Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Individual apple galettes flavored with mahlepi and cardamom

I made these apple galettes twice in one week. Their flavor, aromas and texture was so inviting and delicious we couldn’t restrain from wolfing them down.

The reason they were this good is not least due to the fact that I added two of my favorite spices to the pastry; mahlepi and cardamom.

The smell and flavor of mahlepi always reminds me of tsoureki, the traditional Greek Easter bread, and longing to eat it sooner than 1 May (Greek Orthodox Easter day), I thought about using it in a different kind of pastry, something I have never tried adding it to before, something totally not Greek, a galette.

I filled the pastry with apples that I tossed with cinnamon, lemon juice and demerara sugar and the combination with the flavors of the pastry was a match made in heaven.

The pastry is buttery, crumbly and flaky with the distinctive, warm flavor of mahlepi and cardamom while the apple filling is sweet, juicy and aromatic with the demerara sugar giving its caramel flavor and aroma.

Served just as they are (the way I prefer them), with a sprinkling of icing sugar (the way S prefers them) or with some billowy, freshly whipped cream on top (the way our friends liked them), they are scrumptious and very difficult to resist.

Individual apple galettes flavored with mahlepi and cardamom

I used Royal Gala apples that were sweet and crispy. If you can’t find them, use any other firm and sweet red apple. It goes without saying that the quality and flavor of the fruit makes all the difference.

Mahlepi (you may know it as mahleb) is a highly aromatic spice made from the seeds of wild cherry trees of the Mediterranean. You can see a photo of it in this post.

Use whole mahlepi (meaning the seeds, not ground) to grind yourself not the already ground one, because it’s not as flavorful and aromatic. The same applies for the cardamom.

Yield: 4 individual galettes


for the pastry dough
250 g all-purpose flour
35 g icing sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp (3 g) whole mahlepi seeds
Seeds from 3 green cardamom pods
180 g cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 large egg yolk
1 Tbsp + ½ tsp ice cold water

for the filling
2 red apples (about 400 g) (I used royal gala)
Juice of ½ lemon
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp demerara sugar

1 small egg + 1 Tbsp water, for glazing
2 Tbsp demerara sugar, for sprinkling on top

for serving (optional)
Icing sugar or whipped cream

Special equipment: mortar and pestle or spice grinder, large food processor, plastic wrap, rolling pin, baking sheet, baking paper, pastry brush

Use a mortar and pestle or spice grinder to grind the mahlepi and cardamom together.

for the pastry dough
• with a food processor
In a large food processor, add the flour, icing sugar, salt, ground mahlepi and cardamom and pulse. Add the cold cubed butter and process for a few seconds until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Then add the egg yolk and the cold water and process until the mixture looks like moist, coarse breadcrumbs. If you grab with your hand some of the mixture and press it, it should hold together and look like dough. Be careful not to over mix.

• by hand
In a large bowl, add the flour, icing sugar, salt, ground mahlepi and cardamom and mix with your hands. Then add the cold cubed butter and, using two knives, a pastry cutter or your fingertips, cut it into the flour, until you have a mixture that resembles fine breadcrumbs. Then add the egg yolk and the cold water and mix with your hands, working quickly, until the dough holds together in large chunks.

Empty the pastry dough onto a clean work surface and bring it together to form a firm and smooth dough. Do not knead it. Cut it into four equal-sized pieces (I use a scale to weigh the pieces for accuracy) and shape into small balls and then into flat disks. Cover each piece with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill, for 40 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the filling.

Rinse the apples well under cold, running water and cut them in half lengthwise and the again in half lengthwise. Remove the core and then slice them thinly and place them in a large bowl together with the lemon juice, cinnamon and demerara sugar. Toss them well yet gently so the apple slices don’t break, and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 180°C.

Line a large baking sheet with baking paper.

