Month: February 2021

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.48: Chicken, egg and almond bastillas from Morocco

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.48: Chicken, egg and almond bastillas from Morocco

Bastillas (or Pastillas) are Moroccan pies made with ultra-thin pastry. They’re unquestionably one of the country’s most famous dishes: you will find dozens of different types, with different recipes for each type. But be careful: there are some disappointingly bland recipes around. On the other hand, a really good, flavour-packed Bastilla can be dazzling, a huge crowd-pleaser. It’s complex, but it’s worth it.

I’ve chosen one of the most popular types: the chicken, egg and almond bastilla. I based my version on a combination of The Spruce Eats, My Moroccan Food and French-language blog Choumicha.ma and the results were outstanding. But you have lots of choices, which I’ll try to explain.

There are some constants: you’re going to make a chicken and onion stew with herbs (most probably parsley and coriander) and spices, which will definitely include ground ginger and turmeric. You’re going to scramble some eggs. You’re going to chop up some almonds. And you’re going to bake all of these in a shell of layered thin pastry. But beyond those basics, you’ve got several options.

The first crucial one is the size: you can make a single large bastilla or multiple individually size ones. I went for something in between: the quantities below make enough for six people (assuming that you’ve got some other side dishes of some sort), and I chose to do two bastillas for the two of us to have on separate days (with leftovers).

The next question is the type of pastry. If you’re going for the full-on Moroccan experience, you’ll want to freshly make your own pastry sheets: Choumicha has a really nice video showing you how it’s done. The Spruce gives the pastry a name, “warqa”, and shows a similar recipe. The warqa process is seriously weird, but works fine once you’ve got used to it. Since I wasn’t feeling super-confident, I made enough pastry for one of my two bastillas, and used supermarket-bought filo pastry for the other. The warqa version was a clear winner: it’s a time consuming faff, but the result is considerably superior and I won’t be going back to filo any time soon.

You have options on the spicing: saffron, cinnamon, ras el hanout and orange blossom water are just some of them. Some Moroccan recipes use smen, a fermented butter not dissimilar to the Indian ghee, either in place of the oil or in addition to it.

I went for chicken thigh fillets because there are better quality ones available than whole thighs at the supermarket I use. Cooking your chicken on the bone will get you a richer sauce.

Next, there’s the question of how to layer your fillings. I went for a three layer approach: chicken mixed with onion sauce, scrambled eggs, ground almonds. There are other possibilities (keep the chicken and the sauce separate and/or blend your eggs into the sauce when you scramble them).

Finally, there’s the question of icing sugar. I really don’t like things sweet so I ignored the two instructions to add icing sugar: one when grinding the almonds and one when the whole bastilla is finished.

That’s more than enough about the possible variations: let’s get down to the recipe I made.

The chicken filling

If you can, make your filling the day before. Like many stewed dishes, it tastes more intense when the flavours have had lots of time to infuse. Quantities of herbs are very approximate: I’ve never yet found a dish that gets spoiled by adding too many fresh herbs.

  • Olive oil for frying
  • 800g chicken thigh fillets (or around 8 large chicken thighs)
  • 500g onions
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tsp ras el hanout
  • A small pinch saffron
  • Salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 20g flat leaf parsley
  • 20g coriander leaves
  • ½ tablespoon honey
  1. Divide the chicken thigh fillets into two at the point where they’re nearly split anyway.
  2. Chop the onions reasonably finely (you don’t need to go overboard).
  3. Heat oil in a pan, add the chicken, onions, spices, salt and pepper.
  4. Fry on medium heat, uncovered, until the chicken is browned on all sides and the onions are transparent (around 10-15 minutes)
  5. Add the parsley and coriander and a small amount of water (perhaps 50-100ml), cover your pan and simmer until the chicken is cooked through.
  6. Remove the chicken and set aside. Discard the cinnamon stick. Add honey to the mixture, uncover your pan and cook until almost all the water has evaporated and you have a thick paste. You don’t want a watery sauce turning your pastry soggy.
  7. Meanwhile, if your chicken was on the bone, remove the bones and skin. Chop the chicken into small pieces, perhaps 5-10mm across.
  8. Recombine the chicken and the sauce and set aside.

The almond filling

  • 200g blanched almonds
  • Olive oil for drizzling
  1. Preheat oven to 160℃ fan
  2. Spread almonds out on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil
  3. Bake in the oven for until golden: around 15-20 minutes
  4. Remove and leave to cool
  5. Blitz the almonds in a food processor until you have a coarse grain – you don’t want a fine powder or the oil will start coming out of the nuts.
  6. Set aside

The warqa pastry sheets

The amount here should be about right for a single large bastilla. If you’re making more smaller bastillas and/or you’re a bit heavy handed with your pancake creation, you might need to increase the recipe, up to double.

