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Arabesque: Desserts

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April 2007 Cookbook of the Month: Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon, by Claudia Roden.

Please post your full-length reviews of recipes from the sections on desserts here. Please mention the name of the recipe you are reviewing as well as any modifications you made to the recipe.

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  1. I meant to do this earlier but was away for a couple of weeks. I made the yoghurt cake and posted about it on the main topic thread. It fell very flat but was still spongy and nice.

    1. Made the Pistachio Cake for Easter. It was delicious (if you like the flavor of rosewater, which I do, but my daughter discovered she doesn't). There is a serious lack in the instructions, however. If you are a novice baker and follow the recipe blindly, you'll come to grief. You simply cannot fold all of the beaten egg whites into the thick nut paste at once; you have to add the whites about 25% at a time. I knew this, but if I hadn't, the whole thing would have gone down the disposal. If you take heed of this pitfall and make this dessert, you will have an authentic-tasting Middle-Eastern treat.

      1. I adore Moroccan mint tea and was excited to try it at home since it can be too syrupy sweet in restaurants. I found this recipe interesting because along w/ the fresh spearmint and sugar, it calls for Chinese green tea. The recipe calls for steeping in a tea pot, but I used my French press and then plunged before serving. Really wonderful way to sate the sweet tooth but w/ a light, soothing touch. I liked the added dimension of the green tea which still allowed the mint to be the star.

        Photo:
        http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y45/...

        Ok, has anyone made the almond "snake"? I was going to try it at some point but my jaw dropped when the recipe said it serves like something from 30-40 people!

        1 Reply
        1. re: Carb Lover

          Carb Lover, you always have such great pics! Thanks for reminding me of this recipe. Drinking mint tea on the mediterranean in Egypt is a very fond memory of mine--must remember to give this a try (and, coincidentally, I just bought some mint because I thought it would come in handy for some of the other recipes!).

        2. Since I've returned the book to the library and made these weeks ago, this will be a sketchy and brief report. I completely forget the name, but I made the dessert that looks like an eggroll w/ almond filling seasoned w/ sugar and orange blossom water encased in crispy, buttery phyllo. I drizzled on some honey sauce at the table. There's a picture of this one in the book, although it has pistachios sprinkled on top even though the recipe doesn't include that.

          This was basically an easier and less toothachingly sweet version of baklava. I'm not a big baklava fan, but this simplified and less sweet version was right up my alley. I really liked the filling w/ the orange blossom water enhancing and not overpowering at all. I added a pinch of salt to the filling since I thought it needed it. Very nice ending to our meal accompanied w/ some fresh mint tea.

          1. I know it's way after the month, but I was intrigued by everyone's raves on other threads, so I got the book out from the library. Oddly, even though I don't cook sweets much, the first recipe I tried is a sweet, so I'm posting here. I was going to a potluck with a squash/pumpkin theme, and I was curious how this very simple sounding recipe would work. The answer was that it met with rave reviews! Some folks thought it would be a great Thanksgiving alternative to pumpkin pie. But I think, as I say in the note at the bottom, that the choice of squash/pumpkin will be a big factor in how it tastes. Here's my considerably annotated adaptation of her somewhat sketchy recipe.

            Turkish Pumpkin Dessert
            Kabak Tatlisi

            Adapted from Arabesque by Claudia Rodin

            2 c squash puree (from roasted or steamed squash)
            Sugar to taste (I think I used about 1/3 c, but you may need less if the squash is sweet)
            Chopped walnuts
            Mascarpone or clotted cream (the authentic Turkish cream is call kaymak, but Rodin suggests these are the best substitutes in this country)

            Mix squash and sugar in saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently to make sure it’s not sticking or burning. A silicon spatula works really well for this. Any excess water will evaporate and the mixture will start to caramelize. I decided it was done when I could no longer scrape the spatula across the bottom of the pan and leave a clear path (i.e., it was just starting to stick to the bottom). Rodin’s instructions were simply “until all the water is absorbed…making sure the puree doesn’t burn,” so it’s a judgment call.

            Spread the paste on a serving plate, cover and refrigerate overnight. Or if you’re in a hurry, put your plate in the freezer so it’s cold, spread the paste on it, and put it back in the freezer to keep cooling.

            Serve cold, sprinkled with walnuts and accompanied by mascarpone. I dotted the mascarpone all over the dish then sprinkled with walnuts, to make it easier to serve. It's very rich, so a small spoonful was quite satisfying.

            Note: Since the recipe is so simple, I suspect it’s important to have a very flavorful squash. I used an heirloom pumpkin called Winter Luxury. I think Buttercup or Kabocha would be good choices, or even canned pumpkin. I’m not sure if Butternut would be flavorful enough, but I’m sure it all depends on what effect you want. Rodin’s description of the traditional squash used are “the large pumpkins with the sweet orange flesh,” so who knows what they taste like. I suspect it’s also important to have a very smooth, creamy puree and that the drier sorts of squashes would be bad choices. But hey, experiment!

            1. I'm also posting way past April here, but...

              I'm a big fan of her Yoghurt cake, which is basically a cheesecake made with strained yoghurt rather than cream cheese. It is much lighter in texture and mouthfeel than normal cheesecakes, and everyone I've fed it to has really enjoyed it.

              I've made only a couple of alterations:
              I make it with a basic graham cracker crust. A cheesecake really needs a crust in my opinion!
              I use limes instead of lemons when available. I think it's a subtler, more floral flavour.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Gooseberry

                I made the yogurt cake today. It is easy to put together: Egg yolks and sugar are beaten until thick and light, then a few tablespoons of flour, lemon juice and zest (I used Meyer) and Greek yogurt (I used 2%) are beaten in, and stiffly beaten egg whites are folded in. I baked it in a springform, for easy unmolding. My one issue with the recipe was that she calls for baking it for 50 to 60 minutes, until it is puffed and browned on top. After 25 minutes, I noticed it was not only puffed, but also quite browned, and I thought I might need to cover it. But I stuck a tester in it (she doesn't ask you to), and found it came out clean, so I took the cake out. Not sure what was going on that it took half the time indicated, but there was a thermometer in the oven and the temperature was exactly 350.

                I like it a lot. It is light and fluffy in texture - really, a fallen soufflé, with a subtle lemon flavor, and is not overly sweet (only 1/2 cup sugar).

                1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                  Sounds like you had a delicious Roden feast all around, just "under the wire" for COTM, although it certainly lives on beyond the month. My own plans to do a few more things from the book before launching into October were derailed by the crazy heat in L.A. this week (I'm not cooking, at best I'm *heating*) and some upheaval on the job front. But I am looking forward to doing some more cooking from Roden once it cools off a bit. And very curious for Barefoot Contessa month....