Saturday, February 16, 2013

Another Kind of Pie

This month the Bread Baking Babes' Kitchen of the Month is Tanna's My Kitchen in Half Cups. She has gathered us around her virtual table with a delicious recipe to celebrate the 5th Anniversary of the Bread Baking Babes. The official Syrian name is syrian sabanrhiyat and they are delightful spinach pies, but with bread dough, instead of pastry, holding the spinach filling together. The combination of mahlab, pomegranate arils and feta cheese certainly give them a Syrian flavor. Unfortunately I neglected to purchase the mahlab, and the arils, plus my spinach was frozen, chopped, instead of fresh. The good news is that they were wonderful little pies even without those goodies!

My dough was really sticky, so it was a bit of a challenge to roll out. If you read the directions, you'll see that we were not supposed to roll it all out as a sheet of dough, but roll out 24 pieces of it, each to about 6 inches in diameter. In my defense, the video that showed how to shape them used a rolled out sheet of dough. A large round cutter was used to cut the dough into circles. I liked that the circles were then, mostly, even. That should make the shaping easier, right? So that's what I did. I had a nice 4-inch in diameter cutter, which made for smaller pies, but they were also easy to handle.

I cupped each dough circle in one palm, added about a tablespoon of filling, then smooshed the edges of three places on the outer diameter (about even from each other) into the middle and together. That left three openings, which I pinched together, one by one, in a more-or-less straight line. That gave me the 'Y' shaped closure. My dough was so soft that it didn't hold any shape very well, so the pies were a bit rounded 'Y's after they baked as you can see in the photo at the top of the post.

The filling included the sautéed onion, the feta cheese, the chopped walnuts, the lemon juice, and spinach from the freezer (which I thawed and then put in a wire mesh strainer, which allowed me to push out a lot of excess liquid. Since the finished filling was plenty moist, I'm glad I did.) I added some freshly ground nutmeg to the dough since I know that spinach and nutmeg are great together. I also cut the recipe in half. Even then I had more little pies than I wanted, so I did a crescent with the leftovers, kind of like the Yule Wreath that the Babes did a few years ago.

I highly recommend that you make these yummy pies. I'll bet that the ones with the pomegranate and mahlab are even better, and with fresh spinach the absolute best. Do be sure to check out the other Babes' sites since some of them have come up with different fillings!

Check out Tanna's site for the recipe and tips and gorgeous photos. If you want to be a Buddy (of course you do!) e-mail her with your story about baking these beauties and a photo.

I'm sending this along to Susan at Wild Yeast for her weekly wonderland of bread baking links, Yeastspotting. Check it out, too, to be inspired and to find great recipes.

Now, I'm going to go eat a couple of the spinach pies that I saved. I noticed that when I do my write-up that I really, really want to have a taste by the time I'm done. Don't you? Well, get baking!

Here is Elizabeth's version of the recipe (for mine, omit the mahlab but add 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg for it, also omit the pomegranate seeds and use frozen, thawed, drained spinach...and cut amounts in recipe by half since I only made half the recipe - see notes in italic for my changes) :

Assyrian Spinach Pies

1 tablespoon active dry yeast, (2 1/4 teaspoons) = 1 package
2 cups warm water (105° to 115°)
1/2 teaspoon ground mahlab, I'll use 3/4 to a full teaspoon next time
5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour plus more for kneading, use some white whole wheat next time
1 tablespoons granulated sugar, I cut this back from 2 tablespoons
2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup olive oil


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, cut this from 1/2 cut
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 pound cleaned baby spinach, coarsely chopped
160 grams chopped walnuts, I increased this from 4 oz.
1 cup pomegranate seeds, increase these from 1/2 cup
2 cup crumbled feta cheese, increased from 1 cup
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 - 1 cup lentils, optional but this was nice
Olive oil cooking spray
Plain yogurt for serving

1. Whisk together the dry ingredients: yeast, flax, mahlab (or nutmeg for Elle), flours, sugar, salt.

Mix together water (I usually "warm" it by microwaving it about 15 seconds, it's just above room temp then) and olive oil.

2. Pour water, olive oil into dry ingredients and mix together until the dough gathers into a rough ball. Let rest 5 to 10 minutes letting the flour absorb some of the water.
Knead the dough on a lightly floured counter until the dough becomes smooth, elastic, soft and slightly sticky dough ball - mine took about 6 minutes.

