Harvest Fruit Puff Pastry Strudel

Over twenty years ago I fell in love with a recipe in Gourmet for a Harvest Tart – a combination of fresh and dried fruits, nuts, butter, sweetener and liqueur – baked in a sweet pastry crust and topped with a lattice crust.  It was a sophisticated and popular dessert at our Thanksgiving table.  The thick, slightly chunky fruit & nut filling was remarkably similar to the filling my mother used for her strudel – a taste memory I was thrilled to replicate.

Flash forward several years later to a few days after our Passover Seder, when I had an abundance of leftover “charoses”  Charoses (also spelled haroseth) is often just a forgettable mixture of chopped apples, walnuts and sweet wine, but the version I make is from an outstanding recipe in the NYT Passover Cookbook, incorporating a palette of ingredients very much like the filling for the above-referenced tart.  Rather than toss it or use it as a semi-chutney side dish, I experimented with turning it into a strudel like my mother’s, but baked in store-bought Pepperidge Farm puff pastry.  It worked!  And it tasted so much like my mother’s wonderfully complex fruit strudel that I did shed some tears of joy.

Now skip ahead to 2017, when all my instincts tell me that the Harvest Tart filling, when baked in Trader Joe’s wildly superior all-butter puff pastry, will yield a strudel worthy of center stage on your dinner-party dessert menu – especially for Thanksgiving.

Being under no time constraints to prepare this, I made the fruit filling yesterday and have let it chill in fridge before assembling and baking today.  This could actually be done a few days in advance of assembly and baking.  So let’s review the filling, because all that’s left after that is a package of TJ’s puff pastry thawed for 2 hours, rolled out to be filled and brushed with an egg wash, and baked:

HARVEST FRUIT PUFF PASTRY STRUDEL

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FILLING:

1 tart, crisp apple such as Empire or Granny Smith and 1 firm-ripe pear, such as Bartlett or Anjou, both peeled & coarsely chopped

8  ounces pitted prunes

6 ounces dried Calmyrna figs, stem tips removed

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup dried cherries or apricots

1-2 tsp grated orange rind

1/4 cup sugar

4 tbsp unsalted butter

1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1/2 cup Grand Marnier

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PASTRY:

1 package Trader Joe’s all-butter Puff Pastry (2 sheets weighing 18.3 ounces) defrosted for 2 hours and each rolled on a floured board to a 12 x 10″ rectangle

(NOTE: You could use Pepperidge Farm puff pastry if TJ’s is not available, but it’s made with shortening instead of butter.  The TJ’s is all-butter, from France, just like Dufour, but at $3.99/box it’s about 1/3 the price of a 14-ounce box of Dufour)

EGG WASH:

1 egg lightly beaten with 1 tbsp water

PREPARATION:

Combine all fresh and dried fruits and orange rind in a large saucepan with enough water to cover and simmer, stirring frequently, until softened – about 10 minutes.  Drain in a sieve or colander, and return to the pot with the butter, sugar and nuts, and simmer about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.   Coarsely chop the mixture in two batches in food processor with a few quick pulses, and remove to a covered container for storage in refrigerator.
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When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375º and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.   Gently roll out each sheet of puff pastry to about 10 x 12″  – they are almost that size to begin with – and spread 1/2 of the fruit filling on each, starting about 1″ from the bottom of one end, to cover about 2/3 of the sheet, leaving a 1/2″ margin on left and right edge.  Fold the bottom edge up over the filling and fold the other two edges in as well.   Then roll each into a log, making sure ends are tucked in.  Carefully move them to the parchment-lined baking sheet, lightly brush with egg wash, and make 5 or 6 shallow diagonal knife slashes across the top.  Bake until puffed and golden, about 35 minutes.  With a long spatula, carefully move to a rack to cool completely.  Cut on the diagonal into sections about 1 – 1-1/2 inches wide for serving.  Store in air-tight container.

NOTE:  If you seem to have more fruit filling than needed, reserve some as a delightful spread for toast or English muffins.

 

 

 

Low-Fat Jumbo Maple-Walnut Muffins

Combing through my 4″ thick loose-leaf  binder of recipe favorites, I happened on these muffins I last made before the new millenium.  But even so, their chewy texture and rich maple flavor still resonated, and they became the perfect excuse to whip out my oversized muffin tin and the oversized parchment liners I found on sale last week.

I do have normal-sized muffin tins, but have used them recently simply for the individual portions of newish Jewish gefilte fish for Passover.  (Don’t cringe.  Those little babies are made with a combination of fresh salmon and cod and smoked trout, and they deserve a better name, like quenelles.)  When I bake muffins, I prefer to make them bodaciously big, and split one with my husband, as we do with the cobblestone cakes from Panera, or my knock-offs thereof.

