The Daring Bakers’ April 2012 challenge, hosted by Jason at Daily Candor, were two Armenian standards: nazook and nutmeg cake. Nazook is a layered yeasted dough pastry with a sweet filling, and nutmeg cake is a fragrant, nutty coffee-style cake.
Now that the required opening paragraph is out of the way, I’ll tell you about the baking. Although I was excited to see two baked goods that I had never heard of, I was distressed when I read the ingredients: both recipes contain an awful lot of butter and sugar. I decided that nazook was the lesser of the two evils, nudged by the fact that Mom generally likes yeasted pastries and doesn’t like cakey coffee cakes.
I made a half-recipe of nazook pastry dough as instructed:
Nazook Pastry Dough
Stir together 1 packet of dry yeast (not proofed) and 1 and 1/2 cups sifted flour.
Cut in 1 stick (8 oz.) of soft butter.
Stir in 1/2 cup sour cream (I made mine from the cream leftover from last week’s strawberry shortcake, soured with a teaspoon or so of buttermilk)
Knead until well-mixed.
Wrap and refrigerate overnight — I left mine in a metal mixing bowl, and secured a tea towel over it with a rubber band.
Then make the filling. Right. The traditional nazook filling given was full of flour, sugar and more butter, but Jason did say you could fill it with anything but chocolate and he even gave the chocolate lovers a dispensation to use that. I couldn’t bring myself to make it. Instead, I made some rustic almond paste by pounding 1 cup of granulated sugar with two cups of raw almonds in a mortar and pestle and adding 1 tsp each of vanilla and almond extract. Almond paste takes egg white and the pastry called for egg wash made from an egg yolk, so I added 1 egg white to the almond paste just before I filled the pastries.
The next morning I was in the kitchen before breakfast to divide the dough in half and to roll each half into a long, thin rectangle. The pastry resisted rolling and I had to work quite hard and patiently to get the long rectangle. After you get the rectangle rolled out, you spread the filling on it and roll it up long side to long side — the opposite of how you would make cinnamon rolls. Flatten the roll slightly with your hands, brush it with egg wash, which also helps seal the edges and cut it into smaller pieces. I cut eight from each roll — I could have cut ten from the first one. The second “half” of the dough proved to be a little smaller.
But you see, I can’t leave anything alone. When I saw that the almond paste was running a bit low after the first batch, I quickly cut up some dried apricots and soaked them in a little hot water. I mixed those in with the remaining almond paste for the second batch. I had trimmings left from the ends of each roll and some edges that I squared up, so I rolled those into a small rectangle, cracked some walnuts, spread this dough with a tablespoon of butter, a sprinkle of sugar and cinnamon and some walnut pieces.
Place filled pastries on baking sheet. Bake at 350 for about twenty-five minutes
The results: Nazook turns out to be a tender pastry, dark and shiny from the egg wash. Our favorite filling turned out to be the last one: butter, sugar, cinnamon and walnuts, but I liked the almond paste with apricots, too, and my sister-in-law liked the ones with the almond paste. Next time I would make classic almond paste, by blanching the almonds, mixing them with confectioners’ sugar, egg whites and extracts and grinding it all in the blender.
Proper almond paste:
Blanch 1 and 1/2 cups almonds by boiling them in water for a few minutes. Drain, cool slightly and slip off the skins with your fingers.
Sift 1 and 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
Add 1 egg white and 1 tsp almond extract.
Blend all ingredients in blender until combined.
Food notes: I wish I had had some cream cheese, quark or cottage cheese in the house because I think Nazook would be lovely with a sweetened cream cheese (or ricotta) filling. I might try mixing dried cherries into almond paste as well since I liked the apricot-almond combination. Because the dough for Nazook contains no sugar and produces tender pastry, I am tempted to try making savory pastries with it some time, using mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, chard and cheese.