Thursday, 4 June 2015

M´hencha,snake cake

I have been on a mission to test different Moroccan desserts for our 2015 cookery workshop "A cozinha marroquina no Algarve." I have now narrowed my selection down to just three. A cinnamon ice cream , an unusual perfumed apple pie and a filo show stopper called M´hencha.
Looking for all the world like a golden brown snake coiled up for a nap, M´hencha ( the serpent ) is an adaptation of a Berber dessert from North Africa. The flavours are a luxurious cross between a sophisticated Fig Roll, (they lacked any sophistication in my mind) and the richest, chewiest almond macaroon with an accent on lemon and dried fruits. Relatively easy to make, it is a beautiful and unusual ending to a Mediterranean meal.The core filling is an almond paste, but there is plenty of scope to change the fruit you use.Traditionally figs are the order of the day, but with figs not being in season at the moment I experimented with a combination of dry salted cherries and apricots. I am  looking forward to making the more traditional version using my own sundried and unsulphured figs before too long.When buying dried fruits try to find market varieties that have not been subjected to sulphides.This method of preserving fruit not only discolours the fruit but takes away a lot of the moisture which you need in this cake.Moisture, content and pliability are very important here, as well as flavour. Whatever variety you choose, avoid dried fruit that is very hard or brittle because there is no addition of liquid in this recipe to plump it up.As I have already said this cake is relatively easy to make but the essence is in the prep.You need to keep your wits about you,be methodical and you will "get on right proper well".

 Equipment and Advanced Preparation:
  • One 9-inch round x 2-inch deep cake pan. 
  • Brush the sides and bottom of the pan with a generous coating of melted butter
  • A soft-bristle brush
  • A serving platter that is perfectly flat (or nearly so). A curving platter might distort the shape of the pastry as it sits and will make slicing the snake more difficult.
  • If using dried cherries find a pitted variety,if not soak the dried cherries in boiling water for 30 minutes,this will make the removal of the stones easier.
If you are using frozen filo, allow 24 hours for it to thaw in the refrigerator, then place the filo packet on the counter to come to room temperature, about 1 ½ to 2 hours.
 To prepare the filo, remove it from its package and unfold it so that the stack lies flat on your work surface, then cover with plastic wrap and a damp towel to prevent the filo from drying out. Roll and rewrap any remaining filo sheets twice in plastic wrap. Return to the refrigerator and use within 3 days.

M´Hencha (Snake cake)
1 packet of Filo pastry
125g butter at room temperature
125g confectioner´s sugar
225g ground almonds
1 tablespoon vino de naranja orange dessert wine
zest of a small orange
zest of a small lemon
2 large eggs
100g of organic dry cherries
125g dried organic apricots
1 tablespoon honey
Preheat oven to 180C / 375°F. Position an oven rack in the center of the oven.
To prepare the filling, remove any stones and hard stems from the fruit and discard. Place the fruit, ground almonds ,orange and lemon zests, butter, eggs, confectioner´s sugar and honey in the bowl of a food processor, add the orange wine and process until mixture is very finely chopped, about 15 to 20 seconds. Each component should be discernable, though in very small pieces – do not grind to a homogenous paste.
Cut the filo sheets in half lengthways so that you now have rectangular sheets. Take two sheets, brush with butter and place one on top of the other. Take the next two sheets, brush with butter and add to the short side of the first two sheets, overlapping by about two inches.
Depending on how long your counter is you can keep going to make a long strip of pastry, otherwise you can make a number of smaller ones and arrange them in the tin. 
Starting about two inches in from the short edge and about half an inch in from the bottom of the long edge,working very quickly, spoon filling out in a line  all the way along the length of the pastry strip. Leave a two inch /5 cm gap at the end. 
Now comes the fun bit -carefully lift over the bottom edge and roll it into along cigar. Coil it into a snake shape and place into the tin. (I haven't managed to do this yet without the filo splitting but plonk it in the tin anyway. It doesn't seem to make much of a difference once it's cooked anyway as the filling holds it together.)
Brush with more butter.
Bake in the preheated oven for 35-45 minutes or until golden and crisp.
Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool completely.(it will firm up as it cools)
To unmold, run a thin, sharp knife around the edges of the pan, loosening any filo that may have stuck. As you do this, gently press the knife into the side of the pan to avoid gouging the pastry. Gently place a plate upside down on top of the cake pan and, holding the pan and plate together, flip the two over. The pastry should slide out onto the plate. (If the pastry sticks to the bottom of the pan, place the pan in a hot oven or over a burner for a few seconds, just long enough to warm and loosen the butter and egg, then try turning it out again). Place your serving platter upside down on top of the pastry, then flip the two over so that the pastry is right side up. 

Serving and storage notes  
Dust the top of the snake very lightly with powdered sugar if you like, allowing the golden filo to show through. Use a thin, sharp knife to cut wedges of the pastry, transferring each to a plate using a pie wedge or cake server (the coil is delicately bound with the egg yolk and could break apart if not supported). Top each slice with a few pieces of candied lemon zest (optional) and sprinkle a few pieces around each plate as well. Store at room temperature, lightly covered with plastic wrap or foil, for up to 4 days. The pastry is at its best about 8 hours after it has been baked, as the flavours begin to meld.