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"We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie." David Mamet

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Day 7: Thanksgiving Leftover Hand Pies for the Lazy Host or Helpful Guest

Good idea rom Pillsbury!

I had intended to make and post this yesterday, but I was away and visiting friends.

No one wants to cook after Thanksgiving, so if you have leftovers, this sounds like a super fast and awfully yum way of serving them. I hope your Thanksgiving was as warm and delicious as mine!

Thanksgiving Leftover Hand Pies 
Adapted from Pillsbury


Pillsbury Grands Biscuits (or equivalent)
Thanksgiving leftovers (turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, cranberry sauce, etc.) all mixed together loosely, at room temperature
Gravy, heated through, for dipping
1 teaspoon oil for shallow baking pan (cookie sheet)

Prepare a lightly greased pan. Heat oven to 350.

Separate dough into 5 biscuits. One at a time, roll out to 8". Place 1/3 cup of mixed leftovers into the center of the dough. Fold over and seal by pressing the edges with a fork tine all the way around. Pop in the oven for 9-14 minutes, until puffy and lightly browned.

Serve with gravy and other side dishes.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Day 6: Sweet Almond Moroccan Cigars in Orange Honey, for Hanukkah

Hanukkah + Pie Week = fried Jewish desserts. In my family, that would probably mean filled donuts, but I'm digging further back to my mother's Moroccan roots. And where I land is my aunt Clotilde's Moroccan 'cigars' - where the 'crust' is filo, and the filling is sweet almonds and cinnamon.  

If they'd been 20 years younger, my mother and her five North African Jewish sisters could have hosted a very entertaining reality cooking show. They were/are charismatic, a little outrageous, and rock stars in the kitchen - but Mom used to say Clotilde was the best cook of all. She had high cheekbones and a slight gap between her front teeth which I shared, a wry wit and an easy laugh - and made amazing desserts.

Orange and turquoise, so Moroccan.
I remember visiting her in Paris with my then-new husband on Rosh Hashanah. The table was set with a colorful mezze of small salads and a large roast - a typical Sephardic Jewish holiday meal. While helping in the kitchen I noticed little plates of desserts, particularly two things: a platter of pretzel-like fried dough and thin fried rolls drenched in honey and orange peel. I never asked her about it because the combination didn't appeal to me. But later, I had often wondered what they were. Tata Clotilde teased me about not trying her desserts (which, luckily, my husband devoured.)

Almonds should be blanched and peeled.
On the other hand, my mother adored all things sweetened and orange. Jars of both Bon Maman and Smucker's orange marmalade could be found somewhere in her fridge for slathering on bread with untempered hunks of butter with afternoon tea or coffee.

It's only now that I see this orange love as a throwback to the orange-based desserts that were probably ubiquitous along the Mediterranean coast of North Africa; my mother remembers orange groves in her native Algeria, and would reminisce about a confection her Spanish-Moroccan mother Miriam would make for Jewish holidays called "cigars". I now had a name for the mystery dessert.

Process until you get almond flour - keep your eye on it to keep the almonds from turning into butter.
Moroccon almond cigars are ground almonds and cinnamon rolled in filo like a cigar, then fried and dredged in honey and sesame seeds. If you fry it a tad too long, the ends get a little dark and it looks like a stubbed out stogie.
Suddenly, I am in love with the orange honey combo - and the whole cigar experience. The crunch of fried filo is echoed subtly by the almonds, and set off by the mellow honey and bright citrus. Wow. Rockets of happiness go off in my head! It's delicate and dense at the same time - so much going on. I'm happy to report that they got rave reviews from the husband and son who will find some packed in his lunch today. The tradition lives on.

With Hanukkah a few days away, this fried pie (who says they have to be round?) would be perfect for Day 6 of Pie Week. They keep well at room temperature for several days. You can also freeze them before frying, and defrost the day of. I'm making them in memory of my dear Tata Clotilde, whose birthday just passed, and who always made me laugh while we cooked.

Sweet Almond Moroccan Cigars in Orange Honey, for Hanukkah
Inspired by Tata Clotilde, adapted from Fatema Hal

Most of the sweet Moroccan cigar recipes out there are baked and follow the baklavah method of buttering the filo. But nothing short of frying will do for Hanukkah, when the whole symbolic point is to use oil. And besides, frying tastes oh-so much better.

