Introduction: Mazagran Party or Snack Assortment - French Mini Potato Pies
A Touch Of Confusing History
Most people may know the term mazagran from the present fashion of drinking ice cold, often ice-drip coffee from a distinctive glass or earthenware cup. It's actually quite an old fashion, as it dates back to the Siege of Mazagran in 1840, when a group of French soldiers, as legend has it, were obliged to drink cold coffee mixed with water rather than their usual hot coffee with brandy. This however, does not explain how in Larousse Gastronomique, the dictionary also refers to a mazagran as an oven-baked potato pastry pie, 'filled with a salpicon...or similar preparation'. There are Algerian maakouda or fried potato cakes, which are sometimes baked but not filled. So is mazagran a regional variation or perhaps cooks just used the distinctive Mazagran coffee cup as a pastry cutter....? Whatever the explanation, they are delicious! However, if any one knows the exact reason for this name, I would be very interested.
Mazagrans can be both open, with the topping spread on the surface like a mini pizza or filled and closed like a pasty or potato dumpling. Traditionally they were cut out with round fluted cutters and in fact, I used these for my Andalusian version. However when making several fillings and also because it looks pretty fancy, I like to cut my mazagrans from different shaped cutters and if you are serving them at a party then people can tell them apart and try different flavours.
As a potato-based pie and if you use rice flour or similar for dusting your pin and board, mazagrans make great gluten-free party and snack food too. I would however recommend white rice flour as I did try several others including potato flour which actually stuck to the cutters.
All the ingredients I use are organic and many of them are home-grown. I'm showing four versions here but I make them out of all kinds of odds and ends of meat, fish and vegetables and as the amounts needed for fillings are quite small you can make some really elegant stuffings or just use up those precious few remaining Summer vegetables and let them end the season en beauté
In the following pages and when I come to the filling of the pies I will set out the individual ingredients there but
For the Basic Pastry, which makes:
16 - 20 Medium Open Pies or around 10 - 14 Medium Filled Pies
4 medium potatoes for the open pies or 4 large potatoes for the filled ones
A knob of butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
White rice flour for dusting
Step 1: To Prepare the Pastry & Temperatures
Boil the potatoes whole and in their skins until firm but cooked well enough so that a fork will pierce them easily.
Peel and then mash with a hand masher, thus avoiding any chance of the potato becoming 'gluey'.
Add salt and pepper and the butter.
Set aside to cool.
425°F or 220°C
Step 2: Preparing the Flavours - Open Mazagran
This filling is just so pretty it has to be left open.
I chose traditional French fillings, the names of which on menus have a strict meaning but I allowed myself some leeway as I believe cooking is all about experimentation:
à la provençale
This comes from the South East as the name suggests and normally includes aubergine, green beans and potato but for my version I'm using the provençale base, which is a thick tomato fondue. I'm also presenting it in the form of a pissaladière, a typically Southern French pizza-style street food, which I first tasted in the monégasque tomato version in the market of Monte-Carlo, many, many years ago.
For the Fondue
4 medium tomatoes - chopped
1 small red onion - chopped
1 small red (sweet) pepper - chopped
2 chopped chillies - I used French varieties; 1 mild fresh Piment de Bresse and one small hot dried d'Espelette Pepper* (including some of the seeds)
1 clove of garlic - finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
* Piment d'Espelette is from the Basque country, which spans the borders of France and Spain and its cookery is hot, colourful and powerful.
For the Pissaladière-style additions
8 halved black olives
4 salted anchovies (rinsed in water)
I made more than I needed because I was going to use it as a base for other dishes. When using chillies I find it better to make sauces in larger quantities because otherwise the flavour can get overpowering. This fondue freezes very well.
Sauté the onions, chillies, pepper and garlic in butter in a heavy bottomed pan until they begin to soften. Add the tomatoes, season and then cook, stirring occasionally until the liquid is reduced and you have a thick tomato sauce. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. At this point I mash it up with a potato masher just to make it smoother and easier to spoon onto the potato.
