When I lived in San Francisco we used to frequent the most amazing Greek restaurant called Mykonos. It has just the right amount of atmosphere; it’s cozy, non pretentious, and has great authentic affordable Greek food. They have THE best moussaka I’ve ever had and great baklava. The husband and I always ordered the same exact thing every single time; a family platter that had an assortment of traditional food and it came with coffee and baklava at the end of the meal. We almost never ate the baklava in the restaurant because we always left too full and with leftovers to boot. I would save it for the next day and when I did- I savored it with a good cup of coffee or tea. I always looked forward to that baklava and promised myself that eventually I would take a crack at making my own. Baklava is not hard to make- just a bit time consuming and tedious, but there is something relaxing and almost meditative that happens while you build each layer of love.
At first glance you will be scared when it comes out of the oven, as it looks dry and somewhat of an experimental science project gone wrong, but have no fear. Once you pour over the unctuous sweet syrup is when the magic truly happens. It is not a dessert to make when you are in a rush but rather a treat to build while you have the kitchen to yourself, it’s quiet and you can enjoy the process. You must also reserve some constraint as the whole mass must bathe languidly in that syrup for 6-8 hours or overnight to soak up the sweet love before you can bust into it, so plan accordingly.
I must have researched and read a million recipes before coming up with this combination. Some recipes call for all walnuts while others call for a combination of almonds, walnuts, and pistachios or even all pistachios- it’s really what you prefer just make sure you have a total weight of one pound of nuts.
yield: one 9×13 inch pan (about 24 pieces depending how small you cut them)
one (1 lb.) package of filo dough- thawed in the fridge overnight
1 lb. of nuts (I chose 50% walnuts/50% pistachios) [mixture to equal about 4 cups onced chopped if you don’t have a scale]
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
2-3 sticks unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 Cup sugar
1/2 Cup honey (I used orange blossom)
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 piece orange rind- minus the pith (approx. 1 inch wide by 2 inch long)
3/4 Cup water
1. Make the syrup first and then allow it to cool in the pan to room temperature. Remove the filo dough from the fridge and allow it to come to room temp (in the box) for 1-2 hours.
2. To make the syrup: place all the contents in a saucepan (2-3 quart size is best) and bring to a boil over medium high heat stirring just initially until the sugar is dissolved, then decrease the heat to medium low and boil for 4 minutes (without stirring). Remove from the heat and let cool. Once cool, remove the orange rind.
3. Place the nuts in a food processor and pulse until nuts are fine, but do not grind to a powder. I pulsed my pistachios and walnuts separately as they are different sizes and this ensures they do not get too small. Place both nuts in a bowl and add the spices and mix to combine.
4. Prepare the filo by placing 2 sheets of plastic wrap side by side and overlapping slightly on the counter top. Carefully lay out the sheets of filo onto the plastic wrap and cut the stack to size to fit your pan. All brands are different- (My filo came in one huge stack that measured 13 x 18 inches so I simply cut it into two stacks each stack measuring 9 x 13) then place another sheet of plastic wrap big enough to cover on top of the filo, followed by a damp tea towel or kitchen towel. Keep the filo dough covered this way as you are working with it to ensure it does not dry out as the dough can easily tear. You may need to check your tea towel and re wet it and squeeze out again to maintain a damp towel.
5. Brush the sides and bottom of a 9×13 inch pan with melted butter. Carefully pick up one sheet of filo dough and place it on the bottom of the pan and brush with melted butter. Continue in this manner; brushing EACH and EVERY sheet carefully with melted butter (I used a silicone brush) until you have built a stack of 10. Sprinkle a generous 3/4 Cup of nut mixture over the stack. Start another stack (this time a stack of 5 layers) (ALWAYS brushing EACH layer with melted butter as you “stack”), then sprinkle 3/4 Cup of nut mixture. Continue this 5 layer stack followed by nut sprinkle until you have used all the nuts, then build a final and top layer of 10 sheets or a minimum of 5-7 if your package does not allow a final layer of 10. Make sure to brush the final top layer with melted butter. Preheat the oven to 325° F.
