Tag Archives: pastries

Pistachio-cinnamon pastries and memories of Nadia

Cinnamon-pistachio pastries with Maghrebi type tea

This time last year, my wonderful old friend Nadia was hospitalised. A few days later she died, surrounded by her family. It was her birthday too, so the end of October is double memorial to Nadia. She is much-missed and I think of her often, especially when I’m cooking.

I lived with Nadia and her family in the mid-1990s, in a kind of long-term WWOOFer role on a farm called Old Man Mountain in the verdant, wild Buller Gorge on New Zealand’s South Island. Although I worked on the farm for its owner, Susie, I spent a lot of time with Nadia in the kitchen of her yellow house, talking about and making food. She was one of the key cookery mentors in my life.

During my year there, Nadia and I went through phases. We obsessed over French patisserie, and I made my first croissants in her oven. We made samosas and curries and south Asian feasts; Nadia was part-Indian, but hadn’t travelled, so my experience of growing up in a country with a huge South Asian food scene were a useful source of information for her. Then we obsessed over Middle Eastern food. I’ve always been more inclined to sweets, cakes and pastries, so I dug out recipes along those lines. Some made it into my journals.

After Nadia’s death, I revisited those journals and transcribed more of the recipes. This is one of them. It’s called cinnamon pistachio crescents in my notes and it says it’s of Middle Eastern origin. I’ve no idea if it is a genuinely Middle Eastern recipe either, or the Arabic name of these pastries. They may well be related to croissants though, given the shape and the high butter content, so perhaps they’re a hybrid of Arabic food heritage and French imperialism. A terrible lack of information, I know. All I know is that they’re a bit like croissants, but there’s no lamination here, so they’re a lot easier to master. Perhaps they’re related to the Jewish rugelach. If anyone does know the name of Arabic pastries like this, please do enlighten me!*

The recipe, now somewhat tweaked by me, may well be from a Middle Eastern cookbook my mother sent out to me in 1994. I saw it last, in October 2013, just after we’d left Rome and had gone travelling to see international friends and family: on a shelf in Nadia’s house in the Marlborough Sounds. Perhaps it’s still there. One day I may be able to check it, when we next visit NZ. Who knows? With the recent eleventh hour failure of our adoption match, I don’t really know what life holds next. While we nurse our bruised dreams I know at least there will be more baking.

Baking of things like these. I’m making them thinking of Nadia, bustling around her kitchen at Old Man Mountain, twenty years ago. I wish I could email her to ask her to look in that old recipe book. It’d take her a week to find the time away from her precious, precarious garden and connect to her agonisingly slow dial-up, but I miss her communiqués, her snatches of life, her ardent discussion of food.

48 cinnamon pistachio pastries, with Nadia

Dough
10g active dried yeast or 15g fresh yeast
60g water
25g caster sugar
125g strong white flour
125g plain flour
4g fine sea salt
200g unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten (that is, 120g beaten egg)

Filling
6-8g cinnamon (to taste)
80g caster sugar
50g pistachios, roughly chopped or quickly broken up in food processor.

Roughly chop pistachios

Makes 48

1. Mix the yeast with the water. You can use tepid water to get the yeast going if you like, but as these have a long prove in the fridge it doesn’t really matter.
2. Stir in sugar.
3. Combine the flours in a bowl, add the salt, then mix in yeasty water, melted butter and egg.

Mix the damp doughFirm up the dough in fridge
4. Mix up to a dough. It’s very moist from all the egg and melted butter so it really is a case of mixing, with a spatula. Cool the dough in the fridge a bit to firm up the butter then you can give it a knead, just to make sure everything is nicely homogenised.
5. Return the dough to a clean bowl, greased with a little oil, cover, then put in the fridge and leave for at least three hours, or even overnight.
6. Take the dough out of the fridge and allow it to come back to room temperature. (The butter will have set hard again, so it’ll be difficult to handle until it’s warmed up a bit again.)
Cinnamon and pistachio filling mix
7. Combine the cinnamon, sugar and chopped pistachios to make the filling.
8. Preheat the oven to 180C and prepare several baking sheets, lining them with parchment or silicone sheets.
Cut the dough into 6 piecesForm 6 balls
9. Divide the dough into six balls, each weight about 111g, then cover and let them rest for 10 minutes.
Disc 20cm in diameterSprinkle filling
10. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each ball into a disc, keeping them moving to avoid sticking. Roll to about 20cm in diameter.
Divide into 8 segmentsRoll up the segments and form crescents
11. Sprinkle the filling onto the discs, then cut each one into eight segments.
12. Roll up the wedges, starting from the wide end, and shape into crescents.
Place on lined traysBake until browned
13. Place on baking sheets, cover and prove for about 20 minutes until slightly risen.
14. Bake for around 12 minutes, until nicely browned.
15. Cool on a wire rack.

