The Kingdom of Morocco...ever been?
I have...kinda. Okay, okay, not really. I've been to Disney World where there happens to be a Moroccan Pavilion at Epcot.
Great honeymoon memories happened there...
Gosh, I'm in love with him.
So why am I talking about Morocco? Thanks to your votes, I made it through the first round of the Project Food Blog competition and am moving forward to Challenge #2 - making a classic dish from another culture. My facebook fans gave me great suggestions, but in the end I kept coming back to Morocco...to that awesome honeymoon memory...and to the dessert we ate right after that picture was taken.
The dessert was called bastilla - it was layers of thin pastry topped with cream, cinnamon, sugar, and almonds. It was absolutely delicious. After doing some research, I discovered that bastilla (also called pastilla) is also the name of a classic Moroccan pigeon pie made with layers of meat, egg, almonds, and those same layers of thin pastry.
Welcome to my take on this classic dish.
The official name of the Moroccan pastry is warqa, but it's so complicated to make that most recipes encouraged the use of Phyllo dough instead. I fortunately found a recipe for homemade warqa by Chef Paula Wolfert and, being the glutton for punishment that I am, I decided to give it a go. You can check out her recipe here...I'm going to give you my rendition.
(Note: you really should make the dough in a food processor. I don't have one, so I opted for my blender. It worked, but I think I took years off of my blender's life in the process.)
Process 1 1/2 cups of better for bread flour (or other higher gluten flour), 1/4 cup of flour, and 1 teaspoon of salt.
Add 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar and about 1 cup of water and pulse until dough forms a soft ball. Then, gradually drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the top and process for another 30 seconds. It will look like a mess...
Then, add 3/4 cup of water to the dough and process for another minute. At this point, the dough will look a lot like pancake batter. Cover and refrigerate it overnight.
The next day, heat up a nonstick skillet to about 200 degrees. It's simple to do if you have an electric skillet that allows you to set a specific degree (like mine below). If not, see Paula Wolfert's tip for using a conventional nonstick skillet.
Using a basting brush, lightly and quickly brush the warqa batter onto the skillet and cook for about 2 minutes, or until the pastry sheet has turned white. Don't worry if the batter doesn't completely cover the skillet - the more lacy the better!
Gently lift up your cooked pastry from the skillet and place it, uncooked side down, on a paper towel. Spray the top with cooking spray and place another towel over it. Continue until all the batter has been used up and you have a full stack of warqa. It takes a while, but it works!
Although the traditional dish calls for pigeon, I decided to use chicken instead. I don't really have a lot of pigeon lying around...
You boil your chicken in a variety of aromatic spices: 2 teaspoons salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons white pepper, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger, and a pinch of saffron threads (top right of picture below). To release their fragrance, place the saffron threads in a small amount of hot water for a few minutes and then breathe in.
Take the skin off of a whole chicken, cover it with water, and add spices and a quartered onion. Boil for about an hour, or until the chicken is cooked through.
To make the egg layer, saute an onion in a few tablespoons of butter. I added a few dashes of each of the spices mentioned above to give it a little flavor. Once the onion is tender, add about 1/2 cup of fresh cilantro and stir for another minute. Finally, add six well-beaten eggs and cook until they are set.
For the almond layer, place 2 cups of almonds on a cookie sheet and broil for 10 minutes or until they turn a golden brown.
Process the almonds with 1/2 cup of powdered sugar. If at all possible, do not use a blender. Man, what I would have given for a food processor today!
To assemble, spray a pie dish with cooking spray and lay one sheet of warqa in it. Brush with melted butter and lay another sheet down, rotating slightly. Continue with 2 more sheets and then fill with the chicken and the egg mixture. Lay another piece of warqa over the eggs and top with the almond mixture.
Top almond mixture with another piece of warqa and fold over the sides. Brush with butter to seal sheets together.
Isn't it beautiful?
Bake at 350 for until lightly browned (30 minutes). Sprinkle with powdered sugar and cinnamon before serving.
This pie took a lot of time and effort, but it turned out beautifully! I learned two very important things in the process:
- I really, really, really need a food processor if I want to be Moroccan.
- Homemade Phyllo dough (aka warqa) is some amazing stuff.
I had a few sheets of warqa left over, so I though I would go ahead and recreate the dessert that I so loved in Disney World.
I layered the sheets on top of one another, brushing with butter in between each. Then, I sprinkled some almonds over the top and baked at 350 until they browned (about 15 minutes). To serve, I topped the sheets with powdered sugar and a scoop of homemade ice cream.
Cold ice cream over hot, flaky pastry...doesn't get better than that.