity of necessity in bread baking, without them the bread will be flat, both without lift or flavor. As I assemble the ingredients in the bowl, I tick these three off as if the names were actually written on each finger, knowing if I have remembered these, (assuming the yeast is active) the bread will be a success.

NOTE ABOUT YEAST: If your yeast is old, mix 1/2 cup of the warm water into it. If it bubbles and gets 'lively' after about 7-10 minutes in the water, it is working and active. If not, either you killed it with too hot of water, or it was dead to begin with; get new yeast. If your yeast is newly purchased and kept in the fridge it will keep up to a year or longer without worry.

Dough with Stand Mixer:

Measure the ingredients excluding the water into the bowl of a stand mixer, but be careful to not add the yeast directly on top of the salt (it can kill it.) Turn the mixer on low to mix the ingredients together and then slowly pour in water. **see note below

**  Water amounts vary due to air humidity and exactness of flour measurements, so as the dough mixes, wait to see if the last 1/2 cup is needed by giving the dough enough time to form and lift away from the bottom of the bowl. Add water when the dough looks too dry to fully incorporate the flour. If it gets too wet and leaves a 'foot' attached to the bowl, simply add flour, 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough no longer sticks to the bottom. Actually though...a small 'foot' of dough stuck to the bottom is perfectly acceptable; it will be a tad bit stickier to work with (but that can be a good thing when stuffing, rolling, stretching it.) This pictures shows the dough with no foot, but it is not yet smooth enough, the dough should mix until it has a smooth appearance.
Dough without Mixer:

Alternatively, if mixing the dough by hand, put all the ingredients together in a large bowl and make a well in the middle to pour in the water. With your hand, incorporate the flour 'walls' of the well into the water, working around the edges until all the flour absorbs the water. When the mass becomes unworkable in the bowl, turn it out onto a tabletop and knead it all together until it is smooth.

Once the dough has mixed in the bowl for 3-5 minutes (or kneaded by hand) it is time to let it rise. Oil the bowl, cooking spray works great for this, turn the dough over in the oil so that both sides are covered, this keep the bread from drying out. Mark a cross into the top, this will help determine how the bread is rising. 

Cover the bowl and let rise in a warm place until double in size, approximately 1 1/2 hours. An alternative to plastic wrap is to cover the bowl with a damp towel or use a large dinner plate. 

Compare how the cross has been stretched and the dough is obviously at least double in size. If you think you might forget, set a timer starting at 45 minutes to check the bread and every 20 minutes thereafter until the dough appears doubled and then punch it down. 

The dough is now ready to be shaped into loaves or used in any number of recipes. This is a terrific all purpose dough. Watch upcoming PiX FiZ recipes for ways to use this dough for both savory and sweet treats.

As a rule of thumb, I typically find that most recipes using this amount of dough take about 20-25 minutes to bake at 375-degrees.

Feel free to print the picture above and add it to the inside of your cupboard door as a quick reference.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Vegan Date and Walnut Maamoul

I can't recall the first time I had maamoul, or even where I have ever had a really great version of this cookie, to be perfectly honest, I have had far more awful experiences than I have had great memorable ones. Still I persist with my ideas of what this cookie should taste like. I've made maamoul off and on for years and have not hit upon a cookie worth recreating until this version. I fully admit that this maamoul is unique, perhaps not completely authentic, but in my experience, the range of what you get under the label 'authentic' is a wide and somewhat uninspired mix. 

There are cookies that are luxurious, rich, dripping with sweet, that melt on your tongue and transport you to warmth; something like the perfectly baked, gooey but crisp, buttery chocolate chip cookie. This cookie is not that experience. 

This cookie is more along the lines of standing in your ethnic grandmother's kitchen, surrounded by the aroma of exotic spices, listening intently to a foreign tongue, while watching at eye level as the women around the table transform everyday ingredients into art. In flowery praise, no doubt some bit of their conversation would boast maamoul's ability to satisfy hunger equal only to the pleasure it produced on the tongue. Admittedly, I may have gotten a bit carried away with the imagery, (I never had an ethnic grandmother) but to my mind, maamoul are the granola bars of their time; snacks that fit into your pocket and were meant to satisfy any occasion of hunger.

Thinking along those lines of healthy satisfaction I started with this recipe, because I was intrigued with the idea of using semolina (Cream of Wheat) and this one had an unusually high percentage of it compared to other versions I have seen. Another bit of inspiration came from this vegan pie crust recipe using coconut oil, which I was ashamed to admit I had never even considered (but I am definitely going to try!) Finally, I had my own ideas about the filling, desiring a more blended, not chunky version that was heavy with nut protein but a bit lighter than tradition on date sweetness.

The results are a cookie that the adults in this multi-generational family raved about and the kids ate without complaint, but also one I could hand out generously because they are packed with healthy ingredients. In my book, that is a successful cookie. I can only hope that my future includes a table of old ladies chatting away about food while our grandchildren look on with anticipation as we make trays full of these little gems. 

Vegan Date and Walnut Maamoul

1 teaspoon yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups semolina (I used whole grain Cream of Wheat)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup coconut oil

3/4 cup chopped dates
1 cup walnuts 
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon margarine
1/2-1 teaspoon rose water (optional -use according to taste)

  1. Heat oven to 350-degrees.
  2. In a small bowl, combine 1 teaspoon yeast with 1/2 cup warm water.
  3. In the bowl of the food processor, combine semolina, flour and powdered sugar, add coconut oil and pulse until no visible chunks of coconut oil remain. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and pulse again to incorporate. 
  4. Pour out ingredients to a medium sized bowl and stir in the yeast mixture until the dough comes together.
  5. Set the bowl on the oven (in a warm spot) while preparing the filling mixture. 
  6. Blend the dates, walnuts, powdered sugar, margarine and rose water in the food processor until the desired consistency. The paste should not be completely smooth, but the walnuts should all be chopped fine and uniform in size. 
  7. On the work surface, divide the dough into two balls. Divide each ball into 4 sections and each of those sections into 3, creating a total of 24 equal sized portions.

  8. Take each portion and flatten it into a circle, the heat from your hand helps to melt the coconut oil and make the dough more malleable. Place a teaspoon of filling in the center of each flat disk and shape the remaining dough around it. Flatten the cookie on a sheet pan and press it with a decorative bottomed bowl or plate. Alternatively, use a maamoul mold. 
  9. Bake for 19-20 minutes, the cookies will be a light golden brown when done. Remove to cooling rack before enjoying.
  10. Store the cookies in an airtight container. Maamoul hold their crunch even after days of storage.
For a little more festive look, dust the maamoul with powdered sugar.