6. Take a sharp pointed knife and cut 3 vertical lines so you visually have 4 equal portioned vertical rows through the entire built layer spacing your rows about 1.5 inches apart (see the above picture). Now cut diagonal rows through the entire stacked layers (to form diamond shapes) and place the baklava in a 325° F oven and bake for 45-50 minutes or until it is light golden brown.
7. Remove the baklava and allow to sit for 5 minutes then pour the cooled syrup over the baklava. You will hear it hiss and crack a bit (that’s normal). Allow to sit a room temperature to soak up the syrup. Once room temp, cover lightly with plastic wrap and let sit for 6-8 hours or overnight to ensure the baklava soaks up the syrup. Enjoy at room temperature or warm slightly if you wish by zapping in the microwave.
I know you want something easy. Nothing too fussy. Nothing too hard to pull together on a weekend. Sure, I get it. A good low maintenance recipe. A good
reason , err– excuse to eat pie (sort of) for breakfast. I gotcha. More grown up than a pop tart. Something to throw into the hand of a 13 year old zooming out the door who doesn’t eat breakfast but complains he’s hungry. A grumpy husband perhaps who “doesn’t do breakfast”. Uh huh- you know the type. Enter stage left…duh duh duh the turnover. Your answer to something you can hold in your hand and shove (yep, conveniently it has a starter corner) into your–dare I say it–“Pie hole”. Sorry…I had to go there. Your welcome.
yield: 4 turnovers
1/2 package of ready made puff pastry; thawed in the refrigerator
2 Golden Delicious apples
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 1/2 Tbsp. dried currants (optional)
1/3 Cup sugar + 2 Tbsp.
1/2 tsp. apple pie spice
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
2 1/2 tsp. water
egg wash: 1 egg mixed with 1 tsp. water
coarse white sugar or sugar in the raw (Demerara sugar)
1. Peel and chop the apples into about 1/2 inch pieces. Immediately toss the apples with the lemon juice to coat evenly. Stir in the (optional) currants. Add the sugar and spice and combine well. Mix together the cornstarch and water in a small bowl and set aside.
2. In a skillet melt the butter and add the apple mixture. Cook over medium heat for about 2-3 minutes until apples soften. Stir in the vanilla and then add the cornstarch mixture and heat until filling bubbles and thickens, cooking for about 1-2 minutes. Remove the filling to a bowl and chill to allow the mixture to cool.
3. Unfold the puff pastry and sprinkle both sides lightly with flour. Using a rolling pill smooth out the fold lines and roll the pastry lightly into about an 11 inch square. Cut the puff pastry into 4 equal squares. Looking at each individual square of pastry brush the left inside and lower edges of each of the squares lightly with egg wash; being careful not to get the edges too wet. Place about 3-4 tablespoons of the apple filling to the middle of each square. Fold down the top left corner edge of pastry to meet the opposite lower right corner to meet the corners together to form a triangle, and press lightly with your finger to seal. Take a fork dipped in flour and press/seal the edges of the triangle together. Place the turnovers onto a parchment lined baking sheet and brush each turnover with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Pierce the top of each turnover with a fork twice. Chill the turnovers directly on the tray for 30-40 minutes.
Note: you may fill & assemble each turnover and freeze unbaked. To bake off in a 425° F oven from frozen state; just bake a bit longer.
Note: you most likely will have about 3 Tbsp. of the filling leftover; you can save it and use to stir into oatmeal or yogurt later in the week.
4. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
5. Bake turnovers for 20-25 minutes until puffed and golden brown. Cool the sheet over a wire rack until turnovers are cool enough to handle. Best served warm.
When I was a little girl I LOVED Easter. Not necessarily for the reasons you make think of.
Sure there were chocolate bunnies, pretty pastel baskets filled with funny green plastic grass and jelly beans. What’s a kid not to love?
One of the other reasons I loved Easter was looking at all the beautiful hats on the ladies in church. When you are short, legs dangling and all in your shiny white shoes, seated in a pew with the masses, you can’t see much up front but the tops of all the heads in front of you… and you start to notice things.