I found a recipe in a book called Authentic Recipes from Morocco, by Fatema Hal, which you can see here. The author doesn't provide a syrup. The orange honey reduction I describe is based on my memory of Tata Clotilde's.

  • 12 sheets filo (cut into 5" X 7" rectangles)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten for sealing
  • Safflower or other high-heat oil
  • Toasted sesame seeds
Almond paste
  • 2 cups blanched, peeled almonds
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon orange flower water, or 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • yolk of one egg
Orange honey reduction
  • 1 cup wildflower honey
  • Juice of 3 oranges, about 1/2 cup
  • Rind of 1 orange sliced super thin, extra pith removed (but a little is okay!)
  • A few rounds of orange
  • Pinch of salt
Almond paste: In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, grind almonds to a flour consistency, but keep checking because you don't want to make almond butter (right now.) Mix almonds with sugar, cinnamon, orange flower water, egg, and butter. Knead briefly into a ball.

Orange reduction: Combine all ingredients and just barely simmer for at least an hour, longer if possible. The honey mixture shouldn't actually bubble but steam slightly and move around a bit, as though settling into the heat.

To assemble: Cut pastry sheets in 5" x 7" rectangles. I did this one sheet at a time with a pizza cutter to keep the remaining parchment from drying out (barely successfully.) Roll 3 teaspoons of almond paste into a cigar that's a little shorter than the parchment, about 6". If the mix is too crumbly add a little water or melted butter. With the long edge of the filo facing you, place the almond paste roll lengthwise, about 1 inch from the edge. Fold side edges in (using egg if needed to keep folds in place) and roll up like a cigar. Seal with beaten egg.

To fry: Heat oil over medium-high in a large saute pan; make sure there's at least 1/2 inch of oil in the pan. Test the oil with a candy thermometer (375 degrees) or by tossing a little filo in; if it cooks without burning too quickly you' re ready to add the cigars. Fry the cigars until golden - no more than 2 minutes each side - and drain on paper towels. If it takes longer than 2 minutes to color, turn up the heat slowly because you don't want to quick fry, not soak the cigars in oil. Roll each fried pastry in a dish of warm honey, then roll in toasted sesame seeds. Repeat with other cigars.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Day 5: Chuck's Set Yourself Free Lemon Tart

So I cued up the turntable, lit up some nag champa, and settled in for an hour of totally free baking. The result was this funkalicious gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free and vegan lemon tart.  Some might say it needs a makeover - and surely in more gifted hands it would look less like a pinch pot - but it's what's inside that counts, right? It is badass healthy. The crust is seed-based with a hint of cocoa, or cacao. The lemon filling is creamy and tart, using a combination of stevia and coconut sugar for just the right touch of sweet. I usually find stevia too bitter, but lemon carries it well.

This pursuit came out of a promise for a healthy desert recipe for our Thanksgiving host and dear friend, Chuck, who recently changed his diet.
That 70's Tart
Without the holy trinity of flour, butter, and sugar, I doubted I could pull off an edible pie. But I channeled my crunchy-granola-70s soul - or Chuck's - to find the right combo of tastes. This recipe is adapted from Hallie Klecker's excellent gluten-free and from a knock-off of the Hail Merry Lemon Tart filling from

For Thanksgiving, I might try to improve the looks by using mini cupcake forms - I'd press the crust mixture into a 1/4" base, fill the cups with the lemon cream, freeze them, then peel away an elegant looking dessert. But don't you think that would be false advertising?

Chuck's Set Yourself Free Lemon Tart
Adapted from and

  • 1 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup raw hemp seeds
  • 1/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup

  • 1 cup raw cashews, soaked at least one hour
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup full fat canned coconut milk (shake the can before you buy it; you should hear no sloshing)
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice, that's about 2-3 lemons depending on the size, and more to taste
  • 1/4 cup honey (or your favorite sweetener alternative; I used stevia and coconut sugar)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract 
  • Grated zest of 2-3 lemons 
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Lemon zest strips and coconut flakes for decoration

Dough will come together after adding liquid, and a few pulses
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Oil the wells of a muffin tins with coconut oil.

