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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Assyrian Spinach Pies {Bread Baking Babes}

The Babes are back!  And this month we're bringing you some tasty little pockets of fragrant bread stuffed with a mixture of spinach, walnuts, feta cheese, lemon, and pomegranate arils (well, mine don't have pom arils because poms have made themselves scarce around here as of late).  Tell me that doesn't make your mouth water just thinking about it!

Plus, this is an extra special month, because it commemorates the 5th year anniversary of the Bread Baking Babes - way to go Babes!  Babe Tanna is our host kitchen of the month for this event, and she has chosen a delicious way to celebrate by bringing these Assyrian Spinach Pies into our kitchens.

The thing that intrigued me most about this recipe was the ground mahlab in the dough - something I had never heard of before.  It is made from the pits of sour black cherries, and it lends a lightly fragrant note to the dough that is both present and barely noticeable.  At the same time.  Strange, huh?  It's like, you probably wouldn't realize anything was missing if you made the dough without it - and it would still work.  But once you have actually  made the dough and included it, you couldn't imagine it without mahlab.  Does that make any kind of sense?

My first obstacle was the inability to find any pomegranates around here anymore.  They are out in full-force at Christmastime, but then they peter off and disappear entirely by the beginning of February.  Okay, I'll admit, I found two sad and withered ones.  But I was highly skeptical that the arils held any juice anymore, so I decided to pass.  Instead I wanted to substitute dried, tart cherries to echo the mahlab in the dough.  I didn't realize until I was putting the filling together than I had already eaten most of the package that I had, so I supplemented them with dried cranberries.  Hey, all three are red, tart-ish fruits - it worked.
My second obstacle was time.  Well, sort of.  I had the time.  I should say that my second obstacle was gas.  In the car.  I ran out of it.  Long story short, our gas gauge is broken, so I set the "trip counter" and count miles until I need to stop at the gas station.  Apparently with the cold weather and the need to warm the car up often, I misjudged a bit.  And ran out of gas.

I had my morning all planned out.  I would get the dough together, knead it, and set it in the bowl to rise.  While it was rising, I would run to the store - on the opposite side of town (but I could make it, I know how long it all takes) - to pick up something that I had on hold.  I ran into a bit of a time-suck at the store when they couldn't find my hold.  Of course.  That's just my luck.  But they were great.  They wound up giving me a discount for the trouble.  And I didn't even ask them to.  So not really a bad thing.

I still had time to get home before my dough was done rising.  Until I ran out of gas.  Nowhere near a gas station, mind you.  Thank gawd I didn't forget my phone that day.  So, two calls (one to the hubs at work to get him to bring me some gas, one to Natashya to marvel at how dorky I was)...a bit of confirmation that there are still good people in the world (thanks to the kind lady who stopped to make sure I was okay and had a cell phone)...and 45 minutes later, I was back on track.

My dough had risen for an extra 45 minutes - but it didn't seem to matter.  Phew!  It was beautiful and silky and pliable.  Yay!  (Ummmm...that was my "long story short".)

So really what I'm trying to say is - this dough is very forgiving.  And it tastes good.  And you should totally make it.  The end.

Assyrian Spinach Pies

by Heather Schmitt-González
Prep Time: 2½ - 3 hours
Cook Time: 25-30 minutes
Keywords: bake bread entree vegetarian spinach nuts cheese Middle Eastern

Ingredients (12 pies)
    • 1½ tsp. active dry yeast
    • 1 c. warm water (105°-115° F)
    • ½ tsp. ground mahlab (made from the pits of sour black cherries)
    • 1½ Tbs. ground flax seed
    • 2½ c. unbleached all-purpose flour + more as needed
    • 1 Tbs. sugar
    • 1 tsp. salt
    • 1½ Tbs. + 1 tsp. olive oil
    • ¼ c. extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
    • ½ lb. baby spinach, coarsely chopped
    • ½ c. (~2 oz.) chopped walnuts, toasted
    • ¼ c. dried cherries, chopped a bit (or Pomegranate arils or dried cranberries)
    • ~4 oz. crumbled feta cheese
    • juice & zest of 1 lemon
    • ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
    • cooking spray (or olive oil or melted butter)
    • Plain yogurt, to serve
    making the dough:
    Sprinkle the yeast over ¼ cup of the warm water; add ground mahlab and stir well. Let stand until yeast is creamy, 5-10 minutes.

    Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add remaining water, olive oil, and dissolved yeast. Stir with a wooden spoon until dough comes together into a mass. Let stand 5 minutes.

    Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, 8-10 minutes. Dough should be soft and slightly tacky. (You can also knead in a stand mixer or in a bread machine.) Form dough into a ball and place into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and let sit at room temperature until doubled in size, ~1 hour.

    Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and divide into 12 even pieces. Shape into balls and set on floured work surface. Drape a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap lightly over the dough balls and let rest for 30 minutes (to make dough easier to roll).
    prepare the filling:
    Heat ~1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté, stirring from time to time, until golden and tender, 6-8 minutes. Add spinach and saute for just a minute or two until it just begins to wilt. Set aside off of heat.

    Place the mixture in a large bowl, add walnuts, cherries (or whichever fruit you're using), feta, lemon juice and zest, and remaining olive oil; toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning (probably just pepper as the feta is fairly salty).

    Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment, foil, or a silpat.

    shaping the pies:
    Working one at a time, roll a dough ball into a 6-inch circle with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface. Place ⅓ c. of filling in the center of the circle, leaving an inch or so of dough exposed. Lightly brush the exposed edges with water. Using one hand, lift the dough at the 10 o'clock, 2 o'clock, and 6 o'clock positions to meet in the center. Pinch together the seams firmly to seal (should look like a bit of a raised "Y" when done). Set on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. About 6 pies will fit on an average home baking tray.
    finishing and baking:
    Spray the surface of the pies with a coating of cooking spray (preferably olive oil-style), or else brush with a bit of olive oil or melted butter.

    Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden. Serve warm or at room temperature with plain yogurt (the acidity and creaminess of the yogurt compliment the filling in the pies). Add a big salad and you've got yourself a meal.

    You can freeze the baked pies once cool on a baking sheet; transfer to zippered freezer bags once completely frozen for up to 1 month. To reheat, thaw in the bag, then set on a baking sheet and slide into an oven that has been preheated to 350°F for ~10 minutes.

    This dough is pretty forgiving. Even after letting it sit an extra 45 minutes in the first rise, it was beautifully silky and workable.

    adapted from A Baker's Odyssey
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    The Bread Baking Babes
    Bake My Day - Karen
    blog from OUR kitchen - Elizabeth
    girlichef  - Heather
    Life's a Feast - Jamie
    Provecho Peru - Gretchen

    If you'd like to bake along as a buddy this month (and celebrate 5 years!), bake up a batch and send them over to Tanna at My Kitchen in Half Cups, our Babe kitchen of the month by the 29th.  She'll send you a badge for baking along and round up all of the entries on her site!

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    Bake Your Own Bread