Hats, and LOTS of them. A field of pretty pastel madness. Plastic flowers, check. Ribbons flowing, check. Bright pink lipstick, check. Nothing was too tacky. Even the ladies who were a bit shy would channel their serious inner diva.
Easter was when you pulled out all the stops. Hats, gloves, pins. White patent leather. Ugh, okay white patent leather we can do without. I would glance over to the left, and then to the right– and if I was lucky and had an aisle view–I’d rubber neck sideways down the aisle to gaze at all the hats. Now, my Mother used to bring life savers candies to church with her and she slipped me those when I started to get a little antsy to keep my quiet. Let’s just say she went through a lot of lifesavers in her day, (this explains A LOT for sweettooth) but on Easter day-nary a lifesaver was peeled off. I was entranced, fascinated if you will–with all the pastel madness going on. Easter was made for pastel. Anything. I am still mad for pastels and calling out that 7 yr. old little girl to help dress up my eclairs. Happy Easter~
Pastel Easter Eclairs
yield: 11-12 eclairs
Chocolate Pastry Cream
1 1/4 C whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
3 egg yolks
1/4 C sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. corn starch
1 Tbsp. soft butter
2 oz. semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
In a medium bowl place the egg yolks and sugar and whisk vigorously to combine. In a small bowl combine the flour and corn starch; stir into the egg & sugar mixture to combine. In a sauce pan bring together the milk and vanilla bean paste to a boil. Kill the heat. Remove the milk from the heat and slowly temper in about half of the milk a little at a time to your egg yolk mixture; whisking continuously to ensure the yolks don’t burn. Return the mixture to the rest of the milk in the pan, and on low-medium heat, whisk the mixture vigorously until the cream thickens; keep whisking and cook it for about one minute. Kill the heat and transfer it to a bowl. Whisk in the soft butter. Stir in the chopped chocolate and stir to combine. If you think you may have any lumps you can pass it through a sieve. Skipping this step would make many a pastry chef cringe, but I’m a whisking maniac and am pretty fast so I skip this step. Cover the surface with plastic wrap and chill until cold.
Variation: White Chocolate Pastry Cream; add 3 oz. melted white chocolate after transferring to bowl; whisk to combine.
Pâte a Choux Pastry
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon granulated white sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla powder (optional)
pinch of nutmeg (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup water
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 egg beaten (for egg wash)
1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Prepare a sheet tray with baking (parchment) paper. Draw lines with pencil for desired length you want. Turn paper over. In a small bowl combine the flour, sugar, vanilla powder, nutmeg and salt. Place the butter and water in a saucepan on medium high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and with a wooden spoon add the flour mixture (all at once) and stir to combine. Return to heat and stir vigorously until the dough comes away from sides of the pan and forms a smooth ball (about 2 minutes). Transfer the dough to an electric mixer and beat on low-speed for 1 minute. Once the dough is lukewarm, start beating in the eggs and continue to mix until a thick smooth paste forms.
2. Place the dough in a pastry bag(making sure no air bubbles) fitted with a large round tip (Ateco 806 or 808-I like the 808). Pipe strips of dough using a 45 degree angle, to desired length (I like 3 inches). Leave at least 2 inches in between. Use a finger dipped in water to tap down any points of dough. (You don’t want any peaks of dough as they will burn). Brush with egg wash. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce oven to 350° F and continue to bake for about 25 more minutes or until golden brown and when insides are not wet. Remove the tray from the oven and pierce the ends of each eclair puff with a toothpick (this ensures the eclairs don’t delfate). Return the tray to the oven and turn off oven and prop open oven door slightly and leave eclairs in oven to dry for about 10-15 mins. Note: if insides are not done the insides will turn a weird grayish color. After the drying time remove tray and allow eclairs to cool on a wire rack.
Tip: If you are not serving right away do not fill with filling as they will turn soft. You may “recrisp” your shells in an oven at 325 degrees for a few minutes the next day or so if you want to wait to fill and serve. Just store your shells in a ziplock bag.