Dust your pastry board and rolling pin with rice flour. Work with a handful of pastry at a time, it's easier that way. Roll it out and add more rice flour if the potato begins to stick to either the board or pin. Using a cutter of your choice, I liked the medium or small heart for this or a mixture of both, cut out the 'pastry' shapes. When you have cut the first one and with the cutter still in place move it slightly from left to right. If it slides easily and the potato moves with it then the rice flour is doing its work. I was so happy to find this solution, as I tried first with potato flour and it was nowhere near as successful!
Place the shapes onto a buttered tray and once you have filled the tray put it in the oven for 5 minutes, after which the potato should feel slightly firm to the touch.
Place one teaspoonful of tomato fondue on each heart.
Split the anchovies and remove the backbone and fin (unless of course they are already filleted). Cut each fillet in half.
Place a piece of anchovy and half a black olive on each heart and sprinkle with herbes de Provence or a similar favourite herb mix.
Cook in oven on the top shelf for a further 10 minutes but check after 5 minutes to make sure they are not cooking too quickly, if they are, move the tray down to the next level.
Serve warm. Cold though is delicious!
Step 3: Preparing the Flavours - for Closed Mazagrans: Filling #1
à la clamart
This is a really simple but superb filling and I had been making and eating it for years until I realised it had an official name!
When we think of Catherine de Medici it may not be cookery that first springs to mind. With her marriage to Henry II in 1533 and as part of her dowry, she brought with her from the Florentine court a whole host of chefs, cooks, gardeners, and viticulturalists, who would change the cuisine of France and establish it as one of the greatest in the World. Many French dishes today were founded on Catherine's dowry in the way of new seed varieties, the manner of harvesting and preparing vegetables and included in this was the fashion for petits pois. Until the arrival of Catherine, peas had been grown only in the varieties suitable for harvesting and drying for Winter use. The Florentine Court consumed peas fresh and also consumed them young.
Old habits die hard however, and it was not until the late 1600s, when a French nobleman returned from Genoa with fresh peas and presented them to Louis XIV, that they became incredibly fashionable. The craze for eating them when immature, of course meant that they were so small that the price rose to accommodate the need for early harvesting and thus diminished yields. High prices only fuelled 'the fashion and madness for petits pois', as Madame de Maintenon, the King's mistress and later his second wife, wrote in a letter to cardinal Cardinal de Noailles in May, 1696:
'Petis pois continue to be a fascinating topic. The expectation of eating them, the pleasure of eating them and the anticipation of eating more of them are three subjects which our princes have been discussing for three days.'
To have them as fresh as possible for the noble tables of Paris, areas in its vicinity were dedicated to the culture of petits pois. For their extensive market gardens comprising pea fields, towns such as Saint-Germain and Clamart had recipes named after them which incorporated this new fashion for eating little immature peas.
For the Filling
16 heaped teaspoonfuls of cooked petits pois
1 tablespoon of thick fresh raw cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Mash the peas and cream together to obtain a smoothish paste - I preferred to still have some texture to my petits pois as this makes a good contrast to that of the potato pastry.
Prepare the potato as before. Cut the lids at the same time as the bases so you will be ready to assemble them immediately you have positioned the filling. Prick the lids with a fork to allow for any excess moisture to escape.
This time I'm using the heart-shaped cutter.
Place one teaspoonful of the pea and cream mixture on each heart leaving a border to allow for a good seal with the potato lid. Make sure to press around the edges of the heart gently but firmly.
Cook for 10 to 15 minutes on the top shelf of the oven, but check after 5 minutes to make sure they are not cooking too quickly. If they are, then move the tray down to the next level.
N.B. If you are in a rush and have to put the filling in when still warm the potato case is steamed from the inside and does not hold its shape as well. They still taste good. Though from an aesthetic point of view are rather lacking!
