Friday, September 26, 2014

Phyllo ‘N’ Figs

While I await Mike Minassian's next lahmajoun report, I thought I'd share a dessert recipe my husband was eager for me to make. We'll get back to the lahmajoun experiments soon. 
My husband loves figs – fresh or dried; it really doesn’t matter. He spotted a fig dessert recipe in the New York Times which included the use of phyllo dough and ricotta cheese. He decided we (when he said ‘we’, he meant ‘I’) could put an Armenian twist on the original recipe, and post it on our website. After reading through the original recipe, I made proportion adjustments as well as some ingredient tweaks.

I must warn you, this dessert uses a generous amount of butter, and the cheeses are not low fat. To satisfy readers who seek a less decadent dessert, a short-cut, lower fat version of the recipe follows this one.
Single portion of Phyllo 'N' Figs
Presenting The Armenian Kitchen’s adaptation of …

Phyllo ‘N’ Figs
Yields 4 large or 8 small servings

Ingredients for the cheese filling:
  1/3 cup goat cheese, room temperature
  1/3 cup Mascarpone cheese, room temperature (cream cheese may be substituted)
    Zest of 1/2 lemon
    2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
    1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
    2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Directions for the cheese filling:

In a mixing bowl, combine goat cheese, Mascarpone cheese, lemon zest and juice, vanilla extract (if using) and powdered sugar, blending well. Set aside at room temperature until ready to use. The mixture should have a spreading consistency - like peanut butter.

Ingredients for the phyllo dough base:
    4 sheets phyllo dough, thawed and covered with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel
    1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

Directions for the phyllo bases:

1. Place a piece of plastic wrap the size of a sheet of phyllo dough on a flat work surface. Lay 1 single sheet of phyllo dough horizontally on the plastic wrap. Brush surface lightly with melted butter. 
Folded-buttered phyllo sheets
 2. Fold phyllo in half, from left to rightlightly butter the top layer. Then fold phyllo in half, from top to bottom, and brush the top lightly with butter again. Fold once more, from left to right. Brush top with butter and trim edges, if necessary. You should end up with a  rectangle approximately 4 inches-by-6-inches. 
 Repeat with remaining 3 sheets of phyllo, using about 2 tablespoons butter per pastry. 
3. Preheat oven to 375°F.
Adding and spreading the cheese mixture
 4.  Lay pastry rectangles on a parchment-lined baking sheet and spread each pastry rectangle with one fourth of cheese filling. 
Topping ingredients:
    8 ripe figs, stems trimmed (I used Mission figs)
    Granulated sugar
    ¼ cup pistachios, toasted and roughly chopped
    ¼ cup warm honey for drizzling

Directions for Figs and Toppings:

Cut each fig into a star shape, keeping base of fig intact
1. Cut each fig from stem end into quarters, without cutting completely through the bottom of the fig.  Spread figs open to resemble a star. Top each pastry rectangle with 2 figs. Sprinkle each portion with a little granulated sugar. 
Just out of the oven
 2.  Bake for 15 minutes or until dough is golden and crisp. Remove from oven; cool slightly. Sprinkle the top of each fig with chopped pistachio nuts and drizzle lightly with *honey. Serve at room temperature. 
Double portion...ready to serve
*I used some syrup from a jar of Noyan preserved figs, a product from Armenia, instead of the honey. Preserved figs in syrup can be purchased in most Middle Eastern stores.

NOTE: If desired, cut pastries in half to make 8 smaller servings.

As promised, here’s the shorter, lower fat version of Phyllo ‘N’ Figs:

For the Phyllo:
1 (15-count) package Phyllo cups (Fillo) – found in the freezer section of most grocery stores

Cheese Filling:
Use the same filling ingredients as above, but substitute low fat cream cheese for the Mascarpone.

 4 figs, cut into quarters (yields 16 pieces)
¼ cup chopped pistachio nuts
Honey to drizzle on top

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Mix together the cheese filling ingredients and set aside.
3. Place phyllo cups on an ungreased baking sheet. Fill each cup with a generous spoonful of cheese filling.
4. Place a slice of fig on top of each cheese-filled phyllo cup. (You can eat the leftover piece of fig!)
5. Bake for 10 minutes or until cheese is heated and phyllo cup is golden.
6. Remove from oven; allow to cool a few minutes. Sprinkle tops with chopped nuts, and drizzle with honey. Serve at room temperature

NOTE: Refrigerate any leftover cheese filling. It makes a nice spread for toast or crackers.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Great Lahmajoun Dough Experiment Part Yergoo (2)

I’ve got to hand it to Mike Minassian… he’s not a quitter. He diligently set out to find the perfect lahmajoun dough recipe described so eloquently: “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.” 

With that in mind, Mike used the fourth recipe I sent him for experiment #2. This one is from the cookbook, ’Armenian Cuisine – Preserving Our Heritage’ – St. John Armenian Church cookbook, Southfield, Michigan.

I mentioned that this recipe differs from others in that it uses whole milk, canned evaporated milk in addition to vegetable shortening. I also suggested that perhaps the fat in the milk plus the shortening might give the dough the flexibility he is seeking. I warned him that this recipe yields 80 to 90 lahmajouns, so make adjustments accordingly!
Mike made a double batch of lahmajoun topping with the first dough experiment which saved him a good deal of preparation time.

Without further ado, here is Mike’s Lahmajoun Dough Experiment Part 2 including his comments, photos, and  evaluation:
 Lahmajoun -baked, folded and ready to eat.

The Recipe:

Lahmajoun Dough Recipe (from the cookbook, ’Armenian Cuisine – Preserving Our Heritage’ – St. John Armenian Church cookbook, Southfield, Michigan)

3 packages (or 7 teaspoons) active dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm water (about 105°F to 110° F)
1 ½ Tablespoon sugar
12 ounce can evaporated milk
2 cups whole milk
1 cup water
1 ½ cups shortening, melted
½ teaspoon salt
5 pounds flour, for medium-soft dough

1. In a 4-cup measuring cup, add the yeast, 2 cups warm water and sugar. Stir to dissolve well. Set aside and allow to activate (proof).
2. In a large bowl, or bowl of a stand mixer, combine the evaporated milk, whole milk, 1 cup water, melted shortening and salt.
3. Begin adding flour and the proofed yeast to the liquid ingredients. Mix well. Continue to add flour until you have a medium-soft dough. Place dough on a floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic.
4. Place dough in a clean bowl, and cover with plastic wrap or kitchen towel until double in size. Dough should be soft.
5. Punch down dough and form into 2 ounce balls. Keep balls covered in plastic wrap. Roll out each ball into a circle.
 Water is brushed onto baking sheet before placing disks on it.
Meat-vegetable topping thinly applied.
Baked and stacked. A squeeze of lemon juice on baked lahmajoun adds a fresh flavor!
Ready to serve!

After Mike completed his second experiment, he offered his thoughts and evaluation:

“I bring news about the second try to get this dough like I want to:
I skipped the evaporated milk, (because) I seriously doubt the elderly woman uses that in her recipe. What I also did different is the cooking. I've been doing some research and found out that the woman after greasing the baking sheet with oil, or fat, (I heard two versions) she brushes the surface with water just before placing the dough disks on it. This time I made the disks thinner also.
So I followed those steps and got these results: They were definitely better than the previous ones - not that those were bad at all, but still - The flexibility was improved as you can see in the photos, no cracks (except on) one side. The water helped in keeping the moisture of the dough, but it didn't have that greasy texture like the elderly lady’s recipe (which makes me think it's healthier but still I wanna get there!).

Next time I will put something that (will help keep) the moisture (in the dough) when cooking.”

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.