Cooking from the heart: a journey through Jewish food, 320pp.
by Hayley Smorgon and Gaye Weeden
Hardie Grant Books (Australia), Richmond, Victoria, 2012
Cooking on page 232
I bought a 1.3-kilo bag of dates on special so headed to the library to find a page-32 recipe that called for a lot of dates. This book delivered the goods.
It’s a collection of recipes and stories that have been gathered from 27 Jewish people who have migrated to Australia from all parts of the world.
The recipe here is from Myriam Romano, who came to Australia in the 1950s from Egypt (via Italy). In her story, she recalls experimenting in Australia with all types of recipes, and remembers the Greek delicatessens were the best sources of ingredients she knew.
Menenas with dates
500 g pitted dates
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
icing sugar, for dusting
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
250 g butter, melted
1/2 cup water (or 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup milk)
2 tablespoons orange blossom water
To make the pastry, combine the flours in a large bowl, then pour in the melted butter and mix using your fingers. Slowly mix in the water and orange blossom water with your whole hand, until the dough is malleable. Roll the dough into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Put the dates in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 165°C (Gas 3). Line two baking trays with baking paper.
Process dates in a food processor with the cinnamon until mixture resembles a paste. Roll out some of the dough on a lightly floured surface, into a 20 x 15 cm rectangle. Spread with some of the date paste, then roll up the pastry from one end to form a Swiss roll. Cut the roll into 3 cm slices. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.
Place the slices on the baking trays, not too near each other. Bake for 20 minutes, but be careful not to brown the pastry as it can become too hard.
When cool, dust the pastries with icing sugar.
How it played out
I made the pastry and filling as written, and then it came to rolling out the dough. So let’s get into a little mathematics. Don’t be scared. This will be easy. And it will help you to get the best out of this recipe.
One side of each piece of pastry dough is 20 cm and the other is 15 cm. No matter which way I roll the dough, I’m never going to end up with a total of 20 to 25 pieces.
This is because if each slice is to be 3 cm wide, I’ll get just under 7 slices from the 20 cm side, and only 5 slices from the 15 cm side.
I filled each of the two pieces of dough and then rolled them so I could cut along the 20 cm side. I managed to get 8 slices from each roll, for a total of 16 slices.
If I had rolled the sheets of dough into larger rectangles, say 30 by 15 cm or more, I could easily have had a total of 20 to 25 slices. I’d have also had menenas with a better distribution of filling to dough.
I’m guessing the printed dimensions for the sheets of dough are wrong, and should be larger as I suggested above. I suspect this mostly because I’ve lived in Egypt and know how menenas ought to look.
My fat slices also took longer to bake than the suggested 20 minutes.
Once you sort out the measurements for this recipe, I think you can have an excellent result.
Knowing menenas, as I do, I thought there was way too much filling per slice, but this got excellent reviews from two groups of people. Petra’s work colleagues loved it, as did my friends at our monthly morning tea at seniors’ gym.
That said, when I make this again, I’ll roll out the dough to a larger size so I can get 20 to 25 slices. I may even need to double the dough recipe, or halve the date mixture.
We travel extensively—we’re in India at the moment—and food is am important part of our experiences and enjoyment of new destinations. A favourite stop was at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Mussoorie.