No secret—I’m shamelessly addicted to The Great British Bake Off (aka The Great British Baking Show).
One season Kimberley Wilson made this fabulous phyllo pie, dough tinted with turmeric, and filled with bacon, chicken thighs, and butternut squash. That in and of itself may sound like enough but she then instructs to add in an incredibly aromatic spice mix called ras el hanout. I’m hopelessly obsessed with this recipe. She makes hers as a large ring in a savarin mould—think bundt pan—but I prefer to do them as little handpies or turnovers. We all know, too, that I’m not making homemade phyllo. It’s not happening. Maybe one day (probably not). Instead, I mix some turmeric in with melted butter and use that to brush between the layers of the dough. Mary Berry might not approve (and it would break my heart) but it works for me.
That spice mix is really what seals the deal for me. I frankly had never heard of ras el hanout before but I’m so thankful that I have. Hailing from North Africa, it’s the equivalent of grama masala for the region—meaning that, in addition to being commonplace in some of the areas cuisine, it also varies vastly in its ingredients from location to location and family to family. Some say you need at least 12 spices in the mix for it to be a true ras el hanout, but being that I’m not from and have never been to North Africa this is merely novel anecdote to me. The spice mix itself is a warming, aromatic, spiced-sweet blend—frankly it’s a testament to the level that I keep my spice rack stocked (or my obsessive and compulsive pantry procuring tactics). There’s nothing stopping you from buying a blend from a specialty store (oddly enough I found some at a local Indian shop) but I can attest to this blend. Which is why I couldn’t help but just toss some butternut squash with it and roast in a hot oven—I had to have that spice in my life, stat, and this did the trick.
Kimberely Wilson’s recipe for the spice mix does call for, among so many others, dried rose petals. I don’t know about you but I don’t have any of those laying around and frankly I’m afraid of what I might be tempted to do with them if I were to buy some so I don’t bother with that (and I also know myself well enough to know that I’ll buy, like, a 5 pound bag because it’s more economical per ounce than the 8 ounce one. It’s hard to be me). Instead of rose petals, and rather than forgoing the slightly but very necessary subtle floral note it brings, I use a few drops of rose water mixed into some yogurt that’s eventually drizzled over the whole thing. The yogurt gives the spice blend some gentle cooling—not that it’s a “hot” blend, but pungent—and the delicate essence of the rose balance the strong spice mix. I keep a small bottle of rose water in the bar for occasional uses and I will probably have to will it to someone as you really only ever need a few drops at a time (any more than that and you’re verging on granny’s perfume).
It might be a far departure from what you normally have at Thanksgiving or during the holidays, but I think it’s a welcome one. I think every holiday spread, no matter how traditional to you and your family, should have at least one thing that challenges everyone a bit and bucks the norm; it keeps things interesting and gives everyone a chance to try something new and, dare I say, exotic. Trust me on this one, though—you won’t regret it.
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