Fatayer = Pies

A hand pie, to be more specific. A triangular hand pie to be still more specific. A triangular hand pie filled with a spiced mixture of either spinach, cheese, or meat to be pedantic, bordering on obnoxious.

Fatayers, in the States, are most commonly found in Lebanese bakeries. On first seeing fatayers, most people confuse them with Greek spanakopita, and not without reason. Like spanakopita, fatayers are often filled with a mixture of spinach and onion, however the wrapping is different. Instead of filo, fatayers are made with an oil-enriched bread dough, not unlike a pizza dough, which makes them more like Italian calzones than Greek spinach pies, though the eating experience is distinct from either.

READ ON

Next Up: Fatayer

This is one that Mrs. Pastry has been wanting me to do since before I retired the blog. I’ve kept her waiting that long. But then I still don’t have a bass boat, so…that makes us more or less even I’d say. These little gems hail from the Eastern Mediterranean, and were a Pastry household […]

READ ON

Using Pâte Fermentée (Old Dough)

Reader Tom wants to know more about pâte fermentée, which is to say “old dough”. Specifically, he’s interested in how pâte fermentée might be used in a home baking situation. Tom, I’d be happy to try to shed a little light on that.

As you can no doubt infer from the name, pâte fermentée is a French technique which simply consists of holding over a piece of dough from yesterday’s mix and using it today. You see it a lot in baguette recipes. The logical question here is: what good does that do? Mostly, old dough adds flavor. Whether left at room temperature or in the fridge, old dough develops flavor via the action of yeast and lactic acid bacteria, and that can add a surprising amount of character to the next day’s dough.

READ ON
thumb image

Making Stack Cake

This modern take on a traditional Appalachian stack cake is best eaten within a few hours of being made. The original version (which I intend to make as soon as I can source a little sorghum) needs to “cure” for about a week, since the layers are cookie-like and need time to soften. Here the layers are lighter and fluffier. Combined with a seasonal fresh-fruit filling — in this case strawberries — the results is an exceptionally wicked but not too filling dessert, perfect for a warm weather cookout or afternoon picnic. So let’s get to it. Start by assembling your ingredients and preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. First step: sift the flour, spices and leavening together.

READ ON

A Yankee Goes to Appalachia

I lost sleep the night before my first trip to far eastern Kentucky. I think like a lot of northerners, my only cultural reference points for Appalachia were Beverly Hillbillies episodes and Deliverance. I didn’t know what I was going to find out there, but I was fairly certain it was going to involve bib overalls, gum boots, banjos, and scatterguns. By noon the following day I was relaxing in a sandwich shop in beautiful Whitesburg, Kentucky, so embarrassed I could barely finish my chicken salad. By the time I left town six hours later, I swore I’d one day own a house there.

The first thing you notice when you get more than an hour or so east of Lexington are how good the roads are. The highways are wide, flat and perfectly kept. WAY better than anything in or around Chicago. They were built for the coal trucks, and though you still see plenty of those now, there aren’t nearly as many as there were a decade ago. That worried a naturalist that I met in Whitesburg. He wasn’t a booster of fossil fuels per se, but he knew that the fast-declining economy of East Kentucky was going to be bad for the people living in there, and what was bad for the people would, in the end, be bad for the environment. His dream was, and I’m sure still is, for central Appalachia to become the eco-tourism hub of the Eastern United States. He claimed that the ecosystem around nearby Pine Mountain was as diverse as any in Africa. To prove it he took my business partners and me up there that afternoon. The white-knuckle ridge line drive is about all I remember from the experience unfortunately — that and the dude’s painted fingernails. Never really got an explanation for those.

READ ON
thumb image

Fresh Strawberry Filling

This general approach works well for many kinds of fruit, though strawberries have quite a bit more water in them than fruits like plums or even raspberries, so a little more reduction is called for here. The recipe comes by way of Rose Levy Beranbaum, the queen of cakes. She calls this preparation “strawberry conserve”, and uses it to flavor buttercreams and spread on cake rolls. Compared to a typical jam or store-bought filling it has a good deal less sugar and more real fruit flavor, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You’ll need:

4 pounds fresh or frozen (no sugar added) strawberries
8 ounces (generous cup) sugar
12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) water

READ ON

About Fresh Fruit Fillings

Most of the time a simple jam filling is enough for us pastry people. Jams are great between cake layers, in coffee cakes or in Danishes. But sometimes jams just don’t cut it. Jams are thick, they’re also sweet —depending on the application, they can be far too much so — and have only small pieces of fruit, which can be, quite frankly, disappointing. Should they be a little loose or soupy, as many homemade jams are, they can weep into whatever you’re spreading them on.

READ ON

Stack Cake Recipe

The jumping off point for this formula was a modern take on a stack cake that I found in Julie Richardson’s excellent Vintage Cakes. I made a few changes because, well, I can’t resist that. Among them, making the filling seasonal (the original called for plum, which must be fabulous, but it’s not plum season), changed the fat to all-butter from butter/oil, and amped up the ginger a bit since ginger, historically speaking, is the defining spice in this cake. Oh, and no icing, because icing has never been a feature of stack cakes. Here’s how my modern-ish variation goes:

READ ON

History of the Stack Cake

Considering how revered the stack cake is/was in parts of the Eastern U.S., there’s surprisingly little written about it. It’s been said that the stack cake was brought to (what is now) Kentucky by way of Pennsylvania, by one James Harrod, in the late 1700’s. That theory has a certain appeal, since Germans were pouring into Pennsylvania at the time, and it’s a least theoretically possible that some of these immigrants knew about torte-style cakes, and perhaps even baked a few, assuming they could lay their hands on the ingredients.

The problem with this theory is, first, that James Harrod wasn’t German. He was from a British family. Second, he was a frontiersman, a contemporary of Daniel Boone and George Rogers Clark, known for hunting, fishing, trapping, and rifle skills. From a very young age (possibly as young as 14) he served as a Revolutionary-era militiaman, and afterward spent most of his time in the woods leading expeditions, living with Indians, and learning Indian languages.

READ ON