Monica E. Smith

Monica E. Smith

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Go Forth and Create--New Recipe from the Expresso Cafe Kitchen

art form: noun 

An activity or a piece of artistic work that can be regarded as a medium of artistic expression. (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language)
Cooking—as sure as painting, sculpture, writing, music—is most certainly an art form! The experience is not only in the creation itself, but in the reward of sharing and enjoyment in eating with another.

I have always loved those desserts made with  phyllo (filo) dough. You know filo. Those papery thin layers upon layers upon layers of dough used in making baklava. while I love eating foods created with filo, I absolutely hate working with it. It's so "fussy". You have to carefully thaw it forever, keep the flimsy stack moist with a towel while you work very gingerly preparing each delicate layer for your creation; and still some of it dries out, cracks and tears. Your high hopes for a special dessert are dashed to the floor with tidbits of friable filo. 

I was watching the "Contessa" on the food channel yesterday; she was making the most delectable-looking puff pastry dessert with pecans and cinnamon. Impressionable as I am, I had to have it right then. I was going over the ingredients in my head and thought I had everything I needed to create this gods' delight. Butter and cinnamon I always have. Nuts? Yes—in the freezer left over from my Christmas cookie baking. Puff pastry? Yes, I remembered the box in the deep freezer! Oh, no—it's F I L O!

Not to be denied, and because my mouth was already watering for this buttery dessert, I bravely proceeded to create. However, I did not have the time or the patience to "properly" bake something with filo dough. So, throwing caution—and everything I know about filo—out the window, I began. (As in writing, once you have learned and know the rules, feel free to break them.)

I took the filo out of the box—and because I did not have at least two hours to let it thaw—ignoring everything I knew about properly thawing it, I stuck it in the microwave for about a minute. It was not pretty, but it was usable. After laying it out on the butcher block, I stared at it for a minute or two and decided I was going to cut the entire stack in hunks. I made two incisions down the length and two more crosswise, giving me nine little stacks of filo. While doing this, 1 1/4 sticks of butter were melting away in the microwave. I then threw the little sections of filo into the bowl of melted butter—and this is where it gets down and dirty and downright fun, akin to a kid playing in the sandbox—with my hands, I tossed them around, making sure they were all pretty well saturated with the butter, and somewhat separated. I then added some brown sugar, cinnamon, a little salt and the pecans and tossed again, making sure it was all evenly distributed. I buttered a shallow pan, emptied the filo mixture into the pan lightly patted it in and baked it. What came out was the most delightful, buttery, "crunchewy", satisfying dessert I had made in a long time, and took only about 45 minutes from oven to mouth. It was actually a great success. Barefoot or not, the Contessa had nothing over me!

Lesson: DO NOT BE AFRAID TO COOK! It's fun, relaxing, very rewarding and very artistic; and gives you a wonderful sense of accomplishment I hope you try this recipe—and, add something to make it your own. As I'm sitting here, I have already thought to add apple slices, other fresh or dried fruits, flavorings, jam, coconut. The possibilities are as endless as one's imagination. So, go forth and create! I'd love to hear how your creations turn out.

Buttery Pecan Phyllo Cake

1 16-oz box filo dough
1 1/4 - 1 1/2 sticks butter (I like I Can't Believe It's Not Butter or Smart Balance) 
dash of salt
1 tsp cinnamon (or more, to your taste)
1/2 cup brown sugar (light or dark; more or less to your taste; I used light brown sugar, about 1/2 cup)
1 1/2 cups pecan pieces (could be made with other nuts; I used pecans)
juice of one orange (optional)  

Remove filo from box. Keeping wrapped in inner paper, microwave on high for approximately one minute, just long enough to unfold. Unfold stack of filo and place flat on counter. Cut two equal lengthwise and 2 equal crosswise slices, making nine separate stacks of dough.

Melt butter and drop in stacks of filo, mixing to equally distribute butter. Add remaining ingredients and using hands, mix and distribute, breaking up and separating some of the filo stacks.

Pour into buttered, shallow baking pan, approximately 9 X 10 (this was the size of my baking pan; however, any similar-sized shallow pan will work. The important thing is to shape the mixture into a square/rectangle of about 1/2" thickness) 

Bake in center of oven on 350 degrees, for approximately 20 - 25 minutes, or until the bottom is golden brown and the top begins to brown.

Remove from oven and, while cooling, sprinkle the juice of one orange over the top. Serve by cutting into squares/pieces with vanilla ice cream or frozen cool whip.  

Keeps well overnight; no need to refrigerate; just cover and set on counter. I know this because I am eating a big slab as I write this, and IT IS HEAVENLY!

Happy Eating!

(see this recipe and more at the(Expresso Cafe Kitchen)