Sunday, May 13, 2012

Morroccan Almond Filo "Snake"

Almond Filo Snake

If Amal knew how to make filo pastry, she never showed me how. I suspect
the truth is that her mother had never made it and that with the coming of
mechanization, even her grandmother dropped her rolling pin, dusted off her
hands and raised them to heaven with exclamations of "Il hum-dil-allah"! (Praise God). Can you imagine rolling and stretching a dough of flour and water to the prescribed 1/32 of an inch thickness, let alone the counter space required? 

So this is one pastry we don't make just like grandma did, although you too, can become adept at reaching for the boxes of frozen filo in the back of the grocery store freezer section to select the perfect one (the boxes in the front tend to be older and somewhat dried out). Melted butter is filo pastry's "partner in the
sublime" and accounts for the buttery, golden crunch of the final product!

Finicky Filo:
(secrets I have discovered about the pastry in our long association, beginning with the meat filled rolls prepared for my wedding!)
*Be sure filo is completely thawed before using. It may be kept in the fridge up to a week or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
*Don't work with filo when you are in a hurry with 5 minutes to spare have a grumpy toddler pulling on your leg or workmen are drilling in your basement. Though not difficult the separation of the paper thin layers can be tedious and a calm spirit tends to a neater result!
*Unroll filo and lay the stack of pastry sheets flat on work surface. Keep stack loosely covered with plastic wrap to prevent drying out as you work with the individual sheets.
*Brush all exposed surfaces of the pastry with melted butter, including tops, bottoms and sides of shaped and completed dish. Though margarine can be used and some recipes opt for olive oil or cooking spray, please don't use anything but butter - and certainly don't offer me any if made with anything else - a persnickety cook indeed!
*Score pastry before baking if served in pieces with a sharp, serrated knife,
then cut again through the scorings after baking. (The almond snake is
an exception - do not score before baking.)
*Alas, you will not have success freezing filo dishes after they have been baked...they loose their crunch and morph into a heavy, soggy version of their former glorious selves. However, some dishes do well if frozen before baking, such as baklawa. It can be prepared, thoroughly brushed with butter and covered with foil. Uncover and set out for 20 - 30 minutes and bake as directed. Filo dishes are best stored at room temperature only lightly covered with foil. No airtight containers or plastic bags or there goes the crunch!

Almond Filo Snake
1 cup ground almonds (in food processor)
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 egg, separated
2 tsp. finely grated lemon rind
1 tsp. almond extract
1/2 cup melted butter
24 sheets filo pastry
Pinch of ground cinnamon
Powdered sugar to dust

-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease an 8-inch round pan.

-Place the ground almonds in a bowl with the powdered sugar.  Put the egg white in a bowl and lightly beat with a fork.  Add to the almonds with the lemon rind, and extract.  Mix well.

-Remove 2 sheets of  filo and cover the rest with plastic wrap to prevent it drying out.  Brush the filo sheets with butter, then cover with 2 more sheets and butter, repeat one more time with 2 more sheets of filo, using a total of 6 sheets.  Spread 1/4 of almond mixture along the length of the buttered pastry and roll up to enclose the filling.  Form into a coil and set the coil in the center of the pan.  Make 3 more snakes and use butter to join to the other rolls and continue shaping to make a large coil.

-Add the cinnamon to the egg yolk and brush over the snake.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Let cool for 10 minutes then dust with powdered sugar, sprinkle with toasted sliced almonds and serve cut in wedges.  

(The snake will keep for up to 3 days but should not be refrigerated.)

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