How to fill eclairs:
Using a sharp tip of a knife, drill 2 small holes on underside of eclair shells. Fit a piping bag with a small star tip and stick into each hole. Pipe the pastry cream into the holes. Stop when you feel resistance. Note: you can also split the shells horizontallly and pipe the cream in; (I just prefer this way so that is how I do it). If you are not comfortable with this method then by all means you can split the shells and pipe the pastry cream.
How to glaze:
Once the eclairs are filled; dip the top into the glaze and then turn the eclair vertical to let the glaze “run” down the eclair; wipe glaze off with your finger to avoid running off off the end. Decorate as desired. To speed up drying time you can place in the fridge to chill.
White Chocolate Glaze
3 oz. white chocolate chopped very fine
1.5 oz. heavy cream
gel paste food colors (to generate pastel colors) Note: YOU CANNOT USE LIQUID FOOD COLORS AS THE GLAZE WILL SEIZE.
Place the chocolate in a heat proof bowl. Heat the cream to just a boil. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir well to combine. If you still have tiny bits of unmelted chocolate place in the microwave and heat at 10 second intervals, stir until melted. Portion out small amounts of ganache and add just a toothpick prick amount at a time of gel color at a time to tint; stir well to combine. To achieve a color that is a bit more opaque you can add a tsp. of confectioners sugar and stir well. You may have to dip the eclairs 2-3 times if you want more of an opaque look.
Chocolate Glaze Option
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (chopped fine)
4 Tbsp. unsalted soft butter
Place chocolate in a small heat proof bowl and microwave until melted. Stir in the soft butter until smooth.
You may have noticed a lapse in my blogging. I was knocked down with some evil virus this past week and it hit me hard. I lost all energy and motivation-for anything. Baking, as much as I love; took a back seat. I’m happy to report I am back on the mend but not exactly high on motivation yet. To ease back into my bakingdom I knew it would have to be something easy. French apple tart to the rescue. I even have a pastry crust product I like to buy [French Picnic] that comes all stamped out into a perfect round. You don’t even have to unfold anything or coax out any annoying folds on the pastry. I usually make my own pie crust but I am feeling uber lazy. You just slide out that puppy from the box and thaw and you are good to go. Good quality applesauce, fresh apples, butter and sugar and that’s pretty much it. Bon appetit!
French Apple Tart
9 inch pastry crust ;unbaked
2-3 Tablespoons applesauce
4-5 golden delicious apples; sliced thin
This is not so much a recipe, but a process. You could take any size of crust depending on how large a tart you want to make. Start by removing the peels from the apples and cut off the “cheeks” from the apples and slice into thin slices about 1/4 inch thick. Toss the apples in bowl with a little lemon juice or “fruit fresh”. (You can usually find it by the canning products in the grocery store). I personally like fruit fresh powder as it does not add any moisture to the apples. Just sprinkle a little fruit fresh and toss your apples to coat. It prevents the apples from oxidizing while you prepare your tart.
Spread a thin layer of applesauce over the tart crust and then shingle the apple slices; to create a decorative patter. Brush the apples with soft butter and then sprinkle generously with sugar. Bake the tart at 400 degrees F until the apples are slightly brown around the edges and the apples are soft; about 30 minutes. Cool the tart on a wire rack.
I just bought a strawberry plant. I’m hopeful but cautious at the same time. It’s a known fact that I do not have a green thumb. The Husband will be quick to vouch for this-the fact that I kill plants. When we were first married he had this crazy-God knows what it was-leafy plant. He was so proud that he had this plant for years and it had thrived with gentle watering and sweet talking. Then I came along. It died. Ever since this I have tried to grow various plants. I’m good with herbs; no problem. Plants are a different story. Thirteen years later since killing The Husband’s plant, I am still trying. I could not resist the cute strawberry plant at Home Depot. There it was just beckoning me. I know, I know…but I had to buy it. The dark green leaves, the tiny little strawberry buds, the delicate little white flowers. The entire plant housed in a perfect basket for hanging. I am determined not to kill this plant. In the meantime, while I am awaiting the outcome of my berry bliss, I am lucky to find plump sweet California berries in my local market; perfect for mini tart tatins.
