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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

‘The Great Lahmajoun Dough Experiment’ has begun!

In case you missed reading about the purpose of The Great Lahmajoun Dough Experiment, please click here.

I sent Mike Minassian four lahmajoun dough recipes, and his first attempt was based on one from the cookbook, ‘Simply Armenian’ by Barbara Ghazarian. Since Mike has made lahmajoun before, I suggested he use his own recipe for the meat-vegetable topping, which he did. All photos are courtesy of Mike Minassian.

Final Product: Lahmajoun #1, rolled and ready to eat!

Dough recipe #1: From the cookbook, ‘Simply Armenian’ by Barbara Ghazarian
Yields 12 lahmajouns
This one uses olive oil.

1 package (1/4 oz.) active dry yeast
1 cup lukewarm water (about 105°F to 110° F)
1 Tablespoon (Tbsp.) olive oil, plus more for greasing the bowl and baking sheets
½ teaspoon (tsp.) sugar
¼ tsp. salt
2 ¼ cups white bread flour, plus more for rolling (I suggested that perhaps the bread flour makes a difference from recipes which use all-purpose flour.)

1.Dissolve the yeast in water in the bowl of a tabletop (stand) mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment. Stir in 1 Tbsp. olive oil, sugar, salt, and 1 ½ cups flour.
2. Mix the dough until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining flour and mix until dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes by machine. (If this part is done by hand, it will take about 20 minutes.)
3. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a large bowl greased with olive oil. Turn the ball once to coat it completely with oil. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let stand in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in size.
4. Place dough into a floured work surface and punch it down. Knead the dough into the shape of a log. Cut log into 12 equal pieces, then roll each piece into a 7-inch circle.

Mike’s comments and photos for Experiment #1:

                 Here's my first attempt of making "the best dough ever". In this recipe I used the recipe from the cookbook "Simply Armenian". I made a few modifications: I added 1 Tbsp. butter, and for the baking sheets, instead of using oil I used flour (the same I used for the dough). I made this because the elderly lady (the woman who´s lahmeyouns are great) seems to do it this way. After I mixed the dough until smooth and elastic I put it in a bowl, covered with a plastic bag and then a kitchen towel on top (see pictures "dough 1" and "dough 2"). 
Dough 1
Dough 2

This time I also took photos of the topping, just for you to know how I made it.

Topping photo #1
 I used 500 gr. (about 1.2 lbs.) beef minced (I'm sorry if I use metric measures sometimes). 2 onions and 2 tomatoes finely chopped, actually I rather like to process them. Some parsley also chopped. Also added 1/4 of a roasted red bell pepper (I made this some weeks ago). At this point I should mention to you that the Armenians here in Argentina, at least in Cordoba, use tomatoes for the topping instead of peppers, though I like to add some to my recipe. 

Topping photo #2
Seasonings for the topping
The spices I used include salt, paprika, ground chili, tricolor pepper, chemen (or fenugreek), and hot chili powder. I mixed everything with my hands, and then processed all. I do this because I like the topping to stick together after I cook it. For this I also add a tbsp. of white vinegar (apple vinegar). After everything is processed I added the juice of one lemon and let it stand for an hour in the fridge. This amount of topping is enough for making a bit more than 2 dozens, so I just used half of it this time, and saved the rest for next time.

Ready to bake
After the dough doubled its size I made the little balls and shape them into disks, put them on the baking sheet (previously covered with flour), added the topping on, and into the oven 250°C - about 475°F - (very hot) for about 10 minutes. That´s it.
Baked, stacked, and ready to serve!

Conclusion: They were good enough, the dough wasn't that crispy, I could roll them just fine, though at some point I could see some cracks in the folding and the borders were a little crispy.  I think I can make them a bit thinner, since the baking made them thicker than I expected. They were not as greasy as the Lady's lahmeyouns, but they were good anyway. Next weekend I'll try a different (dough recipe), probably with some new additions that improves flexibility. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"The Great Lahmajoun Dough Experiment" featuring Mike Minassian

Mike Minassian
This story was inspired by a simple email from Mike Minassian who resides in Cordoba, Argentina. (Little did he know what his request would involve!)

Mike, an avid cook, was searching for a lahmajoun dough recipe to match one made by an elderly woman in his native land. Mike said her lahmajouns were absolutely delicious – in fact, the BEST he’d ever eaten!

