My first choice, honey cake, was promptly discarded when The Boy informed me that “honey cake is DONE”. Ack. Thankfully, after a bit of creative googling, I stumbled upon a recipe for Honeyed Cigars with Date-Pomegranate Filling, which seemed to have the right combination of Sephardic influence, holiday symbolism (dates, honey and pomegranates), and impressive appearance.
However, when I made a small batch as a test-run during the week, I noticed that the honey from the original baste made too much of a sticky mess once baked (not to mention a too-sweet result). So drawing upon my childhood in Greektown, I borrowed a technique more commonly used with baklava… and found myself with a hit on my hands.
Honey cake? Definitely soooo last year.
(Go here for the original version of the recipe)
Phyllo Cigars with Date-Pomegranate Filling and Honey Syrup
1 package (12-15 sheets) frozen phyllo
1 cup walnut oil
3 cups (tightly packed) Medjool dates, pitted and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup walnut oil
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
2 tbsp hot water
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 pinch of salt
2 1/4 cups walnuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
1 cup fragrant honey
1/2 cup hot water
1 tsp cinnamon
Thaw phyllo sheets as per the package directions (usually overnight in the refrigerator) and set on the counter 2 hrs prior to beginning the recipe to allow sheets to come to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350F. Line a large cookie sheet (or two smaller ones) with parchment paper.
Prepare the filling. Using a food processor, blend together dates, walnut oil, pomegranate molasses, hot water, cinnamon and salt. Process until well combined, but still slightly chunky. Add 2 cups of walnuts and pulse until blended. Transfer to a bowl. Finely chop remaining walnuts and set aside for garnish.
Remove phyllo from package and carefully unroll sheets, setting on top of a slightly damp towel. Cover immediately with another damp towel to keep from drying out. Work with one sheet of phyllo at a time, ensuring that the rest remain covered until they’re ready to use.
Remove first sheet from the stack, and carefully fold in half, bringing the short ends together and pressing down gently. The new short edge (formerly the long edge, which has now been folded in half) should be facing you. Brush entire top surface generously with walnut oil. Cut in half width-wise, creating two separate pieces of phyllo.
Scoop 1 tbsp of filling from bowl and roll into a small log, approximately 2.5″ long. Place on short edge of first phyllo piece, rolling up the bottom edge to cover the filling and then bringing over the sides to cover. Brush newly exposed phyllo surfaces with more walnut oil, and roll up into a cigar shape, brushing the exposed pastry as you go with more oil. Repeat again with second piece of phyllo.
Lay the completed rolls on prepared pastry sheet, seam side down, then cover with plastic wrap to keep from drying. Remove another sheet of phyllo from the stack and repeat the filling and rolling process until you have used up all the filling. Sprinkle the finely chopped walnuts over the completed rolls.
Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden and crisp. Stir together syrup ingredients and slowly pour over the freshly-baked cigars as soon as they come out of the oven. Tilt the sheet to ensure all of the rolls make contact with the syrup, turning each cigar to allow the top surface to soak up any remainder.
For a pretty presentation, cut each cigar in half on the diagonal. Place the two halves on a dessert plate, cut side up, and add a scoop honey-vanilla ice cream on the side (or a non-dairy orange sorbet if keeping kosher).
Quick Tips for Phyllo:
1. Prepared phyllo pastry will be in the freezer section of your grocery store, most likely near other frozen pastry supplies (puff pastry, pie shells, etc). You’ll need at least one box for this recipe, but it’s never a bad idea to buy a second box as insurance in case too many sheets break/tear.
2. Make sure you allow plenty of time for the phyllo to defrost and come to room temperature. Cold phyllo is more likely to break while you’re working with it.
3. Always work with one sheet at a time, and cover the rest with a damp towel to keep from drying out. Work as quickly as you can, as the phyllo pastry will dry very quickly once it’s exposed to air.