With all of these mouthful-sized pastries, the important thing is the balance of outside to inside. Too much crust and not enough filling gets a big thumbs down.
Bear in mind, also, that the smaller the parcel, the thinner the pastry must be. The purpose of the pastry is to contain the filling neatly, and in so doing to provide a pleasingly contrasting texture.
Some types of pastry are quite unsuited to the job. A rich shortcrust, for instance, rolled to a mere 1/8 in (3mm), will not only be troublesome to handle raw, but will not be any great shakes as a container when it is cooked.
A pastry that is too friable and short is a dead loss; but the other extreme, tough-as-leather dough, is not much fun to eat. Luckily, flour is a very amenable substance, and wherever pastry-trapped morsels are eaten, a suitable dough has been developed for the purpose.
The king of these has to be filo, as thin as cigarette paper and semi- transparent when uncooked (you should be able to read newspaper print through it). Fried or baked, it firms up to an admirable crispness (as long as the cook does not skimp on the butter), but magically remains sturdy enough to perform its primary role as hold-all.
And you can buy it ready-made and store it in the freezer. Some brands are better (ie, thinner) than others. I often buy mine freshly made from a local Greek bakery, but next best are the packets made by Greek or Turkish companies.
Yeast doughs, well-kneaded to develop the elasticity of gluten, are favoured in Eastern Europe. Nothing like filo, they offer a shorter, mealier texture, but are stronger than an unleavened dough. As they will expand, you must be sure to roll them out as thin as their elastic nature will allow. This may demand a little perseverance as they tend to shrink back in an irritating fashion as soon as the rolling pin is lifted.
From Portugal comes another option - a pastry made with hot liquids and just enough fat to ensure crispness without making it crumbly. A bit of a shock to the system for anyone used to classic pastry-making, where chilled ingredients are all-important, but it works well as long as the parcels are fried and eaten warm from the pan.
While on the subject of pastry, let me add one final note on construction. It is not a disaster if the odd bit of filling seeps out, but on the whole it is better avoided. Do not be tempted to cram the filling in. Remember it will expand a little in the heat. With filo, make sure that the filling is entirely and securely wrapped. With squidgier doughs, press the joins together firmly to ensure that they are properly sealed.
These cigar-shaped filo pastries, filled with feta cheese and dill, are based on ones I ate in Turkey, though they might well emanate from Greece or parts of the Middle East. Be warned, they are very more-ish, and though two dozen may sound like a fair number, they will soon be snapped up.
Ingredients: about 6 sheets filo pastry
2oz (55g) unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
8oz (225g) feta cheese, crumbled
1 egg, lightly beaten
2tbs finely chopped parsley
2tbs finely chopped dill
Preparation: To make the filling, mash the cheese and beat with the egg to form a cream. Stir in the herbs. Do not add any salt, as feta is already salty enough.
Cut the filo into strips about 4in (10cm) wide and 10in (25cm) long, depending on the size of the filo sheets. Keep the filo from drying out by covering with a sheet of greaseproof paper, and over that a tea-towel wrung out in cold water.
Take the first strip of filo, brush with butter, then place a generous teaspoon of the filling close to one end, shaping it into a small sausage across the strip. Flip the sides over to cover the ends of the filling, then roll up neatly to form a cigar. Repeat with remaining filling.
Lay the borek on greased baking sheets and brush with melted butter. They can be stored in the fridge for up to eight hours at this stage, or frozen. Bake at 190C/375F/gas 5 for 10-15 minutes until golden brown.
Serve them hot or warm and if a little filling oozes out, just tidy it away.
Rissois de Camarao
It is tempting to translate the Portuguese 'rissois' as rissoles, though they are really more of a mini fried pasty. Filled with prawns, they are a common hors d'oeuvre or snack in Portugal. I often skip the breadcrumb coating, and hardly miss it.
Ingredients: For the pastry:
8oz (225g) plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
4fl oz (120ml) milk
5fl oz (150ml) water
1oz (30g) butter
finely grated zest 1 lemon
For the coating:
2 eggs, beaten
oil for frying (a mixture of olive and sunflower oil is good)
For the filling:
8oz (225g) cooked, shelled shrimps or prawns
1/2 pint (290ml) milk
1 1/2 oz (45g) butter
1 1/2 oz (45g) flour
dash of lemon juice
1tbs chopped parsley
salt, pepper and freshly grated
Preparation: For the pastry, sift the flour with the salt. Put milk, water and butter into a pan and bring gently to the boil. Draw off the heat, tip in the flour and lemon zest, beat until smooth. Return to the heat and stir continuously until the mixture forms a ball, and a crust has formed on the base of the pan. Take the dough out of the pan and knead until satiny smooth. Cool.
For the filling, chop the shrimps or prawns roughly. Make a thick white sauce with the butter, flour and milk, letting it simmer for a good 3-5 minutes to drive out the taste of raw flour. Stir in the shrimps or prawns, lemon juice, parsley, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Taste and adjust seasoning, erring on the generous side.
Roll out the pastry to a thickness of 1/8 in (3mm). Cut out 3-4in (7.5- 10cm) discs. Place a tablespoonful of filling on each one, brush the edges with beaten egg and fold over to form a crescent. Pinch edges together to seal.
Once they are all done, dip each crescent into beaten egg, then coat in breadcrumbs. Chill in the fridge for up to 2 hours before cooking. Either deep-fry, or pour a 1in (2.5cm) depth of oil into a frying pan and heat over a moderate flame. Fry rissois a few at a time, until golden brown, turning once. Drain briefly on kitchen paper and serve.
If it is new to you, the idea of mixing sauerkraut and mushrooms to make a filling may sound unlikely, but it works extremely well. These Polish pielets, with their yeast pastry, are based on the recipe given in Mary Pininska's The Polish Kitchen (Macmillan, 1990).
For the pastry:
8oz (225g) plain flour
1/2 oz (15g) fresh yeast, or 1/4 oz (7g) dried yeast
5fl oz (150ml) warm milk
1/2 tsp caster sugar
4oz (110g) butter
pinch of salt
For the filling:
scant 1/2 oz (12g) dried porcini or other wild mushrooms
1oz (30g) butter
1/2 onion, chopped
8oz (225g) sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
6oz (170g) medium-sized flat cap mushrooms, finely diced
1 egg, beaten
Preparation: To make the pastry, mix a teaspoon of the flour, the yeast (crumbled if fresh), and the sugar into half the milk. Leave in a warm place for 10-15 minutes until frothing.
Sift the remaining flour with the salt, and rub in butter. Stir in the yeast mixture, and enough of the remaining milk to form a soft dough. Knead for 4-5 minutes. Place in a lightly floured bowl, cover with a cloth, leave in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
For the filling, soak the dried mushrooms in warm water for half an hour. Pick out and chop finely. Reserve the soaking water. Melt the butter in a wide frying pan and add the onion. Fry until golden. Now add the mushrooms (dried and fresh) and saute briskly until tender. Finally add the sauerkraut and cook for a minute or two longer, stirring. Add a little of the mushroom water to keep it all moist.
Roll out the pastry thinly and cut out 4in (10cm) squares. Place a heaped tablespoonful of filling on each one. Brush the edges with beaten egg, and bring the corners up over the filling, pinching the edges together firmly to form small parcels. Place on greased baking trays. Brush with beaten egg and bake for 45 minutes, at 200C/400F/ gas 6 until golden brown.Reuse content