Panellets – Catalan Almond, Sweet Potato and Pine Nut Cookies

Panellets

This year, instead of celebrating Halloween, and making all sorts of goodies relevant to my favorite holiday, I’ve decided to celebrate my wonderful city’s tradition of Panellets.  Why, you ask?  Well, because it is the last year that I celebrate this tradition.  You see, in about a month, we are moving to Madrid.

Panellets are these incredibly moist and delicious cookies that are like little pillows of heaven.  They are typically eaten on November 1st, which is All Saints’ Day here, which is called “La Castanyada”, meaning the day of chestnuts.  You eat them for dessert with a nice glass of dessert wine and some hot roasted chestnuts.  Very yummy indeed.  Now, as all good recipes go, there is the catch, to use sweet potatoes or not?  Some people say it is a sacrilege, others say it imparts a moistness that you don’t get if you only use the almonds.  I chose to use the sweet potatoes, because they’re good for you!  And traditionally, they are coated with pine nuts, but lately they come covered in coconut and almonds too.  I did a few in coconut because I ran out of pine nuts.  The choice is up to you!

Now, this is the first time I have made them at home.  After 10 years of being here, I am ashamed of this.  But, to be totally honest, it’s like making Oreos at home.  They are so readily available at this time of year that it almost is stupid to make them.  But, I have to admit that, this is so far from the truth.  Now that I have accomplished this feat, I have to tell you, this is baking 101.  So super easy.  And, the bonus is that they taste MUCH MUCH MUCH better than the store-bought ones.

Now, who feels like a fool?

I really hope that you try to make these, not only are they tasty, they’re pretty healthy as far as cookies go.  No butter.  No gluten.  If you really want to make them über healthy, abstain from the regular sugar and go brown or with stevia.  Up to you.

So here’s what you’re going to need:

To make about 30 cookies

250g sweet potato, boiled, cooled, peeled and mashed

450g ground almonds, preferably marcona

Grated lemon peel from 1 whole lemon

400g sugar

3 eggs, separated, keeping the whites in one bowl, and TWO yolks in another, and ONE yolk in another bowl

400g pine  nuts (coconut and crushed almonds optional)

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F).  In a large bowl, mix the mashed sweet potatoes with the sugar.  Mix in the almond and lemon peel.  Add two of the egg yolks and mix well.

Make small balls about 2 inches in diameter.  Beat your egg whites slightly.  Now align your bowls with the egg whites, the pine nuts and the rest of the coatings if using.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Now dip your cookie balls in the egg white, and roll in the pine nuts (or the other coatings if using) and place on the baking sheet.  Repeat until you have finished all the cookies.  Brush them with the 1 egg yolk, and bake for about 20-25 minutes.  Let cool on the baking sheet and refrigerate for about an 1.

Serve with dessert wine and some hot roasted chestnuts!

Visca Catalunya!

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Coca de Escalivada at Cal Marquet : Catalan flat bread in the Mountains

This weekend was a friend of mine’s 40th birthday.  As per tradition, he celebrates it in his brother’s Macia (farm house) in Manresa, 60km outside of Barcelona. His brother raises and breeds pheasants, but he also has a zoo licence due to all the animals he keeps there.  I love going there, because it is very close to the city, but you feel as if you are in the middle of nowhere.  It’s an hours drive and one treacherous 2km dirt road up the mountain to reach Cal Marquet, but truly worth it, just for the views alone.  The actual building is almost 300 years old.  The family have kept the structure intact, but modernized all the rooms.  There’s an infinity pool, a sauna and a jacuzzi too.  So, coming up here is a real treat!

The view from the front terrace, where we had our dinner.

This year he asked me to cater Friday nights dinner, and I immediately thought we should do it family style because it was 25 of us, and I didn’t feel like being in the kitchen the whole night and missing the party.  I decided to make the Coca de Escalivada, because it is a very Catalan dish, and most of the guests were Catalan.  There are many types of Coca, from savoury to sweet.  Each city or region has its own version.  I decided on this one because it is easy to make, since I was also doing Beef empanadas, cheese borek (turkish style patties), spring rolls, jerk chicken wings and blue cheese and caramelized onion sliders.

Coca is actually very easy to make, with very little proofing.  The most laborious part really, is grilling the vegetables and peeling them.  But honestly, I will definitely make this recipe again, maybe using different toppings, but it was delicious and so easy.

So here’s what you’re going to need:

300g bread flour

1 packet instant yeast

2 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

50g shortening (not vegetable, lard, basically)

3 tbsp olive oil

120ml warm water

1 large red bell pepper

1 small eggplant

1 onion (I didn’t use it due to the birthday boy’s aversion to them)

1 can oil packed tuna, drained

6 large anchovy fillets

1 clove garlic

1 small sprig of thyme

1 tbsp parsley, chopped

pinch of salt

3 table spoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp pimenton (smoky paprika)

In the bowl of a stand up mixer, combine the flour, yeast, salt and sugar.  Add the shortening, olive oil and water and mix with the paddle attachment on low-speed, until the dough just comes together.  Now, switch to the dough hook, and mix on medium speed for 10 minutes.  (If you don’t have a mixer, then place the dough on a floured work surface and knead for 15 minutes.)  The dough should be smooth and pliable but spring back when it touched.  Place in a large, well oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel.  Put it in a warm oven (50 C) and let rest for at least an hour, or until doubled in size.

In the meantime, grill your vegetables.  I put my eggplant directly over the burner, because it gives it an amazing smoky flavour.

Do this until the veggies are completely charred on the outside.  Then place them in a plastic bag and let them sweat for about 10 minutes.  When they are cool to the touch, peel them, and slice into 1 inch long slices.  Set aside.

In a mortar, place the garlic clove, thyme, parsley and the pinch of salt, and mash to form a paste.  Add the olive oil and paprika and mix well.  Set aside.

When the hour is up, take the dough out of the oven, and raise the heat to 220 C.  On a well floured work surface, roll out the dough to a rectangle, the same size as your baking pan.  Lightly oil the baking pan, and place the dough on top, cover it tightly with plastic wrap and let rest another 30 minutes.

Unwrap the dough, and place the red pepper and eggplant slices on top, in an alternating pattern.

This actually resembles the Catalan flag.  Now, brush the top with the garlic paprika oil.  Wait a few seconds and give it a second coat, using up almost all the oil, making sure the garlic and herbs are evenly distributed.  Leave just a bit to brush after it’s out of the oven.

Place in the 220 C oven, and bake for 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven, and place the tuna and anchovies on top in alternating rows, and then brush with the remaining oil.  Serve hot, warm or cold.  It’s super versatile!

And now, here are some pics of the farm animals!

Catalan Donkey…..forgot his name but he’s soooo cute.

The cockatoo that says “Roberto”

Peacock strutting his stuff for his harem of hens

And he had all his ducks and geese, lined up in a row…..sort of.

Carmela de Espana, the Tibetan Goat.

Miss Piggy. Yes, that is her actual name.

Pegasus, the (non) flying horse.

View of Montserrat on the drive back home.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla