Let's face it, pastry is perfect if you are looking to get away with thick bread type of breakfast rolls and scones. It is always the pastry filling that takes center stage in flavor rather than the shell that houses it. This is true for eclairs, cream puffs and other types of pastry.
With so many cream filled pastries out there on the market, the fruit and nut type of fillings have become forgotten. This italian type of recipe moves the pastry spotlight from cream to fruit/nut fillings.
In review of recipes across the net, there was not any particular one that had the flavor combination that I favored. After some thought and experimentation, I came up with dough that has a touch of citrus flavor and a filling combination of orange, cranberry, cinnamon and walnuts.
The things I liked about this recipe was that the dough did not have any rising time, so it came together quickly. The filling was fairly easy as well, with the simple task of mixing together and leaving sit overnight. It was the assembly where the test of skills came in, but I was in the mood for this type of project. Also, I feel the reward in the effort was the stunning appearance as well as the taste of these delicious coils.
Italian Christmas Pastries
1/2 cup orange liqueur (Grand Marnier)
1/4 cup orange juice
1 lb chopped walnuts
1 lb dried cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbs cinnamon
zest from 2 lemons
3/4 cup Limoncello liqueur
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
4-6 cups flour
toothpicks (to hold coils together)
1 cup of honey (topping)
Start by making the filling. Mix the orange juice and orange liqueur together in a medium size bowl. In another, smaller bowl, stir the cinnamon and sugar together until thoroughly blended. Mix the dry with the liquid mixture. Add the chopped walnuts and cranberries, stirring until everything is coated with the wet batter. Cover and let sit overnight on the counter.
The next day, you will complete the process with making the dough, forming the pastries and baking. To make the dough, sift together 4 cups of flour with the baking soda and cinnamon. Set aside. Using another bowl, whisk together the eggs, zest, extract, vegetable oil, liqueur and sugar. Measure out 1/4 cup and reserve, setting aside for later.
Clear off a flat surface for the dough. Pour sifted ingredients onto the surface and form a well in the center. Pour some of the wet blend into the center and mix with a fork or clean hands. Pour more of the wet batter out and mix with the flour and repeat the process (not using the reserve) until a smooth dough is formed. You may need to add more flour in the process. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and dust a baking sheet with flour.
Separate the dough into 8 equal balls. Place 7 on a cookie sheet and cover. Prepare another flat surface by dusting with flour. Take the 8th dough ball and roll out into a long rectangular strip, about 1/4 inch thick and 5-6 inches wide. Using a knife or a fluted pastry wheel, cut off all edges to make even and cut lengthwise into 2 strips. Use the excess to patch and repair holes, dampening with reserved wet mixture.
Using the filling blend, make a line of filling down the center of one of the strips. Now comes the tricky part... Fold the side edges of the dough upwards and start coiling into a circle. The dough edges must remain upright so the filling does not spill all over the pan when baking. Once the circle is formed, use toothpicks to hold together and transfer to the prepared baking sheet(s). Keep in mind that the pastry does not expand very much when baking.
Continue to form the pastries until all the dough and filling is used up. Should the balls of dough dry out during this process, use the reserved wet mixture to dampen the outside and knead into dough ball before rolling out.
Bake pastries until lightly browned.This should take about 25-35 minutes. Remove and place baking sheet on cooling rack. Warm up the honey in the microwave for about 30-45 seconds. Then brush the warm pastries with the honey and let cool completely.
Tips and Notes:
1. Make sure that your coils are not overfilled, the filling should be 1/2-3/4 inch wide when placed onto the dough strip.
2. When preparing the filling, consider how chunky you want it. Make the walnut pieces as small as you want and cut up the dried cranberries if you prefer. The smaller the chunks, the easier to work with.
3. Remove the toothpicks after 15 minutes cooling time. The longer you wait increases the chance of the pastry crumbling.
4. I tried several methods when forming the coils. Folding over and then placing upright to coil is more difficult.
5. Coil the dough around easily, do not make real tight; the toothpicks will help them hold together.
6. After you coil two strips, stir the filling ingredients so the liquids do not settle to the bottom in the time it takes you to assemble all the coils. A watery filling will spill out of the pastries and burn onto the pan when baking.
**LAST YEAR: Pistachio Financiers**