Remove the pieces of dough from the refrigerator, unwrap and discard the plastic wrap. Place dough between two large sheets of baking paper and using a rolling pin, roll out the dough into an 17-18cm round, with an almost 5mm thickness. Transfer rolled out dough to the baking sheet. Keep rolling out the rest of the pieces of dough and move them to the baking sheet.
Divide equally the apple filling among the four pieces of rolled out dough and arrange them neatly on top, leaving a space around the edges of the pastry, about 3cm. See photo for reference. Fold the edges of the dough up and over the filling. Pour any juices that have gathered in the bowl that you kept the sliced apples over the filling of each galette.
Place the baking sheet in the fridge for 10 minutes.

In a small bowl add the small egg and water and whisk to combine. Using a pastry brush, glaze the dough with the beaten egg and water and sprinkle the dough all around with the demerara sugar, sprinkling some on the apples as well.

Place on the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake the galettes for about 16 minutes, or until the pastry takes on a golden color.

Remove from the oven and allow to slightly cool. Serve the galettes warm, as they are, or sprinkled with some icing sugar, or with some whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
You can also eat them at room temperature.

You can keep them for a day or two, covered, at room temperature but they are best eaten the same day.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Homemade cashew butter, cucumber and quick preserved lemon bruschetta

One of the simplest ways to use preserved lemons that you’ve made (or bought) is on toast.

On Sunday, I once again made sourdough bread, with spelt flour and various grains, and when it came out of the oven smelling all nutty and earthy, we couldn’t resist and cut some slices while it was still singing its tune. If you bake your own bread, you know the song I’m talking about. It’s that tempting song of the bread crust sizzling and crackling, much like a log burning in the fireplace, when it has just come out of the oven.

There’s nothing more satisfying than those first few slices of homemade bread paired with all your favorite toppings and accompaniments.

This time, it was my creamy homemade cashew butter, a few slices of fresh, crunchy cucumber, my vibrant, quick preserved lemon, a hint of sea salt, a pinch of piment d’espelette and a light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil —always Greek in my home.

Homemade cashew butter, cucumber and quick preserved lemon bruschetta

Piment d’ espelette is a kind of red chilli pepper originating from Espelette in the Basque Country. It is highly aromatic with an intense flavor yet a subtle heat. If you can’t find it, substitute with paprika.

Sourdough (or country) bread, thickly sliced and toasted
Homemade cashew butter
Fresh cucumber with skin on, sliced
Homemade quick preserved lemons, only the rind, cut in small pieces
Piment d’ espelette
Sea salt
Extra virgin olive oil (I always use Greek)

Slather some cashew butter on top of the toasted bread slices, top with a few cucumber slices and a few pieces of preserved lemon rind. Sprinkle with a little sea salt and piment d’ espelette and drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil.
Enjoy immediately.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Quick preserved lemons

It has been gloriously sunny these past few weeks, so much so that I’ve been tricked into believing that spring has arrived. It’s still very cold outside, though, but feeling the warmth of the sun on my face and seeing the blue skies above me has been wonderful. Spring can’t be too far along now.

I’ve been in the mood for bright and vibrant food, and to play with something equally glorious and bright as the sun that’s been shining non-stop; lemons.

The thought of making Moroccan preserved lemons had crossed my mind many times, but my impatient self would always go out and buy a jar. The thought of having to wait a month before they’re ready made me anxious and I needed them now. Sometime ago, however, I decided to try something else; the quick version of preserved lemons and what a great decision that was.

This quick version may not give the same result as the classic one but it’s delicious nonetheless. I’ve made them a couple of times and the last time I thought about flavoring them. Turmeric and dried red chilli flakes came immediately to mind to give them that extra oomph I was looking for.

The process of making them is so easy. You cut the lemons into thin slices and put them in a bowl. You salt them, sprinkle them with turmeric and you gently massage them, aiming to soften them and release their juices. You finally add the red chilli flakes and continue massaging them until they take on an almost orange hue from the chilli. You empty them into a sterilized jar, squeeze a couple of lemons over them and leave them on the counter for a day.

