Make sweets, not war

Could baking be the way to heal the world’s troubles? Maybe, maybe not. But I say we give it a go. Next up: florentines. I continue to be amazed at the way flour and leavening continue to come and go at the grocery store. So here’s a treat that doesn’t require much if any of […]

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Sorry!

Hey all, sorry about the outages, we here at Joe Pastry World Headquarters don’t really know what’s up, save to say that there have been some pretty serious traffic spikes lately, and it may be that the server just isn’t up to it. But whatever the cause we’ll do our best to sort it out. […]

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What makes a tender dough?

Patricia wants to know why, when fatayer dough seems just like a regular flat bread dough, it’s so much more tender than pita or pizza dough when it’s baked. Patricia, the answer can be summed up in one word: fat. Or to be more accurate: oil (liquid fat). Oil does two things in fatayer dough. First, it inhibits the development of gluten (that is, the elastic chains of protein molecules that form when you moisten and agitate wheat flour). Second, because oil remains liquid even after it’s been baked into a bread, it softens crust (and crumb to boot). Put the two together and the result is a very soft and pliable, if somewhat more caloric, finished bread.

Here it’s important to note that you can create tender breads without necessarily employing fats or oils. Just about any non-glutinous additive will help to undermine gluten development: corn starch (flour), corn meal, cooked potato, potato starch, rice flour, tapioca flour, nut flours of all types, buckwheat flour, quinoa flour, millet flour, chickpea flour…the list goes on. The double-edged sword of course: the more non-wheat ingredients you add, the lower the rise. Which for a flat bread doesn’t matter as much. A loaf-type bread is of course a different story. Thanks Patricia!

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Curse these lockdowns!

Quarantine has deprived us of many things. Glancing at the calendar just now I realized that among them was National Vanilla Pudding Day, which blew by us last Friday with scarcely a mention. Speaking for the Pastry family, we never even got the tree up, much less got out to sing the usual pudding carols.

All is not lost, however. For those who, like us, were left bereft this year, I heartily recommend the vanilla pudding that’s here on the site. Believe it or not, it’s one of the most popular recipes I’ve ever written. Enjoy it and look forward to next year!

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Making Fatayer

When you set out to make fatayer you might as well make a lot of them, because a.) it’s hard to stop eating them and b.) they keep. Spinach fatayer like these will keep at room temperature for a couple of days, refrigerated for over a week, and frozen well over a month. But odds are they won’t be around that long. Like most hand pies, they’re so convenient and travel so well that you’ll find yourself taking them everywhere with you.

These closed triangles are the most convenient from a portability standpoint, though the triangle shape is traditionally reserved for the spinach fateera (thanks to reader Jasmine, both for that information and for providing me with correct singular spelling of the word). I’ll demonstrate the three shapes I know as we go along. For now, assemble your ingredients, preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and let’s get going.

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“Sweet” Spices on Savory Things

For Westerners, the application of a spice like nutmeg or allspice to an otherwise savory meat or vegetable dish is a quintessentially Middle Eastern — or North African — touch. Sure, we in the States might sprinkle a little cinnamon on a winter squash soup, but do the same to ground meat and it suddenly becomes “Levantine”. Roasted carrots become “Moroccan”. But why is that?

The conventional wisdom is that “Araby” was the center of the Eastern spice trade, a great roaring river of exotic aromatics that made their way from East Asia to Mecca, where they were sold to Mediterranean merchants who ultimately passed them on to Europeans. Those bits of “sweet” spices we taste on Middle Eastern and North African foods speak to the area’s long history as the terminus of Far Eastern trade routes.

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Yogurt and Buttermilk: For Baking, Not Much Difference

Reader Jasmine wrote in with some excellent suggestions for the fatayer project. Among them, the more contemporary tweak of adding yogurt to the dough instead of water. It’s a good idea. The extra acidity will give the finished crust a nice little tang, and a bit of extra tenderness.

However there’s a minor problem. Yogurt, being a stiff gel versus a liquid, will require me to adjust my proportions a bit, and I’d rather not put up multiple dough formulas. My solution? Buttermilk.

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Fatayer: A Speculative History

One of the constants of baking is that wherever you find bread — or really any kind of dough — you find hand pies. From pierogi to samosas, pasties to calzones, knishes, Asian dumplings, empanadas, turnovers, bridies, Pop Tarts and Hot Pockets, the urge to roll out a piece of dough, drop a blob of filling in the middle and fold it over seems written into human DNA. Trying to sort out exactly where and when this great technological leap — cue Also Sprach Zarathustra — first occurred is a fool’s errand.

Still a few things can probably be said about Ottoman Syria’s fatayers. First and probably most obviously, these were originally special occasion foods, mostly eaten by city folk. Wheat, especially the sort of soft wheat people used for breads, had been grown around the Mediterranean since antiquity…

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Why the fussy flour?

Reader Katie wants to know why I think Italian 00 flour is preferable to good ol’ all-purpose for making fatayers. Katie, I swear I’m not just being fussy. It’s true, Italian 00 more closely resembles the flours you find in the Middle East, so it’s more “authentic” in that sense, however there’s also a practical matter here. Italian 00 is simply easier to roll out. The dough it makes isn’t as elastic as dough made with North American all-purpose flour, so when you roll your little fatayer circles, the circles tend to stay flat instead of pulling back (which isn’t the end of the world, but it is annoying).

So the question is: why does Italian 00 make a less stretchy dough? If you look at the protein (gluten) content of both types of flour, they’re about the same, somewhere between 9 and 12% usually. So what’s the dealio? The dealio is that not all wheat protein behaves in the same way. Some protein is stretchy, some isn’t. And as you have guessed by now: Italian wheat protein is not stretchy. As I often say: it’s plastic, not elastic.

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Fatayer Recipe

Many of the English language recipes I’ve seen for fatayers call for bread flour, which I think is a mistake. Lower gluten is what we need here, so all-purpose is definitely the way to go (Italian 00 flour is ideal for this, but it can be a little hard to get for many of us). You’ll want:

16.5 ounces (3 cups) all-purpose or Italian 00 flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
8 ounces water
2.5 ounces (1/3 cup) vegetable oil
egg wash

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle. Stir on low until all ingredients have been moistened, then switch to the dough hook and knead on medium-low until a smooth dough is created, about five minutes. Cover the dough and allow it to rest about 70 minutes, until it’s about double its size. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

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