Pistachio cinnamon crescents

I imagine these would go very well with a nice strong, short cup of coffee, but as I don’t drink it, I can’t say! I can say they also go nicely with tea, black or green. But the ideal drink to have them with would be that sweetened blend of black and mint tea, served in glasses, as drunk in Arabic world, especially the Maghreb. I like to think that when I first made them at Old Man Mountain in 1994, me and Nadia sat down to try them with a with a cuppa, critiquing them. Nadia probably said they were good, but she preferred savouries.

 

 

 

* Since writing this, I’ve done a little more research. In Arabic countries, such a pastry might be referred to as a sanbusaj, sambusak, sambosak. It’s the same in Hebrew. And similar in many other languages across the Middle East, western and southern Asia. Indeed, they’re probably all from the same Persian root word: sanbosag. A more familiar related word here in the UK is the Indian Subcontinent samosa.

But, you may be wondering, what’s a usually savoury, deep-fried parcel got in common with a crescent, yeasted dough, buttery pastry? Well, broadly, there’s all just variation on a theme of filled pastries. This recipe, for example, is savoury, but uses a similar technique to mine here, and as such nicely bridges the gap.

 

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Ugly bread, pastries, lunch at L’Asino d’Oro, outer space and saucy suppli

Last loaf

The storms – apparently called Cyclone Penelope ­– arrived last night, rumbling over Roma and shaking our palazzo. I love being indoors, in bed, on such nights. Frequently in Rome, the stormy weather has the decency to blow over by the morning. Not so this morning though, when it was still raining buckets, piove a catinelle (where a catinella is a basin; I love the image of rain pouring down as if it’s overflowing celestial basins).

It looks like the Autumnal rain is settling in until we leave on Wednesday. In a way that’s just perfect – it’s re-acclimatising us to British weather. But it does look like yesterday was our last day that was dry enough for a long, casual, umbrella-less wander around town.

We started the day with a slice of bread – from the final loaf I’ll be baking in Rome. This was a bit of a disaster, but it was fun. It was a “using up leftover stuff before we leave loaf”. In this case meant a lot of seeds: specifically buckwheat, sunflower and poppy; and a some not-entirely ideal flour: 0 grano tenero (okay, fine), rice and amido di mais. The latter is what we’d call cornflour in the UK, meaning corn (maize) starch, so more a thickening agent than a bread ingredient. Hi ho. It felt like a good dough when I added the seeds, but went strange after that.

Adding seeds

As Fran pointed out, the resulting loaf looked like a giant brutti ma buoni  (“ugly but good”) cookie. It was pretty solid and, er, I might have forgotten to add any salt. But that’s fine: a lot of traditional bread from Tuscany and Umbria doesn’t contain salt, and as such is good for strongly flavoured bruschette. Not sure the seedy stuff will work as bruschette, but it’s good with good old Marmite.

We headed out down the hill, through Trastevere, past the enjoyable window displays of vintage pasticceria Valzani. This included their selection of “tea biscuits”:

Valzani tea biscuits

Then slices of pangiallo romano, which literally means “yellow bread” and is a type of hard Roman  Christmas cake, made with honey, nuts and dried fruit; and panpepato (aka pampepato), a similar cake that originates from central Italy and, as well as containing dried fruits, candied fruit and nuts also contains spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and even chocolate.

Pangiallo, panpepato at Valzani

Then the Roman version of the Campania sfogliatella, which look kinda squashed compared to the more refined Neopolitan sfogliatella riccia. Indeed, compared to say French patisserie, Roman patisserie often has this seemingly crude finish – but I like that, it’s less poncey. Alongside was a tray of cannoli siciliani, then a tray of maritozzi, Rome’s epic cream buns, which I made over here.

Valzani sfogliatelle romane, cannoli, maritozzi

After meeting a friend in the street, who was discussing the possibility of opening a café, we headed over Ponte Sisto into Regola, rione VII. Past this fab old sign for a biscuit shop that, sadly, isn’t a biscuit shop any more.

Biscotteria sign, Via dei Pettinari, Rome

We stopped at I Dolci di Nonna Vincenza (“Grandma Vincenza’s Sweets”), a Sicilian pasticceria chain that opened a branch here about a year or so ago.

