Herbed Leek and “Green Cheese” Roll in Optional Butter Pastry
Darthenes are passionate about their dairy produce—as might be expected. It’s likely that they have the best and largest amount of cattle-friendly grazing acreage of any of the Four Realms, though Arlen would probably like to claim otherwise. The diets of Darthenes everywhere from the big cities down to little country holdings are full of dairy of all kinds, both fresh and (in innumerable ways) cured… and the happy holders of those Houses who manage lands adjacent to the midland Lamesten “highland” range have the best of both worlds.
During the events of Tales of the Five: The Landlady, Segnbora—while visiting some of her Holders close to the western Darst, in the Lamestens’ northern foothills—runs into this dish (among, as she complains, way too many others) at yet another “average” farmhouse dinner. As side dishes go, it’s exquisitely time-sensitive—depending on both the availability of tender early leeks sown around the first of Spring, and the family cow(s) also being in milk so that the green cheeses on which it’s based can be made in the first place. But then Segnbora, like all the rest of the tai-Enraesi, comes of a lucky line. So maybe it’s no surprise she arrived just in time to find this on the table… and made by one of those cooks who (as they say in Darthen) was visited in his cradle by the Goddess so that She could immediately shove a cooking spoon into his hand.
On the alternate Earth which we inhabit, a lot of us would quickly recognize this as a roulade of a very specific sort. With an outer layer based on flour and raised with soda or baking powder, it would be sort of a jelly roll… if (a) it was sweet instead of savory, and (b) if there was any jelly involved at all.
But there isn’t. This is a soft-spoken, leek-based, slightly cake-y wrapping for a filling that includes two kinds of “green” (i.e., fresh/unripened) cheese—a dry curd cheese similar to our everyday small-curd cottage cheese, and a cream cheese that exactly resembles the one most of us know. (Except that because cream in the Middle Kingdoms is routinely far superior to what’s commercially available in ours, their cream cheese is way better.)
The execution of this dish happens in two stages, which for reasons of food chemistry must occur fairly close together. First you bake the savory not-a-jelly-roll layer, roll it up and allow it to rest. Then you make the filling. After that you spread the filling on the “cake” layer, roll it up, and allow the whole business to chill before slicing. There is a third, entirely optional stage during which you can wrap individual slices up up in puff pastry and bake them, to the astonishment of any dinner guests. But whether matters ever progress this far is entirely up to you.
So, onward. We’ll mostly deal with the roll layer first. But here are the ingredients.
For the outer roll you’ll need:
- 0.75 cup / 135g all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- The outer green leaves and white of one leek, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon onion granules / onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 or 2 pinches of ground nutmeg
- 3 large egg whites (at room temperature); save the yolks, refrigerated of course, for something else
- 2-3 tablespoons white wine or whiskey
For the filling you’ll need:
- 8 ounces cream cheese (softened if it’s not the already soft kind. If I had proper “block Philly” to use in this, instead of the stuff that comes in tubs, that would be my preference. But does it even exist any more? I have no idea.)
- 8 ounces tvarog (if you’re lucky enough to have a central European grocery near you) or a similar dry-ish small-curd cottage cheese: sometimes sold as “farmer cheese” in North America
- 2-4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
- About 0.25 cup of the tender inner leaves of the aforementioned leek, finely chopped and sweated in butter until soft but not even slightly brown
- About 0.25 cup very finely chopped salad onion / scallion (if you can get red salad onions, as we can, so much the better; they make a nice contrast)
- 0.5 to 1 teaspoon coarse salt (Maldon is good: so is Kosher). Add the smaller amount first and taste-check to see if you need more.
So let’s take this in order, as the logistics of assembly on this dish can get a little busy.
Preheat your oven to 350º Fahrenheit, 175º C (or about 160º C if you’ve got a fan oven).
Line a 35cm x 25cm jelly roll pan (or similar cookie sheet with a raised edge) with baking parchment. (If you’re using a US-sized 10×15-inch pan, my advice to you would be that you increase all the ingredient-amounts for the cake layer above by about 1/4: otherwise you’re not going to have enough dough/batter to cover the pan’s area thickly enough. So, sort of a cup of flour, a teaspoon and a half of baking powder, and add a fourth egg white. Leave the seasonings the way they are.)
…Anyway: Let the lining parchment overlap the pan in all directions by at least 1-2 inches, to allow for easy lifting after this thing bakes. If you’ve got nonstick cooking spray, spritz the parchment with it. If you don’t, just butter (or margarine) it thinly. (Please note that oil won’t be of much use here: it’ll just bead up and complicate the business of getting the cake out of the pan later.)
Now leave the pan to its own devices and go deal with your leek. Chop the root-y bottom off it, leaving as much white as possible; bisect the leek the long way and unfurl it completely, leaf by leaf. Then chuck it all into a colander to be taken off to the nearest sink and well washed.
