Friday, 26 June 2015

Snakes on a Plate

or, The Spicery Box 2 - A Fiasco in Filo
By: Mr Robot

I was really looking forward to my second box from The Spicery because not only did it have very tasty-looking Cafreal kebabs, it had the terribly swish and exciting M’Hencha. On reflection that was stupid of me because my pastry skills are disastrous at best, and M’Hencha being a massive coil of filo, it could only ever go one way.

Anyhoo, the kebabs were great – quite subtle herby chicken onna stick backed up with an extremely punchy mango chutney. 

In fact the chutney was the highlight: dark, jammy and fiery hot. I’m more accustomed to that heat in more sour context so the sweet mango provided a novel and exciting backdrop. 

Mrs Robot was very grateful for the raita...

Inevitably, though, the star of the box was the M’hencha. It’s a spectacular - if done properly - sausage of ground almonds, orange and pistachios, wrapped in filo pastry which is then coiled like a snake (the literal meaning of M’Hencha apparently), baked until crunchy and then made soggy with an insane syrup of honey and citrus. 

Anyone who doesn’t find that a madly exciting prospect can leave the room right now.
As I’ve already hinted, pastry is not my strong point, and the fact that we’re using shop-bought helps not one jot. For some reason pastry drives me to flap and swear like nothing on earth. Think of an elderly relative trying to install a printer driver*  - that’s me where flour and fat are concerned.

We start off well enough, producing a lovely sweet goop fragrant with cinnamon, cloves, nuts and oranges. But that’s as far as it goes.
My instructions tell me to lay out my 270g pack of filo to a length of 1.5 metres, so in a spirit of terrified slavish obedience I measure out that distance plus a bit and start laying sheets. 
Well a third of a pack later I’m done, and I’m dithering. Should I be doubling up with extra layers, or is this all I need? Have I got the wrong packet of filo? What do I do? And how does spinning round in circles and flapping help?

It’s ridiculous because in any other kitchen situation I’d have coped fine. Not with aplomb, perhaps, and with no certainty of success, but I’d have had a decent go. I definitely wouldn’t have got hysterical. Eventually Mrs Robot delivers a Bogartian slap to restore my senses and I decide to proceed with just the single layer. But of course by now the pastry has already started drying out so despite painting it with butter (did I mention my painting skills? About as good as my pastrying), the rolling is more an exercise in folding and shattering.  
Coiling, therefore, goes no better and instead of a snaky circle I end up with something Pythagoras could’ve spent a diverting afternoon with.

Here’s where the instructions really let me down. They say you can bake this in a springform cake tin, or slide it onto a baking sheet, whereas of course it should have read, “bake it in a springform cake tin, or you can slide it onto a baking sheet BUT ONLY IF YOU’RE A BLOODY IDIOT”. 
Guess what I did.

Well as you can imagine at this point the air was blue, providing a lovely contrast to my face, and I was desperately in need of consolation.

About 40 seconds after shoving the accursed thing into the oven I got it, in the form of some of the most delicious smells ever to waft my way. 

It only got better, and by the time I’d taken him out of the oven, drizzled him with syrup and scattered him with pistachios and rose petals, my poor deformed snake promised to be something glorious. 

He may be a poor deformed snake, but at least I gave him a face

And it was. I mean you’d never expect bad things out of almonds and honey and pastry and oranges and more honey, so that was no great surprise but it was utterly wonderful sticky eating.

The phrase “preparation time 25 minutes” was clearly a big fat lie but at least the 35 minute cooking time allows for a pint or two towards recovery

Beauty's only crunchy-skin deep

All images (c) PP Gettins

*With apologies to all tech-savvy silver surfers, naturally. Please don’t hack me

1 comment:

  1. Phyllo from the store is an unpredictable product-you can use the same brand ten times, and on the eleventh it will fail. A lot has to do with how it was stored at the grocer. If their freezers tend to frost over, then thaw, that's hell on pastry leaves. You'd have no way of knowing that until you unwrap the rolls and find it shattering in your hands. So don't feel bad, it happens to everyone at some point.

    It does help to make sure it is not only thawed, but completely at room temperature before you start. Keep a damp but not wet towel nearby to cover it if you work slowly. But really, if it is old, or has been stored in less than optimal conditions, there's not much you can do to save the appearance. You still get pastry though, so win! Looks aren't everything.

    If you ever lose your mind and want to try making your own, I have a good recipe for strudel dough (you will need a large table with a floured sheet to work with).

    I'm sure it was delicious and honest-it doesn't look as bad as the time it gave you.