  • 160g flour
  • 240 ml water
  • 5g salt
  • Olive oil for brushing
  1. Whisk together flour, water and salt until you have a smooth, runny batter. In the Choumicha video, this is done in a blender, but a bowl and a balloon whisk work fine.
  2. Have a nylon or silicone pastry brush ready.
  3. Have a small dish of olive oil ready, with a different pastry brush (of any type you like)
  4. Prepare a double boiler by bringing water to the boil in a saucepan which should be just under the diameter of a non-stick frying pan that you place above it.
  5. On a work surface as near as you can get to the pan, spread a sheet of plastic or cling film somewhat wider than your pan. Have another one of the same size ready.
  6. Once the pan is warm, quickly paint an ultra-thin layer of batter across all of the bottom of the pan. The correct thickness is less than you think – you’ll hardly be able to see the batter because it’s just about transparent.
  7. After about 2-3 minutes, the pastry sheet will be cooked: you’ll know because the edges will start to curl away from the rounded sides of the pan. Now comes the scary part: pick the sheet up carefully by one of the edges and peel it off the pan.
  8. Transfer the pancake to your plastic sheet, brush olive oil over it, and put the second plastic sheet over it to stop it drying out. You’ll lift that second sheet off shortly before the next pancake is cooked.
  9. Repeat until you’ve run out of batter. If all goes well, you’ll hardly need to clean your frying pan, but if you’ve had a failure, just wash up the frying pan, put it back in double boiler position and wait until it’s properly warmed up again before continuing.

The egg filling

  • 5 large eggs
  • 10g butter (quantity very approximate)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Whisk the eggs with the salt and pepper
  2. Melt butter in a pan
  3. Add the eggs and stir over medium heat until you have a fairly dry scrambled egg mixture (like the chicken filling, you don’t want it making your pastry soggy).

Putting it all together

Ideally, you will have a round dish with shallow, slightly rounded sides to help form you bastilla into the traditional round shape. If, like me, you don’t, you’ll just have to go freehand on a greased baking tray.

  • Olive oil, melted ghee or smen for brushing
  1. Preheat oven to 200℃ fan
  2. If you’re going to make more than one bastilla, divide your fillings up into equal portions and repeat the instructions below for each.
  3. Place a few overlapping layers of pastry in a pattern big enough that once you’ve made your mound of fillings, you will be able to cover them in at least two or three sheets.
  4. Make a flattened mound of chicken filling in the centre.
  5. Spread the top with the scrambled egg.
  6. Spread the top with ground almonds.
  7. Fold a layer of pastry over the top. Brush it with oil (or ghee or smen).
  8. Repeat until all the layers have been folder over and you have a completed round pie, brushed across its top.
  9. Bake until golden, around 20 minutes. Take out and cool.
  10. Moroccans sprinkle the whole thing with icing sugar and cinnamon before serving. I didn’t.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.47: Black sesame cookies from Japan

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.47: Black sesame cookies from Japan

The Japanese may not have centuries worth of baking tradition: their traditional cuisine is more likely to involve steaming or cooking in a pan. But they’ve taken to the Western idea of baked desserts with a vengeance and added flavours that are characteristically Japanese. Green matcha tea cookies are a favourite for many, but as I’m not particularly fond of matcha, so I’ve gone for a different flavouring: black sesame seeds. These cookies (黒胡麻クッキー or Kuro goma kukkī) are very popular in Japan, they’re easy to make, not too sweet and have a distinct taste that I remember from trips to Japan but not from anywhere else. Thanks to Nami and her blog justonecookbook.com for the recipe.

I’ve followed Nami’s recipe reasonably accurately for my first effort (she gives an option of keeping the sesame seeds whole or grinding them – I went for keeping them whole). Next time, I might go for grinding them and using a few more to get a bigger hit of sesame flavour. I might also take the sugar down a bit, although these aren’t extremely sweet by any means. If you’re looking at the photos, it’s clear that I should probably have sliced the cookies a lot thinner to get a crisper result.