The next day, you have your “preserved” lemons ready to use. The tart flavor of the lemons doesn’t have much time to mellow out so these are more sour and more “aggressive” than the classic preserved lemons that have been cured for months and have developed a sweetness, but the more they stay in the fridge and develop their flavor, the more mellow they become. Those of you who have tried the classic preserved lemons will notice the difference. The quick version may not be as aromatic and deeply flavored as the classic one but they most certainly provide that sharpness, saltiness and lemon fragrance that you want.

I add them to all sorts of dishes; salads, sandwiches, soups, stews, roasts, you name it, and I can’t wait to share a couple of them with you.
See you soon and until then, enjoy the beginning of spring!

Quick preserved lemons

You may think that the addition of turmeric and chilli will make the preserved lemons too spicy but that’s not the case. They are subtly flavored by the spices and they’re not hot at all. The predominant flavor is that of the lemon with an extra little kick of chilli and an earthy quality from the turmeric. You may of course omit the spices from the recipe altogether if you wish.

The quality of the lemons plays a huge role in the resulting flavor. Use aromatic, unwaxed, organic lemons that are juicy and somewhat thick-skinned as the skins/rinds are the ones normally used in dishes. Some people do use the flesh as well but I find it to be too sour, in both the quick and the classic version of preserved lemons.

Yield: 1 medium-sized jar

5 organic, unwaxed, whole lemons
Juice of 2 lemons, freshly squeezed
1 Tbsp sea salt
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp dried red chilli flakes (I use Greek boukovo)

Special equipment: kitchen mandoline (optional), 1 sterilized medium-sized glass jar with lid (read here how to sterilize it)

Using a sharp knife, or a kitchen mandoline, cut off the ends of the lemons and then slice them about 2mm thick. Place them in a wide bowl, add the salt and the turmeric, and massage the lemon slices, squeezing them gently (not violently because you don’t want them to disintegrate) in order to release their juices, to mix them well with the salt and to soften them, for a couple of minutes.
Add the chilli flakes and massage gently to mix well, until the slices take on a light orange color.
Empty everything into the sterilized glass jar and pour the juice of 2 freshly squeezed lemons on top to cover the slices completely.
Close the lid and leave the jar on the counter for a day before using the lemons.

You can keep the preserved lemon slices in the fridge for up to 3 months, even after opening. The flavor is better as time passes. Just make sure they are covered by the lemon juices.

To use the lemon in recipes, remove the slices from the jar and using a knife, remove the flesh of the lemons keeping only the skin/rind. Chop it or use it whole in your dishes.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Caramelized fennel, pear and blue cheese pizza with a walnut, garlic and parmesan spread

One of my most popular recipes here on the blog is my pizza dough and it makes me happy that so many people are enjoying it and making it for their family and friends. That’s what food blogging is all about for me. Sharing a recipe, releasing it out into this vast world of the internet without any expectations, and seeing people discovering it, using it and making it part of their cooking repertoire.

I make pizza fairly regularly and I always use the same recipe. It has never disappointed me and I have never felt the urge to dabble with another one. I hate ready-made pizza dough or pre-baked pizza bases so whenever we crave pizza, I pull out my stand mixer and make a batch. As I did yet again the other day.

We are usually purists when it comes to pizza, smearing the dough with tomato sauce (I swear by my recipe) and topping it with salami (soutzouki when I’m in Greece is never absent from my pizza or peinirli), different types of ham and cheeses, and various seasonal vegetables from time to time.

I rarely deviate from this, but when I do, I try to find ways in which to make it fun and different.

In this case, I smeared the dough with a walnut, garlic and parmesan spread which is highly addictive, I thinly sliced a fennel bulb and caramelized it in date syrup and olive oil and scattered it on top, added some crisp slices of fresh pear and crumbled some rich, creamy and tangy blue cheese over the top.

