Tuesday, April 21, 2009

As the old saying goes

Sometimes, don't you just ask yourself, when was the last time I made a Kazakh pastry?

Or is it only me?

It's probably only me. Well, me, those of Kazakh descent, those currently living in Kazakhstan, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. 

Those of Kazakh descent and those currently living there probably make pastries with relative frequency. Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid -- world travelers, culinary historians and authors of such temptingly gorgeous books as Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia and Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Traditions from Around the World -- have made Kazakh pastries at least a few times, given the recipe's inclusion in their baking book. And as for me: I made Kazakh pastries last night. With Jeffrey and Naomi's help. You know, because just as the old saying goes, when life gives you lazy Monday nights, make Kazakh pastries.

These little fried and steamed sweets are filled with a delicious compote of dried apricots and lemon layered on a spoonful of chopped almonds. They possess a lovely texture somewhere between crispy and doughy, maybe like a sugary and chewy potsticker. They seem like they come from somewhere very far away. This might be because "Kazakh" is in their title, or maybe because their fruit and nut filling seems so very ancient, but who knows. I just let my mind wander while I eat them, perhaps to Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan's capital, or perhaps to the northern slopes of the Tian Shan Mountains, where delicious apples grow. (Thank you, Mr. Alford and Ms. Duguid, for offering up a little geographical context as a prelude to the list of ingredients.) That's the beauty of a good recipe: it's able to take you very far away indeed, to a time passed or a place remote, like an independent central Asian republic that used to be part of the Soviet Union.

But back to my kitchen. Last night, when Husband saw the cookbook open to the page with the Kazakh pastries, this is what he said:

Husband, whining (facetiously): "Kazakh pastries, AGAIN???"

It's totally only me. 


Adapted from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition Around the World, by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

I made these pastries smaller than the recipe method suggests, simply because I had a heck of a time rolling out the dough to a very very thin 16 inches square. I figure the smaller pastry tastes just as delicious. Additionally, the recipe states that the dough should be gathered only part-way over the filling, leaving a small opening in the center. I found this challenging at the frying step, as the filling wanted to ooze out into the pan. So I covered the filling all the way and found that they fried up beautifully.

Oh, and by the way, the apricot compote would be fantastic over ice cream with a sprinkling of toasted almonds.

For the pastries:

1 c. all-purpose flour
2 T. sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 t. baking powder
Pinch of kosher salt
4 T. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
Scant 1/2 c. lukewarm water
About 1/4 c. chopped almonds
1 recipe dried apricot compote (recipe follows)
Vegetable oil for shallow frying

For the dried apricot compote:

1 c. dried unsulfured apricots, coarsely chopped
A 1-inch strip of lemon zest
2 c. water
1 c. sugar

First, make the compote. Place the apricots, lemon zest and water in a non-reactive heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a boil. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved, then lower the heat and simmer very gently for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from heat; set aside. You can make the compote ahead of time and store in a well-covered container in the refrigerator or freezer. It will keep well for several months.

While the compote is simmering, make the pastry dough. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a food processor. Process while you add the butter and then just enough water to form a dough (I used less than the called-for 1/2 c. water). Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 3 minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour (the longer rest makes the dough easier to roll out). 

When the compote is done and the dough has rested, proceed with pastry assembly. Place a small bowl of water near your work surface. Lightly flour a large baking sheet. Cut the dough into 4 pieces. Work with 1 piece at a time, keeping the others covered with the plastic wrap. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out as thin as possible, to about 8 inches square. Cut into 4 pieces. The dough pieces do not have to be tidy squares; this pastry is rustic and you will be gathering up the edges around the filling.

Place about 1/2 teaspoon chopped almonds on the center of each square and top it with a generous tablespoon of the compote.

Wet your fingertips with water and use them to moisten the edges of the dough. Lift the edges of the dough up over the filling, pleating it in large folds and making a round-ish pastry. Set aside on the floured baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough.

In a large heavy skillet heat 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add only as many pastries to the skillet as will fit without crowding. Fry until dark golden brown, about 3 minutes. Turn them over and fry on the other side to the same color, about 2 minutes. While they cook, place a cupful of hot water and a lid for the skillet by the stove.

When the pastries are brown, pour in enough water to coat the bottom of the skillet. Put on the lid and let steam for 20-30 seconds. Remove the lid, transfer the pastries to a plate and sprinkle with sugar. Repeat with the remaining pastries, adding oil as necessary before frying each batch.

Serve the pastries warm or at room temperature, with hot tea. Or with a gin and tonic, which is what Husband drank with his.

Makes 16 pastries. Note: the pastries can be frozen, cooked or uncooked. Defrost before cooking or reheating. To reheat cooked pastries, brush with a little melted butter and place on a baking sheet in an oven heated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat for 5-7 minutes, or until warmed through. Or you can just heat them up in the toaster oven, no melted butter required. And if I do say so myself: the reheated pastries are almost better than the freshly fried and steamed ones. The sprinkling of sugar crisps into the most amazing exterior, a wonderful textural foil to the molten apricot. Excuse me while I go reheat another one.


Melanie said...

You point me in so many wonderful directions that if I followed them all I would get completely derailed from my own cooking plans. I'm going to bookmark this one for later and hopefully will get back to it.

Oh, and thanks to you my husband begs me for fry bread everyday! :) I've been having to start fending him off with excuses or I'm going to get sick of it!

Dianne said...

Thank you, Melanie! Your message made me smile. I often feel like there aren't enough days/meals for all the good recipes I find, so I know what you mean about feeling derailed.

Also, I'm very glad your husband is loving the fry bread, it is addictive stuff. But, yeah, keep fending him off because it would be rather tragic if you got sick of it. :)

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

I'm cracking up! I must admit that I have most of the Alford-Duguid books, but I enjoy them more as cultural guides to a cuisine than as cookbooks. Now I'm inspired to take another look through, for recipes I might actually make.

Unknown said...

I adore Jeffrey and Naomi's books. Your pastries are beautiful! Makes me want to get that cookbook out and make something myself.

Laura said...

Well I am certainly going to be asking myself now when the last I made any Kazakh pastries was!

I love the Alford and Duguid books, I own them all. They are just gorgeous. As are those pastries.

Dianne said...

Lydia, Janel, Laura -- So glad to hear so many people own and cherish the Alford and Duguid books! They are lush and inspiring, aren't they?

PS. Janel, your dog is adorable.

Anonymous said...

My friend from Kazahstan regularly enjoyed tongue sandwiches for lunch....

Anonymous said...

Sorry - that was me :)


Dianne said...

Oh, I knew it was you. No need to clarify. :)

Anonymous said...

Well, there could be someone else out there with a tongue-devouring Kazakh friend! :)

Unknown said...

I came here for the DB challenge and got caught up reading your blog. You make the most interesting things! I'll be coming back! (And are you a librarian? I am....)

Dianne said...

Jenny, thank you so much! I'm glad you're enjoying the site, and I truly appreciate the compliment. :) Please do stop back!

I'm not a librarian -- I work at a historic house museum in Akron, Ohio. Though I did do my work-study in college by working in the university library. I actually liked it quite a lot!

Anonymous said...

Hello! I just made these wonderful pastries last evening and I am glad to hear I am not the only one having issues roling out the dough to 16 in! Anyways, I am working on a project and am having a hard time finding the history of these pastries online, do you have any ideas or sourses that you used? Thanks and God Bless

Dianne said...

I didn't use any source other than the cookbook from which the recipe came, "Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition Around the World, by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid." Good luck!