3. WASH AND DRY THE BOWL - now ain't that a kick in the pants, how many Babes are going to follow that directive. We know Elizabeth will. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! and rub it lightly with olive oil Elizabeth won't do that part (but Elle will!).

Place the dough ball into a rising container … I have a wonderful straight side clear 4 qt container with lid: I can easily see when the dough has doubled in volume. The lid means I don't have to use plastic or even a shower cap.
Allow the dough to double in volume - mine took about 90 minutes: if you press a finger into the dough and release it, a depression should remain.

4. If you follow the recipe directions and divide the dough into 24 pieces (about 2 oz each) you'll get what I consider a reasonable portion size hand pie although we were all eating at least one and a half each. I actually weighted the balls and they ranged from 50 to 60 grams each. I might have enjoyed them more made slightly smaller say weighting closer to 40 grams.

When the balls are formed, allow to rest so they will be easier to roll out.
If you've made the full recipe and don't want to make them all at one go, my suggestion here would be to immediately cover however many you want to bake tomorrow or the next day and retort the balls in the fridge.
Allow the dough balls you plan on baking to rest for the 30 minutes before rolling them out.
Elle: I didn't make balls, but did let the dough rest before rolling it out.

5. Saute the onion in the olive oil, they should be nicely caramelized. Allow to cool.

6. Chop the spinach and mix with chopped walnuts, pomegranate seeds, feta, lemon juice and the olive oil. Mix all with the sautéed onions.
Elle: I left out the pomegranate seeds.
Good ideas for alternatives: pine nuts, dried cranberry, dried cherry, goat cheese, small cubes or large grating of any cheese you like, lentils I added one night to some of the filling was a real winner.

7. Preheat the oven.
Elle: I lined the cookie sheet with a Silpat but parchment paper would equally as well.

8. With a light to good dusting of flour on your counter, roll the dough ball into a thin 6-inch circle. I tried to really fill these and used at least 1/2 to 3/4 cup of the filling for each one.
Elle: I rolled out the dough and cut 4-inch circles with a round cutter, then filled them and sealed, pretty much like the recipe description below.

Pile 1/2 cup of the filling, loosely measured, onto the center of the circle, leaving about 1 inch of dough exposed all around. Brush the exposed dough lightly with water. Imagining the circle to be a clock, lift up the edges of dough at the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions to cover the top part of the filling and pinch firmly to seal, going all the way to 12 o’clock. Lift the 6 o’clock position of dough to meet in the center and pinch the two edges firmly to seal. The seams will look like an inverted Y. Set the pie on one of the prepared sheets.

9. Before putting into the oven, rush the pies with olive oil before baking.
Elle: I forgot to brush mine with anything.
10. Preheat oven.
11. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes at 375° to 380° depending on your oven.

Leftover pies can be frozen. When cool, arrange them on a baking sheet and freeze until solid. Transfer them to heavy-duty re-sealable plastic bags and freeze for up to 1 month. To reheat, thaw the pies in their wrapping, then set them on a baking sheet and pop into a preheated 350°F oven for 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.


  1. Wow they sound delicious and love the flavours used in the filling. Reminds me of spanikopita. Your breads alays look so professional

  2. How un-observant I am, missed they cut out circles in the video.
    You got the size pie I was after! What very sweet little pies you got doing it that way. Don't you think bread might be healthier than pie dough? ;-) hehe
    Warms my heart that you enjoyed them so much! And that use of the wreath shaping: pure genius!

  3. I followed the same train of thoughts, and my dough was terribly sticky, so hard to get nice circles. Your yule wreath is looking grand, very festive and nice!

  4. Wonderful! Nutmeg is a good sub indeed. And I love the shaping of your leftovers. Makes me want to do the wreath again.

  5. yummy! these look delicious! happy sunday!

  6. But look, they turned out beautifully! What a great idea to substitute nutmeg for the missing mahlab. And I love the look of the crescent one too.


  7. Love that crescent/yule bread you made. Great colour on the rolls and so beautifully thin and even the outer crust is!

  8. They look fantastic! And definitely nutmeg with spinach!

  9. Anonymous4:26 PM

    Great idea to substitute nutmeg for the mahlab. I almost couldn't find it and was wondering what to do instead.
    Best, Sandie