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Issue 974

Fabulous Food


Indulge yourself in these delicious facts, as Tidbits observes National Pastry Day on December 9.

• How about a helping of strudel? It first gained popularity in the 1700s during the Habsburg Empire in the area that would eventually become Austria-Hungary. The word has its origins in the German word that means “whirlpool” or “eddy.” Strudel dough should be rolled very thin, so thin that, according to the Austrian Emperor’s cook from long ago, it should be “possible to read a love letter through it.” After the filling (usually apple) is spread on the dough, the dough is rolled up carefully and baked.

• Prior to 2013, there was no such thing as a Cronut. That’s when New York City pastry chef Dominique Ansel created this pastry that is a cross between a croissant and a doughnut. The dough is close to that of the croissant, then filled with flavored cream and fried in grapeseed oil. Within three days of Ansel’s first creation, it was a hit, and within nine days, he had filed for a trademark for the Cronut name. Don’t look for Cronuts in your local bakery – they’re only sold at Ansel’s bakeries in New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, and London.

• Visit Prato, Italy, and you can try Brutti-boni, a concoction of finely-ground almonds and meringue. What’s unusual about these confections? Their name actually translates to “ugly but good”!

• How about flies’ graveyard for dessert? This is the nickname for a United Kingdom sweet pastry filled with currants or raisins, which are the “flies” in the “graveyard.” A similarly-named confection is squashed fly cake, a small round flaky pastry, also filled with currants.

• The Turkish pastry baklava has many very thin layers of filo dough, along with a filling of chopped nuts and honey. Although created with several different variations in other areas, the original probably came from the royal kitchens of the Sultan’s palace in Istanbul centuries ago. The type of nuts varies by culture. Although customarily filled with walnuts or pistachios, some regions use hazelnuts or almonds. In Greece, traditional baklava contains 33 layers of dough, symbolic of the number of years of the life of Jesus Christ. Cinnamon and cloves are added in Armenia. Some soak the pastry with rosewater or orange flower water.

• Cream puffs are also known as profiteroles and choux a la crème. The pastry dough is piped through a pastry bag, then baked, forming a hollow puff. The puffs are then injected with whipped cream or custard before being decorated with chocolate sauce or powdered sugar.

• The Austrians have also brought us Punschkrapfen, a pastry of cake crumbs, nougat chocolate, and apricot jam, which is then soaked in rum before baking. A rum sugar glaze tops it off drizzled with chocolate. This tasty delicacy dates back to its introduction in Vienna during the Middle Ages.

• Not all pastries are sweet! A Bosnian pastry dish called Zeljanica layers filo with spinach, white cheese, and eggs, while Greece’s Bougatsa, a breakfast pastry, combines filo with custard, cheese, and minced meat. The Eastern Arabians make Borek by using paper-thin filo dough layered with minced lamb, carmelized onions, almonds, and raisins, and flavored with turmeric, parsley, nutmeg, and pomegranate juice for a bit of sweetness.