Mini Strawberry Tarte Tatins
(yield: 12 mini tarte tatins)
recipe adapted from Donna Hay
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 Cup caster (superfine) sugar
3 Tbsp. water
1 Tbsp. vanilla bean paste
fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and cut in half
frozen puff pastry, thawed
1. Preheat oven to 400° F. In a small nonstick pan combine the butter, water, and sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Let boil for about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla bean paste.
2. Prepare a muffin tin by spraying the wells lightly with non-stick spray. Place about 3 small berries in the bottom of the wells with the rounded side down and cut side up. Pour about 2 tsp. of caramel over the berries. Using a round cutter place a cut piece of puff pastry that is about 1/2 inch bigger than the muffin tin. Tuck the pastry over the berries and tuck down into the wells slightly.
3. Bake the tatins for about 20 minutes or the pastry is golden. Let the tatins rest for about 10 minutes. Carefully invert by placing a sheet pan over the muffin tins and invert. Spoon any syrup over the tatins. Serve with creme fraiche or ice cream if desired.
Cream horn. This little pastry gem falls under the category simple but tasty. So simple to make. Sure you can buy them at the store, but when you make them at home you can also know that they are fresh and have not been sitting there for God knows how long. Growing up my Mom used to buy cream horns at the store all the time. We weren’t really a twinkie kind of household. Explains a lot, no? When I was in pastry school and we learned how to make fresh puff pastry this little pastry treat was one of the recipes we made. You can make a million things with puff pastry and it’s handy to have a box in your freezer when the mood strikes you to make something tasty and easy. Our teacher in pastry school; the amazing pastry chef Nancy Pitta taught us to put a spin on the recipe and add a piped stripe of raspberry jam on the inside belly of the horn before piping in the cream. I will never make a plain cream horn ever again since that day. The raspberry jam totally makes this simple treat even better.
Raspberry and Cream Horns
yield: about 12 cream horns
1 box puff pastry
metal “horns” for wrapping puff pastry on (note; if you do not have the metal horns you can create your own by using tinfoil to shape a horn shape) cannoli tubes also work if you happen to have them
coarse sanding sugar
seedless raspberry jam
stabilized whipped cream (recipe below)
Stabilized whipped cream:
4 tsp. cold water
2 tsp. gelatin
1 cup cold heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1. Chill mixing bowl and whisk attachment for at least 15 minutes before using. Place cold water in a small microwave-safe bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over water and allow to soften 5 minutes.
2. Dissolve gelatin by microwaving for about 20-30 seconds. Remove from microwave and place the bowl in the fridge; you want the gelatin to be liquid but not warm when added to cream.
3. Remove bowl and whisk from refrigerator and pour in cream, sugar, and vanilla extract. Beat together just until beater marks begin to show distinctly; about 1 minute. Remove the gelatin from the fridge, with the mixer still running, pour the gelatin mixture in a fine stream into cream, pouring in a steady stream while beating constantly. Beat until stiff peaks form. Chill until ready to use.
1. Thaw puff pastry according to package directions. Roll over the pastry a few times with a rolling pin to secure any seams in the pastry. With a pastry wheel or sharp knife cut strips of the puff about 3/4 inch in diameter. Lightly grease the metal horns with nonstick baking spray. Wrap the puff strips around the metal horn starting at the tapered end and overlapping 1/2 half of each strip as you make your way up the horn. Add strips as you need to so you have a continuous wrap up the metal horn. Secure and pinch any loose seams to keep the wrap tight as you go.
2. Once the horns are completely wrapped brush each horn on one side with water and press into coarse sugar. Place the pastry horns on a Silpat or parchment lined baking sheet with the sugar side facing up and chill for at least 30 minutes.
3. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool completely on the tray.
4. Pipe each bottom floor of the pastry horn with raspberry jam. Fill the remaining pastry horn with stabilized whipped cream. These are best served the same day, but leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge.