Archives for posts with tag: pastry
Painting depicts tray of nazook, a filled Armenian pastry.

Nazook. 8″ x 8″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

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.

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original watercolor of tomato tart and ingredients

Tomato Tart 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil Sharyn Dimmick

When I started blogging five weeks ago, the first food blog I found that I subscribed to was KristaandJess. Their posts have been arriving regularly in my email box. I always read them. Sometimes I comment. I’ve sighed for their watermelon chips after the end of watermelon season and longed for a juicer to make a variation on their carrot-nectarine smoothie (sans bananas).

Then they posted a link to David Lebovitz’s French Tomato Tart. I looked at it. I posted a question about it. I suggested a crust variation (my Mom’s own pie crust, which you will find in my Gravenstein Apple Pie post).  I looked at Lebovitz’s tart again. I read his recipe carefully. And then I went to work.

Mom had made a recipe of pie crust because I was going to make another Gravenstein apple pie. I did that, pulling a paper bag of apples from the back of the fridge and peeling four large apples. But before I put the apple pie in a 400 degree oven, I rolled out a single crust for my fluted porcelain tart pan. I spread the crust with honey mustard, stopping to combine two partly-used jars of honey mustard by adding a little white vinegar to the lighter jar and pouring it through a funnel into the other jar. Then I sliced the huge tomato waiting on the counter — this recipe is an excellent thing to do with a monster-sized tomato — and laid it into the mustard-slathered crust. I added just a touch of olive oil and went out to pick herbs from the front yard, bringing in basil and Thai basil and a handful of chives. I snipped chives over the tomatoes with scissors and tore basil leaves over the top.

Then I went back to the refrigerator for the only cheese remaining in the house besides cream cheese and Parmesan: a chunk of lemon Stiiton that was too sweet to eat in sandwiches. I crumbled the whole thing with my fingers over the top of the tart.

That’s it. No salt. No pepper. Just pastry, sliced tomatoes, the barest whisper of olive oil, some fresh herbs and cheese. Lebovitz uses goat cheese. Krista and Jess used whole wheat cream cheese pastry. I used Madge’s trusty pie crust recipe and the Stilton, but I encourage you to do what I did and use whatever cheese you have on hand as long as it’s not Velveeta or other processed cheese.

It was so good that Mom and I both went back for seconds immediately. It was so good that I started painting a picture of it because I knew I had to post it for you. The tart took all of fifteen minutes to assemble since Mom had already made the crust (I did have to roll it out myself). The only thing that stopped us from eating more of it is that we had apple pie baking in the same oven.

The only thing I have to say besides thank you to Krista and Jess and David Lebovitz for the basic recipe is to say to you, “Make this recipe.” You have to eat this tart during tomato season — it’s that simple. And those of you who live where the tomatoes are not ripe yet, wait and make this when you do have fresh tomatoes.

Simple Tomato Tart

Preheat oven to 400.

Prepare a single pie crust for a tart pan or regular pie tin (I used one of the four crusts produced by my standard pie crust recipe).

Spread prepared mustard of your choice upon the unbaked pastry.

Slice one 1-lb tomato or 2-3 smaller ones. The tomato should cover the bottom crust completely.

Add a very small amount of olive oil.

Season with fresh herbs of your choice.

Top with crumbled cheese or sliced goat cheese or grated Parmesan or whatever you’ve got. (I pretty much covered the top with Stiton and could just see small bits of tomato).

Bake for 45 minutes. Check for browning at around 30 minutes. Remember to turn the oven down 25 degrees if you are using a Pyrex pan. I started my tart at the full 400 degrees for twenty minutes and reduced the temperature to 375 when I put in the apple pie. This produced quite a bit of browning, which we like.

Painting note: for information about “Tomato Tart” or any other original painting, please contact me here.

Painting depicts apple pie ingredients: flour, butter, apples, cinnamon, nutmeg.

Gravenstein Apple Pie 8″x8″ gouache and watercolor pencil Sharyn Dimmick

Sometime in August Gravenstein apples come to the Berkeley Farmers’ Market. By early September they are gone. As soon as I see them I start buying them, buying no fewer than ten pounds at a time and stashing them at the back of our very cold refrigerator to make Gravenstein apple pie.

Gravensteins are an early apple here. They come in before Pippins, before Pink Ladies. They are perfect pie apples, tart and crisp with an intensely apple flavor. I grew up eating green Gravensteins from my grandmother’s tree in El Cerrito, climbing into the crotch to pick them, picking up windfalls to trim for pies and apple sauce. When the crop was bountiful, Mom would peel and quarter apples and save them in the freezer for later in the year.

Gravenstein apple pie initiates apple pie season at our house. The season will finish when we pick the last apples from the dwarf tree in our backyard, when the market moves to winter citrus, when I can no longer scavenge fallen apples in the streets of Berkeley (It’s amazing to me how many people have apple trees and let the fruit fall where it is smushed under the wheels of cars — we seem to have forgotten what food is and where we can get it as well as how to cook).

To make apple pie you need two things: good cooking apples and flaky, tender pie crust. If you do not live where Gravensteins grow, consult farmers at your local farmers’ market for recommendations for local apples. Let them know you will be making pies with them. Pippins also make fine apple pies.

To make pie crust, follow my mother’s recipe, given below. Do not deviate from it if you want good results. It may look a little different than other recipes you have seen or tried: for one thing, it does not start with two sticks of butter and does not include ice water. It is a Swedish pie crust and includes an egg and vinegar — don’t ask me why, just trust me on this one.

What does it use instead of butter? Vegetable shortening — you know that stuff that comes in a can. You are worried about transfats. I know. You have never had Crisco in your house. Well, you need it to make Madge’s pie crust. The only acceptable substitute is lard: if you use butter instead you will get a heavy, greasy pie crust, so don’t do it — just follow the recipe. You don’t eat pie everyday and a little vegetable shortening isn’t going to kill you, so use Crisco or use lard and get on with it.

Measure into a large mixing bowl:

3 cups unbleached flour
1 tsp salt

Cut in :

1 cup vegetable shortening, plus a little butter for flavor, maybe 2 Tbsp or 3 — no more.

Stop when the shortening is in pieces the size of small peas.

Into a one-cup measuring cup, break

1  large egg

Whisk it with a fork until blended. Then add:

1 Tbsp cider vinegar and
Water until mixture measures a little more than 1/2 cup.

Whisk liquids to blend. Add to flour-shortening mixture. Stir just until blended, then work with your hands to shape crust into a large patty. Wrap the patty in waxed paper and refrigerate it while you make the filling. Do not wash the mixing bowl yet — you are not done with it.

For a standard two-crust apple pie, peel and core 4-5 large apples, cutting them into quarters and slicing them crosswise. If you want your apples to stay white, keep a cut lemon handy and squeeze it periodically onto your sliced apples. Taste your apples though — if they are quite tart you may not want to add lemon: just let them darken.

Put the sliced apples in your mixing bowl (the one that you didn’t wash). Toss them with:

1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar, depending on sweetness of apples.
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg.

Preheat your oven to 375 ( 350 if using Pyrex).

Now roll out your crusts. Remove pie dough from the refrigerator and cut it into quarters. Wrap two quarters back up and store them in the refrigerator for another pie (They’ll keep more than a week if wrapped well).

Flour a bread board, table, or other work surface, or place a thin linen or cotton kitchen towel on a surface and flour that. Flour a rolling pin.

Take your first quarter of dough and round it into a circle with your hands, smashing it slightly. Now pick it up and turn it over. Take the rolling pin to it, rolling in all directions, trying to keep it circular and making sure to roll out any thick edges. Do not be afraid — use a firm, light hand. Roll it thin. When you think it is large enough, take out your pie tin and set it on top of the dough: the bottom crust has to be larger than the pie plate because it has to cover the sides and make the edge crust. When you are satisfied, fold the crust in half and again into quarters. Pick it up, plunk it in the pie tin and unfold it again. If it tears, don’t worry you can patch it with more crust glued in place with a little water. If you guessed wrong, you can patch in crust above where yours ends and roll out a rim crust with your fingers by rolling scraps into a rope.

Now add the apple mixture to your bottom crust. Dot apples with a little butter. Roll out the top crust and place on top of the apples. Make sure to attach the top crust at the edge of the pan. Slash the top several times with a knife, prick holes with a fork or channel Martha Stewart and make cut-outs (Guess which of these things I don’t do?).

Bake pie for 45  minutes. Serve warm. Top with ice cream if desired.

Food notes: this recipe makes a tart pie. We like them that way: the taste of the fruit comes through. We scant the sugar in every pie we make and we always taste the fruit as a guide to how much sugar to add. Our pies do not have the gluey sweetness and texture of commercial pies you may have eaten.

Madge’s recipe makes four crusts: we have never cut it down. We either make two pies at once, or save the crust for another day and another pie — lemon? Quiche? Chicken pot pie? Tomato tart!

While you are enjoying your apple pie I will be traveling to New Mexico on September 4 for a writing retreat with Natalie Goldberg. I will be in silence for five days, unable to check my email or read and respond to your comments. I will attempt setting my blog robot to send you a recipe while I am gone and I will respond to all questions and comments upon my return on September 12. I’ll miss you, believe it or not. I leave you with an unfair question for pie fans: What is your favorite pie?

— Sharyn

Painting Note: For information on “Gravenstein Apple Pie” or any other original painting, please contact me here.