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DESSERTS: GREEKS BEARING GIFTS

 

By Culturekiosque Staff

NEW YORK, 6 January 2007—The Greek island of Chios lies just five miles off the Turkish coast in the northern Aegean Sea. The purported birthplace of Homer and Hippocrates, Chios is best known as the world's exclusive source of mastiha, or mastic, a crystalline resin produced from the bark of the mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus ) that has been cultivated there for millennia.

Originally used as a type of chewing gum to clean the teeth and freshen the breath and in cosmetology as a skin cleanser, its medicinal properties were first documented by Dioscorides (1st Century, B.C.), who is generally considered the "father of pharmacology". The Greek physician and botanist praised Chios Mastiha for its therapeutic effects on digestion, blood reproduction, chronic coughing, and for its tranquilizing and aphrodisiac effects.

Today, scientific studies have documented Mastiha's benefits in the treatment of digestive disorders. For example, a research team from the UK’s Nottingham University has found that even small amounts of mastic can destroy the helicobakter pylori bacteria, which only a decade ago was recognised as the prime cause of peptic ulcers and stomach cancer.
It has also been shown to be a natural anti-oxidant and aids in trauma healing and skin regeneration—much as it does for the mastiha tree itself.

It is, however, in the culinary world that Chios Mastiha is best known. Traditionally brought out of the cupboard on Christmas and Easter, to be pounded as a seasoning in holiday breads and biscuits, the musky, slightly piney, incense-like spice is also exported and used by chefs and food producers worldwide. Mastiha flavours Greek cakes and breads, sweets, ice-creams, chocolates, scented cream desserts, jams, liqueurs and aperitifs such as the traditional ouzo mastiha.

In New York for an afternoon of recipe demonstrations, Greek celebrity pastry chef and author Stelios Parliaros skillfully created several desserts that proved the gastronomic versatility of this ancient resin. The two most striking, the delicious and robust Melomakarona (Greek Honey-Nut Cookies) with Mastiha and the rich, strangely Byzantine, Dark Chocolate - Mastiha Frozen Mousse are reproduced here.

Melomakarona (Greek Honey-Nut Cookies) with Mastiha

For 6 pounds of melomakarona

Ingredients

For the syrup:

500 ml water
700 gr (24.5 oz.) sugar
100 ml Greek thyme honey
300 ml Mastiha liqueur

For the cookies

400 ml fresh, strained orange juice
530 ml extra-virgin Greek olive oil
50 gr. (1.7 oz.) unsalted butter, melted
1 pinch powdered cinnamon
1 pinch powdered cloves
1.200 gr. (2.7 pounds) all-purpose flour
30 gr. (2 Tbsp.) Confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda


Melomakarona (Greek Honey-Nut Cookies) with Mastiha
Photo courtesy of Stelios Parliaros, Athens
 

Preparation

For garnish:

300 gr. (10.7 ounces) coarsely chopped walnuts
3 cups honey for dipping

Make the syrup. Bring the water and sugar to a boil over medium heat and simmer for one minute. Add the honey and Mastiha liqueur and let cool completely.

Place all the liquid ingredients and the butter in a large bowl. Add the spices, baking soda and confectioner's sugar. Mx well with a rubber spatula. Add the flour and mix gently by hand for a few minutes just until the ingredients are combined. Do not overwork and do not be perplexed by the soft, oily consistency of the dough; this is what gives the meloakarona their crisp exterior texture and smooth interior.

Preheat the over to 180 C / 350 F

Take a walnut size piece of dough at a time and shape into a small oval. Have a deep-fry basket or a small metal sieve nearby. Gently press both sides of each piece onto the sieve or wire basket to make a decorative patten and place on sheet pans lined with silicone mats. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until golden, firm and crisp. Remove.

Have the syrup ready and nearby in a large metal basin. Dip the hot melomakarona immediately into the cold syrup. Remove with a slotted spoon. Drain on a wire rack placed over a platter. Drizzle with the honey-walnut mixture. Serve.

 

Dark Chocolate - Mastiha Frozen Mousse


Yield: 15 3-oz bars or 10 - 12 mousse servings

Ingredients

500 ml. (approximately 2 cups) heavy whipping cream
400 gr. (14 oz.) Valrhona Guanaja chocolate (70% cocoa)
10 gr. small mastiha crystals, pounded or 10 drops essential mastiha oil
50 gr. (1 3/4 oz.) sugar
50 ml (approximately 1.5 tablespoons) corn syrup
50 ml (approximately 1.5 tablespoons) water

Preparation

Whip the cream to soft peaks, cover with plastic wrap and keep at room temperature.

If using mastiha crystals, pulverize together with the sugar to a fine powder in a spice grinder.

Chop the chocolate into one-inch pieces and melt in a double boiler

While the chocolate is melting, prepare the syrup. In a separate small pot, bring the mastiha-sugar mixture, corn syrup, and water to a boil over medium heat. Add the hot syrup to the hot, melted chocolate, stirring constantly with a whisk.

Slowly add the whipped cream. Pour the mixture into small bar-shaped silicone molds, 3 ounces each, cool slightly and freeze overnight. Serve.

Alternatively: Pour the chocolate mixture into small serving cups or glasses and serve warm or chilled as a mousse. The mixture may also be used as a filling in layer cakes. 

 

Stelios Parliaros was born in Instanbul in 1959. He studied at the Ecole le Notre and the Ritz Hotel's Escoffier Academy in Paris. He is the author of several books including the 2000 best-seller, Chocolate . Additional information on the web about the Greek patissier's books, recipes and pastry seminars in Athens is available at: http://www.parliaros.gr

 

TIP:

Chios Mastiha is sold in many different forms. When used as a spice, it is probably best to buy the crystals, which keep their flavour as all whole spices do, and grind them according to need. The crystals need to be pounded in a mortar or pestle or spice grinder, but always with the addition of either a little salt (for savory foods) or a little sugar (for sweets). Half a teaspoon of ground Mastiha, whether commercial or freshly ground, usually goes a long way in cooking and baking.



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