When this has happened, separate out the small pale tender leaves at the very inside. Chop these up by themselves until you’ve got about 0.3 cup of them or so. Put these into a little pot with a couple of tablespoons of butter—clarified butter is best—and sweat them down in the butter for some minutes until they look like they think they might be about ready to start going translucent. Then pull them off the heat and let them cool. The purpose of this exercise is to calm down the aggressive leek-ishness of their flavor a bit. If you don’t, they’ll dominate the taste of the filling in a way that some folks won’t like.
When this has been handled, go back to the rest of your washed leek and chop it into sort of 0.25-inch shreds. (I pulsed mine a few times in the Cuisinart/Magimix.) When that’s been done, in a medium-sized bowl, fork or whisk together the flour, baking powder, and dry seasonings: set this aside. In a big mixing bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer if you’ve got one, whip the egg whites to a point just before “soft-peak” turns into “stiff peak”. (Or go for “stiff peak” if you’re not sure about your ability to split the difference. The softer peak just makes this a little easier to handle.)
When the egg whites are ready, get your bowl of dry ingredients and stir the chopped leeks into them. (We’ve been putting this off until now since there may be some wetness associated with the leeks secondary to their washing… and the minute any moisture hits the baking powder, its raising action starts.) Then gently fold this whole mixture into the egg whites.
You should now have a very soft light dough. But look at this dough and ask yourself: does it look and feel soft enough to spread out easily in the baking pan? If you are in any doubt at all, add that white wine or whiskey, and stir it gently in. Normally milk or cream would do for this, but those would interfere with the chemistry of the egg whites a bit. …So, whiskey, or wine (the expansion of the alcohol flashing into steam also helps a little with the rise, and it’s going to burn right off after that…), or a little water.
Now spread this mixture gently into the prepared baking pan, right to the edges. Take your time, as it may try to slide around on the nonstick spray / butter. The dough layer may seem quite thin, but that’s all right as long as there are no obvious holes in it. Just spread it out gently with a blunt knife or spoon until, however thinly, the pan is filled edge to edge.
There’s one more thing that has to be handled at this stage. The baked “cake” layer will need to have a cloth made ready for you to roll it up in. Find a (non-loopy/not-terrycloth) dishtowel the size of your baking pan—linen’s best if you’ve got one, but cotton’s fine—and flour it very well, rubbing at least a few tablespoons of flour into it. Then, for decorative purposes, you might do what we did and lightly dust that flour with paprika. Or you could scatter some dried herbs over it if you liked.
When that’s sorted out: Assuming the oven’s ready for it now, slide in the filled baking pan and bake the contents for 10-12 minutes at 350F/175C (160-ish C for fan ovens), until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes up clean. You don’t want this to color much; keep an eye on it. The pic below shows how ours turned out.
When the baking period is complete, pull the pan out and let the roll-to-be rest for just a couple of minutes. Then (using a couple of broad icing knives if you have them: I used a pair of spaulas), having made sure the cake is completely loosened from its baking parchment, lift it out of the pan and place it on the floured cloth. (I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of the lifting process for you, or the rolling process following it. I was too busy being terrified that I’d screw up this step somehow.) Fold one end of the floured towel a little way over the end of the baked cake layer. Then, very gently, start rolling the cake inside the towel. There’s no need to try to do this tightly: just take your time and get it all rolled up.
When it’s all rolled, put it on a rack and let it cool completely. While that’s happening, it’s time to deal with the filling. You can hand-mix this or machine-mix this in a bowl, but (since I’m essentially a lazy creature) I did mine in the Cuisinart.
Mix together the cream cheese and the cottage cheese or tvarog. Add the chopped parsley, the chopped salad onions, the sweated leek-innards, and the salt. Taste-check the seasonings. If you think there’s something else it really needs that would make you happy—lemon pepper, smoked paprika, world peace—add it by all means. When you’ve got the filling the way you want it, set it aside until it’s time for the next step.
As soon as your outer roll is completely cooled, very gently unroll and flatten it, and spread it with the filling. Gently roll it up again—compactly, but not squashing it—and lay it seam-side down on a plate. Put the plate in the fridge and let it chill down for at least half an hour (and a couple of hours would be better) before attempting to slice it.
…So you can serve it now, with a green salad on the side, perhaps… or with other accompaniments of your choice. For example, if you were to lay a slice or so of smoked salmon or lox over this, the Goddess would hardly come down from broad Heaven to reprimand you. (In fact, as Herself is known to have a weakness for good food, you’d best have an extra serving ready for Her—as most Kingdoms people do at meals; because a guest might show up, and of course the guest will be Her. And She’s known for showing up with an appetite…)