Last weekend, I was invited to a Yule celebration at the home of one of my friends from work. It was an amazingly fun evening (I think I could become addicted to the werewolf card game, even though I’m fairly terrible at it), and also notable for the incredible quantities of potatoes and cream that found their way onto the menu. This is, perhaps, inevitable when the host and half the guests are French, and are, moreover, from places like Normandy and Burgundy, where potatoes and dairy products are pretty big stuff. (I am informed that they do not believe in vegetables in these regions. Other than potatoes.)
So we had roast lamb, and we had roast potatoes, and roast sweet potatoes, and we had pommes dauphines and we had gratin dauphinoise. And there was quiche, too. I decided that *some* sort of non-potato vegetable wouldn’t go astray, so my offering was ratatouille. (Which, actually, I was a bit nervous about actually calling ratatouille in front of a group of French people, as I have no idea what an authentic ratatouille is like, but apparently it was acceptable).
For dessert, since we clearly had not had enough cream yet, there were crèmes brulées (we got to blow-torch our brulées at the table, which instantly elevates this dinner party to the best one I have ever attended. Also, possibly, the most dangerous one, since the blow-torch came out after the second glass of wine for most people at the table, and when you consider that many of the guests have a tendency to gesture a lot with their hands, you will understand why this was a little alarming…), and also waffles with nuttella and whipped cream. I had considered once again taking the high path and bringing something with actual fruit in it, but the whole Yule / Christmas in Winter spirit overwhelmed me, and it was absolutely necessary to bring something involving spices, brandy and fruit mince.
Which is when I thought of these little cigars.
I actually made these for the first time after Christmas last year, when I realised I had a bit of fruit mince leftover from my mince pies, and also some filo pastry leftover from turning my Christmas chook into handheld chicken and pumpkin filo pies, and decided to combine the two.
They were amazing – astonishingly rich on the inside, but with a lovely, light, crisp pastry that made them a delight to bite into. Also, they are surprisingly easy to make, which is a bonus. And fantastic when dipped in double cream. Which is not vegan, but a good cashew cream might actually be even better.
Of course, I had no idea what proportions of anything I’d used, so I figured I’d save the recipe until I had a bit more time. Which was why I was half an hour late to the dinner party – it turned out that I didn’t, really, have that much time after all…
It was still worth it, though. And after all those potatoes, a dessert that was low on the whole pastry/cake/pudding side of things and high on the rich, dried fruit side of things wasn’t a bad match at all.
(Though I suspect a fruit salad, while less Christmassy, would have been even better…)
Your Shopping List
1 quantity of Easy Fruit Mince, made with cocoa butter instead of butter for vegan goodness.
1 handful each of dried cherries, chopped dried apricots, and chopped dried figs.
1 packet of filo pastry from the fridge section. Please, not the freezer section. I cannot stress this highly enough. If you buy your filo pastry from the fridge, it will come out as lovely, soft, fine, layers of pastry, like fabric that roll like a dream. If you buy it from the freezer and defrost it, it will come out like paper. Old, crackling, crumbling paper. And it will stick to itself and it will break when you try to unroll it and then you will end up with little flakes of pastry everywhere and nothing to roll your fruit mince in, and you will be very sad and you will wish you had taken my advice. Which is good advice. Seriously, get your filo from the fridge, or don’t bother. I don’t want you to be sad, and I’m sure you don’t want that either.
Olive oil spray
Now what will you do with it?
First, make the fruit mince if you haven’t already done so. Add the chopped dried fruit with the rest of the fruit, stir everything together, let it cook for a bit, and then let it cool. You can do this days or even weeks beforehand – fruit mince keeps forever if you seal it in a jar, and for at least a month in the fridge if you don’t.
Pre-heat the oven to 190°C, and line three biscuit sheets with baking paper.
Now, lay a tea towel on the table or on whatever your work surface may be, remove the filo pastry from its container, and unfold the stack onto the tea towel. You’re going to work with the pastry in the stack, because this helps keep it from drying out – in fact, at the very end, you will have the opposite problem, as the bottom layers will absorb a bit of oil around the edges making them harder to separate, but this is still easier than dealing with dessicated pastry.
Cut the whole stack in half lengthwise, and spray the top layer with olive oil spray.
Take a firmly-packed, rounded dessert spoon of the fruit mince, and lay it in a somewhat cylindrical shape at one end of one of the half sheets of pastry. Leave about a centimetre between the mince and the edges.
Fold the filo pastry over the filling at the top and bottom – make the fold go the whole length of the pastry.
Starting at the end with the filling, roll up the pastry around the filling to make a cigar shape. Place on the baking sheet, then repeat with the rest of the filo pastry and filling.
Once you’ve filled a whole tray, spray the cigars lightly with olive oil, and place in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, or until they are nicely crisp and golden.
Keep going to fill three trays – you should get around 36 cigars before you run out of either pastry or filling. (I actually ran out of pastry with only a spoonful of filling left, which was very pleasing!)
Let the cigars cool on a wire rack before putting them in an airtight container at room temperature to keep them crisp. Please don’t put them in the fridge – they don’t need it, and they will go all soggy and sad.
Serve hot or cold with a dollop of double cream or cashew cream.
These pastries are vegan and nut-free, but they are not gluten-free and they couldn’t be further from being low-fructose if they tried. They are relatively low GI, but so full of sugar, even the low-GI kind, that they will probably do you no good in this respect anyway. Christmas food was never designed for healthiness…
In terms of variations for particular allergies, I can’t think of any good ones, but I do wonder if one might experiment with a crispy rice paper roll recipe for a gluten-free variation? This is totally outside my area of expertise, but perhaps it will interest someone else.
In terms of flavour variations, you can really put anything into these rolls, sweet or savoury. It doesn’t have to be fruit mince. Traditionally, I believe these little cigars tend to be full of a spicy minced lamb mixture. Spinach and feta are also good. Apple cooked in caramel would be *amazing*.
The main variation I’d suggest, though, might be to divide the pastry into thirds rather than halves, to make the cigars a little smaller – these are pretty substantial, which I definitely like, but they might be a fruit mince overdose for some, especially if there is a lot of other dessert on the table.
And isn’t there always, at Christmas?
This recipe is, of course, being submitted to my Vegan Christmas In July Challenge – I hope you’ll join me for our mid-winter Christmas feast!