To make the crust: In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, process the sunflower seeds, coconut sugar, and cocoa powder until finely ground, about 45 seconds. Add coconut oil and maple sugar. Process about 15 seconds, just to combine. The mixture should stick when pinched. 

To achieve a pinch-pot look, cut out a strips parchment and press into each muffin well - this will be your hoisting device. I know this seems crazy, but it worked. Then take 2 1/3 tablespoons of dough and build up from the bottom to create a little pot. 

For a more elegant looking dessert: insert muffin liners, press dough into the bottom about 1/4" depth. 

To create a pie: Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, divide dough in half, pat both into 8" circles. Bake dough for 10-15 minutes. Pat down any bubbles that form and let cool completely.

To make filling: Process all ingredients, except for lemon zest and coconut, until silky smooth - this will take at least 7 minutes. Be patient and keep checking. You don't want any hints of cashew. Taste to adjust sweetening or lemon. Beware that Stevia is very potent and a little goes a long way. Depending on your crust method, fill the cups or spread out onto the pie base. Refrigerate until set.

Like when you make brownies, line the muffin well with a strip of parchment for easy removal.

When the pinch pot tarts are ready, just ease them out using the parchment tabs. 

This was Chuck in his wild child days.
Now he has two semi-wild children and a wild wife of his own.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Day 4: Apple Mosaic Tart with Salted Caramel (from

Thank you, Mari Renwick, for the beautiful photograph.
Apples and salt caramel and puff pastry -- and it looks like this. I can hardly believe it came out of my oven. Please trust me when I say you can do this too.

This is Deb Perlman's Smitten Kitchen recipe, unadapted. I couldn't think of any reason to change it, except maybe hire her to do the mosaic. Mine has a rustic appeal but hers has the spiritual precision of Islamic Gihir tiles; you should check it out. She's a master. Nonetheless, as I cook I can't help Instagramming.

Apple mosaic tart with salted caramel                                                             

Reblogged almost verbatim from Smitten Kitchen

Tart base
14-ounce package puff pastry, defrosted
3 large or 4 medium apples (about 1 1/4 pounds)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into small bits

Salted caramel glaze
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (or salted, but then ease up on the sea salt)
1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt (or half as much table salt)
2 tablespoons heavy cream

Heat oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.  Roll out pastry dough to 10" x 15" and transfer it to the baking sheet. 

Peel the apples and cut them in half top-to-bottom. Remove the cores and stems (Deb Perlman likes to use a melon baller; I used a pairing knife). Slice the apples halves crosswise as thinly as you can with a knife (DP uses a mandolin, which I don't have)  to about 1/16-inch thickness. Leaving a 1/2-inch border, fan the apples around the tart in slightly overlapping concentric rectangles — each apple should overlap the one before so that only about 3/4-inch of the previous apple will be visible — until you reach the middle. Sprinkle the apples evenly with the first two tablespoons of sugar then dot with the first two tablespoons butter.

The world inside my oven.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until the edges of the tart are brown and the edges of the apples begin to take on some color. If you sliced your apples by hand and they were on the thicker side, you might need a little more baking time to cook them through. The apples should feel soft, but dry to the touch. 

About 20 minutes into the baking time, make your glaze. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, melt your last 1/4 cup sugar; this will take about 3 minutes. Cook the liquefied sugar to a nice copper color, another minute or two. Off the heat, add the sea salt and butter and stir until the butter melts and is incorporated. Add the heavy cream and return to the stove over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until you have a lovely, bronzed caramel syrup, just another minute, two, tops. Set aside until needed. You may need to briefly rewarm it to thin the caramel before brushing it over the tart.

After the tart has baked, transfer it to a cooling rack, but leave the oven on. Using very short, gentle strokes, and brushing in the direction that the apples fan to mess up their design as little as possible, brush the entire tart, including the exposed pastry, with the salted caramel glaze

Return the apple tart to the oven for 5 to 10 more minutes, until the caramel glaze bubbles. Let tart cool complete before cutting into 12 squares. Serve plain, with coffee or tea, if you’re feeling grown-up or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  I do not recommend this, as the ice cream overwhelmed the tart's subtle flavor.