3.25.2013

MUTTABAQ

So. Where were we? Mutabbaq? Right.


I'm not going to say too much about it, because I think the pictures tell you most of what you need to know. If you like ricotta and Vermont chevre and local honey and a squeeze of lemon juice and flakey layers of butter-poached filo dough, well, Mutabbaq is for you. Sold.


You start by layering seven pieces of filo dough on a shallow-rimmed baking sheet, brushing each one heavily with melted butter as you go. Then you make a mixture of ricotta and chevre—sweet cow's milk with a little goat for tang—and you spread this over the center of the seven layers of buttery dough. Then you add another seven layers on top, with more butter, and as you brush it on, it sort of forms a seal. You trim the edges and tuck them in, and suddenly, you have a very rich package wrapped in filo dough.


Then you cut it into slices—letting the knife go down but not through the bottom layer—and put the whole thing in the oven. The crust gets gold. It turns all flakey and crisp, and the cheese melts together into something warm and comforting and wonderful. While this is going on you melt together honey and lemon juice in a pot on the stove until they form a thick, bubbling syrup. Then you pull the pastry out and douse it all over with the syrup while they're both hot. The syrup soaks down through the layers (think baklava) and infuses the cheeses and pastry with a subtle sweetness. 


As soon as it cools enough to spare your tongue, you cut a piece. You take a bite. It's something of a cross between baklava and cheesecake, a not-too-sweet pillow of tangy-goaty-ricotta-honey-lemon-pastry heaven. Moving your fork through the crust makes you feel the same way you do when you crack the top of creme brulee. It's delicious.

MUTABBAQ, OR RICOTTA PASTRY 

This recipe comes from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. The nice thing about mutabbaq is that you can get it ready before you bake it, which makes it perfect for entertaining (not to mention life with a toddler). It's also very simple to make but looks incredibly elegant. 

2/3 cup melted butter
14 sheets filo dough
2 cups ricotta cheese (there's an easy tutorial on how to make your own here)
1 cup (8 ounces) plain chevre
2/3 cup honey
3 tablespoons water
juice of one lemon

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Brush a shallow rimmed baking sheet roughly 11 by 14 and 1/2 inches in size (if you don't have this size, you can fudge it, like I did up there) with some of the melted butter. Spread a filo sheet on top and let the edges hang over. Brush this sheet with butter, top with another sheet, and keep layering and buttering until you have 7 sheets evenly stacked.

Mix the ricotta and chevre in a bowl. Spread the mixture evenly over the filo sheets, leaving about 1/2 inch clear around the edge. Brush the surface of the cheese mixture with butter and top with the remaining 7 sheets of filo dough, buttering each layer as you go. You'll notice the butter and pastry start to sort of seal the cheese layer in. 

Use kitchen scissors to trim any large overhangs of filo dough, then gently tuck the edges in so that you have a neatly wrapped cheese package. Brush with butter all over. Finally, use a large knife to cut the pastry into squares roughly 2 and 1/2 inches square—cut through the top layer and cheese, but not through the bottom pastry. You don't want the cheese to ooze out!

Bake the pastry for about 25 minutes, until it's golden and crisp. Meanwhile, make the syrup by melting the honey, water, and lemon juice together in a small pot. Bring them to a boil, then simmer gently for two minutes and take it off the heat.

Slowly pour the syrup over the pastry the second you take it out of the oven, giving it time to soak in evenly. A little will spill out over the edge if you've used a too-big pan; that's okay. (You can always sop it up later.) Leave the pastry to cool for about 10 minutes, then serve. It's also excellent reheated or at room temperature the next day.

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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.