When it came out of the oven, I crumbled some more blue cheese to add a different texture and flavor, I ground some fresh black pepper, scattered a handful of fresh rocket leaves over the top and drizzled with a little olive oil for extra lusciousness.

The dough is all that it should be; perfectly bubbly, thin and crunchy with large holes and a soft, fluffy and chewy interior, while the toppings provide all sorts of flavors and textures. Sweet, umami, crispy, salty, nutty, fresh, creamy, caramelized, earthy, peppery. A marvelous pizza, definitely worth trying. Hope you enjoy it as much as we have.

Caramelized fennel, pear and blue cheese pizza with a walnut, garlic and parmesan spread

I love Roquefort cheese and that’s what I used here, but any sort of blue cheese would work.

A pizza stone makes all the difference with home-baked pizza because you get a beautifully charred and crusty pizza. I always use one, but if you don’t have it, a baking sheet will do.

I used a mandolin to slice the fennel and pears because it’s easier and faster than using a knife, but a well sharpened knife will also do the trick.

More kinds of pizza here.

Yield: 4 large pizzas

Pizza dough (recipe here)

for the caramelized fennel
2 large fennel bulbs, sliced 3mm thick
1 tsp date syrup (or Greek petimezi/grape molasses)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

for the walnut and garlic spread
60 g walnut halves
35 g parmesan (or grana padano)
1 garlic clove, peeled
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp red-wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper, 3-4 turns of the pepper mill
Salt (if needed)

2 large pears, sliced 5mm thick
160 g blue cheese (I used Roquefort)
6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
150 g fresh rocket leaves
Freshly ground black pepper

Flour or fine semolina, for sprinkling on top of the pizza stone or baking sheet

Special equipment: pizza stone or baking sheet, small food processor

Μake and roll out the pizza dough following the recipe and instructions in this post.

for the caramelized fennel
Toss the sliced fennel with the olive oil in a bowl.
In a wide frying pan (preferably non-stick), add the fennel and sprinkle with some salt. Place the pan over a high heat and sauté the fennel, stirring continuously, for about 3 minutes or until it softens. Add the date syrup (or petimezi) and mix. Turn heat down to low and cook, stirring often, until the fennel has taken on a golden brown color and has caramelized.

for the walnut and garlic spread
In a small food processor, add the walnuts, parmesan, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and black pepper and process until you have a somewhat chunky spread. Give it a taste and add salt if needed. The parmesan is quite salty so you may not need to add salt at all.

The walnut spread can be kept in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap for 4-5 days.

Preheat your oven to 225ºC, making sure to put your pizza stone on the lower rack of the oven to preheat as well. If you’re using a baking sheet, place it on the middle rack.

If you have a pizza peel, it is best that you roll out the pizza onto that so it will be easier to transfer the pizza in the oven. If not, I suggest you roll out the pizza on a cutting board or other portable surface, so that it will be easier to transfer the pizza to the oven. In any case, make sure to flour well the surface so your dough doesn’t stick to it.

Add 3-4 tsp of the walnut spread (or enough to cover the dough in a thin layer) on your rolled out pizza dough and spread it around evenly leaving some space around the rim. Scatter evenly ¼ of the caramelized fennel over the top and add a few slices of pear in a single layer. Sprinkle with a little salt and crumble some blue cheese on top. Drizzle with a little olive oil (about ¾ tsp).

Once the oven has come up to temperature, sprinkle with flour or fine semolina your preheated pizza stone or baking sheet and transfer your pizza onto it.
Bake the pizza for about 12 minutes, rotating halfway through, until the dough is crunchy and bubbly.

While the first one is baking, prepare the next pizza. Do the same until you have made and baked all four pizzas.

Remove the pizza from the oven and onto a cutting board. Crumble a little more blue cheese on top and grind some black pepper over the top. Add a handful of rocket leaves and drizzle with a little more olive oil (about ¾ tsp). Cut into slices and serve immediately.