Brioche, ciambelle, Nonna Vincenza

It’s a bit cutesy, but the doughnut-type thing (“È una tipa di ciambella”) we had – that wasn’t the more common ring-shape of ciambelle, but more a knot – was good.

Ciambella, Nonna Vincenza

I got some almond paste cookies that were pretty good too.

Biscotti, Nonna Vincenza

We chilled out on the pastry indulgences after that, even managing to walk by the justifiably renowned, somewhat pricey Roscioli bakery without buying anything.

Roscioli

We wanted to save space for lunch at L’Asino d’Oro in Monti, one of our two favourite Rome restaurants. Our other fave is Cesare al Casaletto, which we’d vowed to go to at least once or twice more before leaving, but had been confounded by forgetting which day was their riposa settimanale (weekly rest day), then it being fully booked, and then by discovering that they were closed for our final 10 days in Rome. Nooooo! Fortunately, L’Asino d’Oro hit the spot.

Asino D'Oro

This is a superb restaurant, where chef Lucio Sforza (who, Renaissance scholars, may or may not be part of that family) uses seasonal, local, quality ingredients and every weekday does a pranzetto for (currently) €13. This set “little lunch” changes every day and is a serious contender for the best value, best quality lunch available in Rome. Thirteen flippin’ euros for bread, antipasto, primo, secondo, glass of wine and small bottle of water! And it’s always been excellent, every time I’ve been, though I prefer Friday, as that’s Rome’s main fish-eating day.

We had a bruschetta with bean purée, the best broccoli soup I’ve ever had, pasta with a ragù of cuttlefish, and a fillet of scorfano (scorpion fish). We then decided to order some dessert (which isn’t included in the menu) and a glass of Marco Carpineti’s delicious Ludum Passito dessert wine. Just cos.

Passito and zuppa inglese, L'Asino d'Oro

I had a zuppa inglese, which is basically Italian trifle. Although the name can be translated as “English soup”, I like the slightly deeper meaning of zuppa as a reference to bread dunked in broth, from the verb inzuppare, to soak, to immerse. In the case of zuppa inglese, there’s sponge cake soaked in alcohol and custard. Going to miss these lunches at The Golden Ass (or The Golden Donkey if you have that troubling American-English relationship with that word). Veramente un buon rapporto prezzo-qualità!

Cafe 2Periodico, Monti

Afterwards we had tea in a favoured nearby café in Monti, 2Periodico, watching the world go by before we continued on our way… to the movies. What?! You could say. Why sit in a cinema when Rome is only your city for a few days more? Well, I used to be a film journalist, and just adore the big screen and the darkened room. Plus, I fear a culpa d’aria got me so I fancied planting my donkey for a few hours, getting away from the tourist zombie hordes clogging up the streets.

Normally I cannot abide, and veto, 3D films, but the own lingua originale option was Gravity in 3D. And even with shonky 3D, in a cinema not designed specifically for 3D, it was an extraordinary experience. I’ve not felt that pushing-yourself-back-into-the-seat tension in a film for years.

I Suppli, Trastevere

On the way home, we stopped in Via San Francesco a Ripa in Trastevere, buying some handmade chocolates from Dolce Idea to take home and a suppli from the small, seemingly nameless hole-in-the-wall pizzeria opposite to scoff straight away. It might just be called “I Suppli” as it has the word in green neon above the door. And rightfully so, as their suppli are great – the tomato risotto mix is very saucy, meaning they’re moister than many versions. Their structural integrity may suffer as a result but they’re so tasty.

So all in all a great day; eating and movies, two of my favourite things. I even managed an ale when I got home, so three of my favourite things.

Info
Pasticceria Valzani
Via del Moro 37b, Trastevere, 00153 Rome
+39 06 580 3792 | valzani.it

I Dolci di Nonna Vincenza
Via Arco del Monte 98a/98b, Regola, 00186 Rome
+39 06 92 59 43 22 | dolcinonnavincenza.it | arcodelmonte@dolcinonnavincenza.it

Roscioli (Forno)
Via dei Chiavari 34, Regola, 00186 Rome
+39 06 686 4045

L’Asino d’Oro
Via del Boschetto 73, Monti, 00184 Rome
+ 39 06 4891 3832

2Periodico Café
Via Leonina 77, Monti, 00184 Rome
+39 06 4890 6600

Dolce Idea
Via San Francesco a Ripa 27, Trastevere, 00153 Rome
+39 06 5833 4043 | dolceidea.com | info@dolceidea.com

Nameless Pizzeria (“I Suppli”?)
Via San Francesco A Ripa 137, Trastevere, 00153 Rome
+39 06 589 7110

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