These muffins are low fat, with only 1/4 cup vegetable oil… the rest of the moistness coming from unsweetened applesauce and chopped prunes (ok, dried plums if you must).

Of course they can be made to normal scale with adjusted baking temp and time – probably 25º cooler and 5 minutes shorter.  But go big if you can and share one with your sweetie.  As I write this I just realized I left out the ground cinnamon – not as disastrous as leaving out either of the leavening agents or the salt, but damn…I wonder how much I’ll miss that flavor note.

Jumbo Low-Fat Maple Walnut Muffins with Prunes

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INGREDIENTS:

2 cups Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat pastry flour

1 cup Bob’s Red Mill rolled oats

2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup pitted prunes coarsely chopped

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup buttermilk (Bob’s Red Milk buttermilk powder – use 2 tbsp and then add water to make 1 cup

3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/2 cup pure maple syrup (preferably Grade B, now known as Dark Robust)

1/2 cup light brown sugar (or 1/4 cup each dark brown and white sugar)

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 large egg

2 tsp vanilla extract, or 1 tsp each vanilla and maple extract

PREPARATION:

Preheat oven to 375º.  Line 6 oversized muffin tins with parchment paper liners.  In large bowl combine first 8 ingredients.  Whisk remaining ingredients together in 4-cup Pyrex cup or medium mixing bowl.  Stir wet ingredients into dry until just combined.  Divide batter equally among muffin cups, all the way to the top.  I use a 1.3 cup measuring cup filled to overflowing and fill each muffin cup twice…keeps spills to a minimum.

Bake until tops are golden brown and tester comes out clean, about 33 minutes.  Ease the muffins out of their tins with a table knife – just enough to nudge them, as nothing is going to stick to the pan.  Let cool on a rack.

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MOROCCAN CHICKEN WITH PRUNES, FIGS, OLIVES & PRESERVED LEMON

 

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When life gives me preserved lemons like the ones I happened upon at Trader Joe’s yesterday, and when Whole Foods has a special on Bell & Evans whole air-chilled chickens for 1/2 price, I can feel a Moroccan chicken dinner in my future.

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Moroccan, Tunisian, North African – whatever you choose to call it – the spice profile of this cuisine calls to me often enough that my supply of essential spices is always available.  Cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom, coriander, cumin, cloves, ras al hanout, and of course fresh garlic, ginger root and shallots.  Preserving lemons takes planning and patience, even with some quickie methods I’ve found in a pinch.  Diced fresh lemon can also be used if necessary, but they’ll retain the acidity that preserving leaches out.  This little jar of preserved lemon slices for under $3 is something I hope TJ’s keeps in stock, because once you find something there that you love it can disappear without notice based on “supplier” issues.

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Spice-rubbed and ready to refrigerate for a few hours

The whole chickens necessitated a major adaptation of recipes in my collection, which I usually make with just thighs, either boneless or on the bone with skin.  The finished dish is now sitting in my kitchen waiting for the basmati rice and Fatoush salad to go-with.  The aromas will keep me inspired!

MOROCCAN CHICKEN WITH PRUNES, FIGS, OLIVES & PRESERVED LEMON

(2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 wings, and each half breast cut in two)

2 T extra virgin olive oil + a bit more for sautéing the chicken

1 large garlic clove minced

1 T minced ginger root

1 t turmeric

1 t cinnamon

1 tsp cumin

1/4 tsp ground cloves

¾ t cardamom

¾ t coriander

1 t ras al hanout (optional)

½ t kosher salt

½ t freshly ground black pepper

½ cup minced shallots

16 small black mission figs, halved

12 small pitted prunes

handful of green olives with pits (such as Castelvetrano or picholine)

1 medium-large sweet onion coarsely chopped

½ cup white wine or Vermouth

1 cup chicken broth

½ cup diced preserved lemons

1 T honey

Optional: Finely chopped cilantro and/or parsley for garnish

Early in the day, toss the cut up chicken with the olive oil in a large high-sided dish, such as a 13×9 baking dish.  Combine the next 11 ingredients in a small bowl and rub all over the chicken.  Add the next 4 ingredients and toss to combine.  Refrigerate until ready to cook.

Preheat a large electric skillet on medium, add another 1-2 T olive oil, brush the solids off the chicken, leaving everything else in your dish.  Brown the chicken on all sides until skin is nicely browned, and remove to a plate.  Deglaze the pan with the wine or Vermouth, add the chopped onion, and sauté briefly to soften.  Add the chicken broth, bring to a boil, then stir in the shallot/fig/prune/olive mixture and the diced preserved lemon.  Return the chicken and any juices to the pan, turn to coat with the sauce, reduce heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes.

Remove chicken while you reduce the sauce with the 1T of honey, then return to the pan to keep warm for serving.  Garnish with finely chopped cilantro and/or parsley if desired.