Mike tried to recreate the dough but his results were never quite like hers. While others may have given up, he was -  and still is - determined to  achieve lahmajoun dough perfection.
Mike said the key to successful lahmajoun is the dough. “It should not be a bit dry; it should be well toasted but at the same time very flexible and a bit greasy. The borders should be a little burnt like an old scroll. When you roll it up to eat it you should notice that the folded dough doesn´t have any cracks; it's magic! I´ve heard from some people that this lady puts some fat in the dough, or some butter, I don't know, I've tried a few things but I can´t get it right, and of course she won´t tell me the secret (after all, she does this for a living!). 

So, Mike contacted me asking if I had any clue as to how this lady prepares her lahmajouns. He was familiar with my lahmajoun ‘short cut’ version, but he says he’s old-school and prefers making the dough from scratch. Bravo, Mike!

I sent him four different recipes for homemade lahmajoun dough. The first uses olive oil; another uses vegetable shortening; one uses shortening plus whole milk and evaporated milk; and the last one uses no fat at all. 

With the recipes in hand, Mike has vowed to try each recipe and send his results to The Armenian Kitchen. I promised him I’d share his experiments with you.
After all, we can’t let Mike’s hard work go unnoticed or unappreciated.

I hope you’ll follow along as I post Mike’s efforts in ‘The Great Lahmajoun Dough Experiment’!

Stay tuned for Experiment #1 ... coming soon!!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Kadaif Bird’s Nests with Custard and Fresh Fruit

What does one do with a half-pound of kadaif (spelling varies!) dough left in the freezer? Make bird’s nests, of course! What filling would one use to complete this recipe? Any kind you’d like.
Since I had the opportunity to make the bird’s nest dessert for friends, I chose to fill the centers with the type of creamy custard one would make for custard-filled kadaif, but you could fill the centers with anything you like. Variations can include – but are not limited to - any type of custard, pudding, yogurt (frozen or otherwise), or ice cream of your choice. Fruit and/or nuts can also be added as a filling or garnish. The possibilities are endless! 
The blueberries have been quite delicious and plentiful these past few weeks, so I chose to add them for a burst of fruity flavor, and a pop of color.
What I really like about this recipe is that the custard and bird’s nests can be made in advance and assembled at the last minute.
Kadaif Bird's Nests with Custard and Blueberries

Kadaif Bird’s Nests with Custard and Fresh Fruit

Custard filling

3 egg yolks (Save egg whites for another use.)
½ cup sugar
½ cup farina
1 ½ Tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch salt
3 cups milk
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract, optional

1. In a saucepan, beat egg yolks with the sugar. 
2. Add the farina, cornstarch, and salt.
3. Slowly pour in the milk; add vanilla, if using. Cook mixture over low heat, stirring constantly until it thickens, about 10 to 12 minutes. (Note: Keep a close watch while stirring; don’t even think about walking away! Do not allow mixture to boil. Custard will thicken more as it cools in the refrigerator.)

4. Remove from heat; allow to cool slightly. Transfer to a bowl; place plastic wrap directly on surface of pudding to prevent a ‘skin’ from forming on top. Cover bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.
(NOTE: The custard can be made a day or two in advance.)

Shredded Phyllo Cups
The half package of kadaif dough yields about 18 muffin-size servings. (Kadaif dough is available in most Middle Eastern stores.)

½ of a 1 lb. pkg. kadaif dough, thawed and brought to room temp.
1stick unsalted butter, melted (If you are so inclined, you could use clarified butter.)

1. Separate the strands of dough with your fingers, untangling it as you go. (NOTE: I cut the kadaif dough bundle into thirds with a serrated knife before separating the strands.) Place strands in a large bowl and pour melted butter over it. Work this in with your fingers so that the dough strands are well-buttered. It’s messy, but necessary!

2. Place small equal-size mounds of buttered dough in a muffin tin. Lightly press to take shape of the muffin cup. Make sure there are enough dough strands on the bottom to support the custard filling later on. Let this sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes before baking.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°F and bake for about 15 minutes or until the dough is golden throughout.
Place muffin tin on a cooling rack, allowing nests to cool slightly while in the tin. Carefully remove the nests from the tin and place them directly on the cooling rack to cool completely. (NOTE: This part can be done in advance. Store the baked nests in a container with a tight-fitting lid until ready to fill and serve. These can be refrigerated or frozen if being served at a later date.)

To assemble and serve:
When ready to serve, place each baked kadaif cup on an individual plate. Fill with custard, top with fresh berries of your choice, chopped nuts, or sprinkle with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.