12 May 2014

Makedonski Maznik

Back in January I tried my hand at making lokum (AKA Turkish Delight) and, having had a great deal of success with it, I've made a few more batches since. Now it was time to move on and continue my plan of learning how to make some of the other foods I've enjoyed since childhood and today's Big Experiment was maznik, a pastry made with phyllo dough and feta cheese (other fillings are optional (nuts and raisins, meat, spinach), but feta was the main filling I experienced and loved as a kid, so that's what my first batch contains).

Maznik (like graf, a lovely, rich bean soup I learned to make years ago) was one of those dishes from my Macedonian heritage that seemed ubiquitous to me while growing up in the 1970s and 80s: my mom made it, my aunts made it, and it was served at every house we'd visit...and they all were more or less identical, as though some ancient Maznik Master had trained them all; certainly, the recipes have been passed down through numerous generations. The maznik of my youth that I tried to recreate here was flaky, salty, very tasty, a bit greasy, and very popular with everyone; I can't remember anyone who didn't like maznik.

For this project I used a combo of recipes and techniques from the internet (videos, blogs) as well as memories of helping my mom and aunts decades ago. Why didn't I just ask my mother for her recipe? I have no idea, actually...

Second doughy attempt.

Before I did anything with the ingredients, I donned an apron, mostly for moral support, and cranked up my Macedonian music playlist to set the appropriate mood.

I mixed two cups of flour with half a teaspoon of salt and some water to make the prime dough ball. On my first attempt I used too much water and it became a big sticky mess, so I chucked it and tried again, this time I added tiny amounts of water, gradually, to make sure I didn't overdo it, and I think it worked pretty well, if not exactly perfectly.

Soak 'em!

I cut the dough ball into thirds and made smaller, more manageable balls to soak for about 15 minutes in 100mL vegetable oil and 100mL (melted) Crisco. This makes the dough stretchable and allows it to pretty much fry in the oven. Just don't think about all that greezyness...

Cheese 'em!

Because it's the way I've seen it made all my life, I bought a broom handle specifically to roll out the maznik dough and asked my mom to give me a sheet of the heavy fabric she uses to make the stuff herself, but it turned out I didn't really need either of these task-specific tools. I did bring out my first stretched out round to the broomstick and cloth to sprinkle the feta cheese on it. Note the minor tearing here and there: no big problem once they're rolled up.

Roll 'em!

Since I brought it all the way over to the cloth, I used it to roll the first bit of dough into a long, cheese-filled shape, but I rolled the other two by hand quite easily on the kitchen table, adding small amounts of the excess oily mixture as needed to help with the elasticity.

Shape 'em!

These were much smaller than the ones I'm used to. Normally, the dough wouldn't be split into three but stretched out whole over the tablecloth, then rolled and spiralled into a large circular pan. I didn't mind these cute little guys being smaller, snack-sized mazniks.

Bake 'em!

For some reason, I decided to add an egg wash over them before baking –this isn't necessary or even common (and perhaps overkill) but what the hell, it didn't hurt.

Eat 'em!

The snack-sized mazniks turned out quite well, but they weren't like the ones I'm used to; these were more like burek, with a crispy outside and soft, creamy inside (best eaten while still fresh and hot). I could have stretched the dough a teeny bit more and maybe used the middle rack in the oven instead of the bottom one. I'll probably try a different filling next time...or maybe make burek!...or maybe just go and watch my mom make this –a lesson would be nice. Anyway, they were pretty good.

Next up for the Small Pond Special Projects Division (this week!) will be a layered lemon cake –a more elaborate version of the standard birthday cake my mother made during my early childhood.

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