  • 40g black sesame seeds
  • 160g plain flour
  • 40g ground almonds
  • 80g caster sugar
  • 2g salt
  • 120g unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  1. Toast the sesame seeds in a pan until fragrant, leave to cool slightly.
  2. In the bowl of your food processor, weight out the flour, ground almonds, sugar and salt. Stir until evenly mixed (or, if you dare, pulse the food processor briefly).
  3. Take the butter out of the fridge and cut it into cubes. Add to the food processor and run until you have an even crumbly mix.
  4. Add the egg and sesame seeds and pulse for a few seconds until everything is even.
  5. Now take the mixture out of your food processor into a bowl and bring together with your hands until you have a smooth dough.
  6. Form your dough into a long sausage. (Nami’s recipe says to cut the dough into two and do two sausages – I forgot). Wrap them in cling film and refrigerate for around an hour. Ideally, the sausage(s) should be round, but it’s fairly hard to avoid having a flat edge.
  7. Meanwhile, prepare two baking trays with baking paper (or silicone mats) and preheat oven to 175℃.
  8. Take the sausage of dough out of the fridge and cut it into circular slices around 5mm in width. Lay these out on your baking trays, allowing room for a bit of expansion.
  9. Bake for around 15 minutes until a light golden colour.
  10. Leave to cool on a rack for as long as you can manage without scoffing them.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.46: Brazo da Reina from Chile

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.46: Brazo da Reina from Chile

I have no idea why a Swiss Roll is called a Swiss Roll. I’ve travelled to Switzerland a lot and I don’t remember seeing one there. If Wikipedia is to believed, it doesn’t even come from Switzerland in the first place. But apparently, if you happen to be in Chile, at 5pm, it’s time for a coffee and a slice of Brazo da Reina – a rolled sponge cake filled with dulce de leche (caramelised condensed milk). The name in Spanish means “the Queen’s Arm”, which sounds to British ears more like a pub sign, which just goes to show that there’s no accounting for language. It’s not really clear where that name comes from either, and the same cake has other names in different bits of Latin America: Brazo de gitano (gypsy’s arm) or Pionono. Other countries also use different fillings.

The Chilean recipe I started from is notable for having a lot of eggs and no shortening whatsoever, which makes for an incredibly light, airy sponge cake. There are other recipes that use a small amount of oil.

The recipe I used tells you to fold the egg yolks into the beaten whites, then add the flour to the whole lot. That was a little too far outside my comfort zone, so I stuck to a more conventional scheme of mixing egg yolks, sugar and flour before folding, which worked very well.

The tricky part of making a roll cake – especially one as light an airy as this – is to roll it up without tearing. I wasn’t 100% successful, but it was good enough.

The last time I made dulce de leche, for Argentinian alfajores, I baked the condensed milk in an oven tray, which worked OK but was fiddly. For this recipe, I found the ultimate cheat method in the Brazo da Reina recipe in a blog called Curious Cuisiniere – just boil the condensed milk in its can. It’s close to zero effort and worked perfectly. Their advice for rolling up the cake seemed sensible too: this is the first time I’ve tried a roll cake, so I can’t speak for how well other methods work.

You’ll want a Swiss roll tin, around 30cm x 20cm.

The dulce de leche filling

  • 400g can of condensed milk
  1. Put the tin of condensed milk (unopened, but you may want to take the paper off) into a saucepan, pour water to cover it (with some spare, since it will evaporate), and bring it to the boil.
  2. Leave it to simmer for 2-3 hours (two will get you a light caramelisation, 3 will get you a more golden-brown and stronger tasting result.
  3. Remove the tin from the pan and leave it to cool.

The cake

  • Butter for greasing tin
  • 6 eggs
  • 240g flour
  • 10g baking powder
  • 180g caster sugar
  • icing sugar for dusting
  1. Preheat oven to 175℃
  2. Grease your tin with butter, then line it with baking paper, then grease the baking paper generously.
  3. Separate the eggs into two mixing bowls.
  4. Sift the flour and baking powder together.
  5. Beat the egg yolks and add half the caster sugar. Then add the flour and baking powder and mix until well blended. The mixture will be quite stiff.
  6. In the other bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, add the remaining caster sugar and whisk at high speed until you have a stiff meringue
  7. Add around a quarter of the meringue to your flour mixture and mix in until smooth. Do the same with another quarter, now taking care to keep as much air in the meringue as you can. Now fold in the remaining meringue, working really hard to keep the air in.
  8. Spread the mixture evenly into your tin. Ideally, use an offset spatula to get it really level (I don’t have one, so I just did my best.
  9. Bake for around 10 minutes. You do NOT want to overbake the sponge or you stand no chance of rolling it intact.
  10. Leave to cool for a minute or two, then run a palette knife round the edge to make sure the cake is not sticking to the edge. Sprinkle some icing sugar over the cake.
  11. Spread a tea towel over the cake, and then an inverted cooling rack. Turn the whole assembly upside down. As gently as you can, remove your cake tin. The cake should sit on its tea towel in one piece.
  12. Very gently, pull off the baking paper almost all the way, then put it back in place.
  13. Now roll the cake up as tightly as you can, and leave to cool for an hour or so.
  14. Unroll the cake (this is the part where it’s hard to stop it tearing), spread the filling over it, then roll it up again.
  15. (Optional – I didn’t) dust the cake with more icing sugar.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.45: Pastizzi from Malta

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.45: Pastizzi from Malta

The styles and sizes vary, but most food cultures have a filled parcel that you can eat on the street: China has bao dumplings, Japan has onigiri, most Latin countries have empañadas, and so on. The Maltese version is the pastizz, which is somewhere in size between a samosa and a Cornish pasty. Its case is flaky pastry which is made by creating a spiral cross-section of dough and shortening (the same trick, roughly, as used in Portuguese pastéis de nata); the filling can be pretty much anything but is often either based on ricotta cheese or peas.

Starting from a Maltese Youtube video and halving the quantities, I chose a lightly curried pea-and-tomato filling, which is pretty straightforward and comes out rather like one of my favourite Indian dishes, mutter paneer (without the paneer, but I can’t see a good reason not to include that if you want). If you are looking carefully at the photos, you’ll see that I ran out of peas on one of my runs and substituted some mixed veg.

As with all versions of puff pastry, getting the layers right is tricky, and I got it spectacularly wrong on my first attempt, not least because the ratio of flour to water in the recipe is way off what it needs to be. This isn’t the most time consuming puff pastry recipe you’ll ever see: there’s a lot of elapsed time for resting, but it’s not too bad on actual work. But it’s fiddly to get the layers thin enough and roll them up into a good shape without breaking them. If you’re like me, you’ll need practise.

Anyway, the results are well worth it: they make a really good mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack, tasty, filling and nutritious.

Filling

Although I’m giving the filling recipe first, you’ll almost certainly want to start the dough first and make the filling during the extensive resting times.

You could add any of garlic, ginger or chilies to this if you want a spicier version. I like adding curry leaves, too, which isn’t exactly Maltese but adds aroma.

  • Sunflower or other neutral oil for frying
  • 2g (1tsp) cumin seeds
  • 220g onion
  • 7g curry powder (or your own favourite mix of ground coriander, cumin, turmeric, chili powder)
  • 70g double concentrated tomato paste (my favourite brand is Cirio)
  • 350g frozen peas
  1. Take the peas out of the freezer. You can do this in advance, but you don’t have to.
  2. Chop the onion finely
  3. Heat cumin seeds in oil in a wok or medium size pan
  4. Once the cumin seeds are spitting, add the onion and stir fry for a couple of minutes
  5. Add the curry powder and continue frying until the onions are soft
  6. Add the tomato paste and 100ml or so of water, stir until blended.
  7. Add the peas, bring back to the boil, turn the heat down and simmer until the peas are cooked and the sauce is very thick.
  8. Turn the heat off and leave until needed.

Dough

  • 420g flour +40 second time, + 15g sunflower oil
  • 250ml water
  • 10g salt
  • 125g shortening – Maltese recipes specify a vegetable shortening like Trex or Crisco, but you can almost certainly substitute ghee or melted butter if you prefer the taste (or use a mixture)
  • A little olive oil
  1. Mix flour and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer; add water and knead on low to medium speed with the dough hook until you have a smooth but fairly stiff dough. You need enough water that you don’t have lots of uncombined flour, but not so much as to make the mixture sticky.
  2. Form your dough into a thick cylinder, spread with shortening, wrap with cling film and leave to rest for around 30 minutes.
  3. Roll the cylinder into a reasonably long and thin rectangle, spread with more shortening on both sides, place cling film over the top and rest again for another 30 minutes.
  4. Now roll the dough as thin as you can possibly make it – still in a long, rectangle. Spread with shortening over the top.
  5. Starting from one end, roll your dough into a long cigar shape, pulling the pastry as you go and making sure you get all the air out. You will need to go from side to side and back again, pulling and rolling. Leave to rest for another hour or two. Towards the end of this, preheat your oven to 200℃ fan.
  6. Pull your cylinder so that it’s now very long. Cut the resulting cylinder into around twelve pieces.
  7. Have a small bowl of olive oil ready. Dip both thumbs in oil, then pick up a piece of dough, dig both thumbs into one end and shape and stretch it into a cup – this may or may not remind you of primary school pottery classes. 
  8. Flip the cup inside out (so that the bit with the olive oil is on the outside, spoon a dollop of filling into it, and pinch the outside together to seal. When it’s done, put it on a baking tray, lying it roughly flat (don’t try to leave the seam pointing upwards). Repeat for the other eleven pastizzi.
  9. Bake for around 30 minutes. Take out of the oven when golden (and, we hope, flaky).
  10. While leaving to cool, attempt to sing Maltese folksongs. Or not.