Step 4: Closed Mazagrans: Filling #2
The term in French cooking refers to a mix of pimento, chipolata and onion. To me chipolata is much too tame for Andalusia and I would be thinking chorizo but this dish really requires fresh meat rather than a dried sausage and in France we only get the latter type. Therefore, I choose to add merguez a spicy sausage from North Africa, which is made from beef and/or lamb and sometimes from chicken. Merguez are also very popular in the Middle East and in France they form the basis of couscous dishes
For the Filling
1 merguez or any fresh spicy sausage cut into small pieces
1 large red pepper
1 medium red onion
½ a Piment d'Espelette (do not include all the seeds!) or chilli of your choice*
Salt and pepper
Butter or a suitable oil for cooking.
* Having read around the subject the nearest taste to Espelette seems to be Organic Ground Cayenne
Sauté the onions, chillies, red pepper in butter in a heavy bottomed pan until they begin to soften. Add the pieces of merguez, cover the pan with a lid and cook until the meat has turned brown. Season with salt and pepper and then cook, stirring occasionally until any liquid is reduced and you have a thick sauce. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. At this point I mash it slightly with a potato masher just to make it smoother and easier to spoon onto the potato.
Prepare the pastry as before but this time I'm using the traditional fluted cutter. I have however also made these in heart shape and they look great as an open mazagran as well.
Place one teaspoonful of the mixture on each base leaving a border to allow for a good seal when positioning the potato lid. Make sure to press around the edges of the shape gently but firmly.
Cook for 10 to 15 minutes on the top shelf of the oven, but check after 5 minutes to make sure they're not cooking too quickly. If they are, then move the tray down to the next level.
Step 5: Closed Mazagrans: Filling #3
My final filling is one we eat regularly as a vegetable dish particularly at this time of year. It is rich and satisfying and makes a delicious masagran.
à la flamande
Traditionally a garnish made from braised green cabbage and eaten with pork and sausages, which is how we devour it, we also love Flemish style cabbage made with the red variety.
As with the tomato fondue I made earlier, you can never have enough of this dish so if you have some left over it heats up perfectly for another day. The trick with making this dish is it is cooked slowly in a heavy-bottomed pan and with a minimum of liquid, so it needs attention from time to time to check it isn't burning. If this happens, do not despair because by that time, usually the rest will be cooked. Do not on any account stir the cabbage, just remove the good from the bad carefully. If you have burnt cabbage at the bottom of the pan but the rest isn't fully cooked, then just remove all that is edible and add it to another pan with a little more butter.
For the Filling
A ¼ to a ½ of a fresh red cabbage (depending on size)
½ a cooking apple
½ a teaspoon of raw cane or coconut sugar
1 teaspoon of raw apple cider vinegar or you can make your own as we do by visiting Organikmechanic's Instructable: http://media.nbcmontana.com/Two-Ways-to-Make-Organic-Apple-Cider-Vinegar-in-a-/
A walnut-sized piece of butter.
Grate the cabbage, after first removing the thickest part of the white rib.
Chop the apple into small pieces.
Alternatively you can put both into a food processor.
Add the above along with the sugar, vinegar and butter to a heavy-bottomed pan.
Place on the lid and sauté until soft.
Leave to cool.
Prepare the pastry as before but this time I'm using the flower-shaped cutter.
Place one teaspoonful of the mixture on each base leaving a border to allow for a good seal when positioning the potato lid.
Make sure to press around the edges of the shape gently but firmly.
Cook for 10 to 15 minutes on the top shelf of the oven, but check after 5 minutes to make sure they're not cooking too quickly.
If they are, then move the tray down to the next level.
And there you have it - the versatile potato in the form of a mini pie or mazagran.
You can also prepare them in advance and freeze, so if you are having a party you'll still have time to get dressed and relax before the guests arrive!
So next time you're in a coffee shop, sipping a fancy ice drip coffee, think how much better it would be to have one of these tasty snacks, of the same name, to go with it!
Much love from Basse Normandie, where a hurricane is about to make landfall this evening, so hold onto your hats!
Runner Up in the
Potato Speed Challenge