Thursday, December 2, 2010

Don’t Fear the Phyllo.

When I told my mom I was making a phyllo pastry dessert as my contribution to Thanksgiving dinner at my 90-year-old grandmother’s house, she flat out noted that I was definitely going to hate myself for this choice. Her most vivid memory of working with these whispery delicate temperamental sheets of dough is a horribly botched spinach and feta “experimental dinner” (part of her acclaimed early 90s series, when she mutinied against the family’s wishes in hopes of creating a healthier, more interesting and international dining experience).

Anyway, in some ways she was right – phyllo is a huge pain, but not so much that you should avoid it. It’s actually kind of a fun challenge. When you buy it frozen, it generally comes in quantities of 50 sheets because it’s pretty much a given that you’ll wreck roughly 1000 of those (that math is accurate). Once you wrangle it properly (usually with a lot of melted butter) it behaves as it should, and after a short time in the oven becomes a flaky yet substantial treat.

Now I know everyone is over Thanksgiving, including myself. In fact, I’m kind of over autumn at this point – the sugarplums have moved into my head and I’m ready to trade apples, cider, pumpkins and pears for ginger, cranberries, chocolate and mint. But before we do that, check this recipe – a tart composed of phyllo layered with butter, sugar and pecans, topped with pear and apple…and more butter and sugar. If you don’t bore as easily with the seasons as I do, try it out!  If you do, it will still be here next year.

Pear and Phyllo Crisp
adapted from Martha Stewart Living

1/2 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more for dusting (different from sprinkling, no?)
6 sheets frozen phyllo dough (M-Stew says 11 1/2 x 15 inches, mine were a bit smaller, no bigs)
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
2 small firm pears (I used Forelle, Sekel work too)
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled

Preheat oven to 400˚ with racked in second to top position (so probably one level above where you usually have it).  Combine pecans, breadcrumbs, sugar and cinnamon.

Line a baking sheet with parchment, and top with 1 phyllo sheet.  Brush phyllo all over with butter, and sprinkle pecan mixture evenly over top.  Repeat 4 times.  Top with remaining phyllo sheet, and brush with all but two tablespoons of butter (you may need to melt a bit more butter for this...I did).

Slice pears and apples 1/8 inch thick; discard seeds.  Arrange pear and apple slices in a single layer on phyllo, leaving space between fruit and a 1/4-inch border around the edges.  Brush fruit with reserved 2 tablespoons butter.  Sprinkle with sugar, then dust with cinnamon.  Bake, rotating sheet halfway through until phyllo is golden brown and fruit is soft, 15-20 minutes.*  Let cool slightly and cut into pieces.

*Cooking time is going to vary wildly depending on what type of baking sheet you use.  I used a dark sheet and it took barely 15 minutes, even with parchment.  If you use a lighter sheet, it could take over 20 minutes, or you may need to try a higher oven rack.  Know your oven and watch this once it's in - it would be a shame to burn it after all that!

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