Leonidas' Crunchy Almond Cigars

Almond Cigars.jpg

Photo by Aglaia Kremezi

My late cousin loved sweets, but had high cholesterol and avoided butter and eggs. Based on the syrup-drenched, rolled baklava, he created these wonderfully simple, crunchy, almond and lemon phylo rolls that are a light and healthy substitute for cookies. He used to bring them as his contribution to our festive lunches and dinners, and he was proud to share the recipe with the many who asked for it.

See below for a variation that yields savory almond rolls.

Makes about 85 pieces.

1/2 pound almonds (not skinned)
1/4 -1/3 cup sugar (according to your taste)
Zest of 3 non-treated lemons, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pound phylo, at room temperature
Light olive oil, to brush the phylo
Lemon liqueur or brandy, to sprinkle the rolls
Confectioner's sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 F (180 C).

Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and toast very lightly, for about 5 minutes, tossing once, until fragrant. Keep the oven on.

Grind in batches -- not very fine, but not too coarse either.

In a bowl mix together the almonds with the sugar, zest, and cinnamon.

Spread parchment paper on two baking sheets.

kremezi cigars collage.jpg

Photos by Aglaia Kremezi

With a good chef's knife cut the long phylo roll into 4 equal smaller rolls. Unroll one piece to a long ribbon, and cut into 4 equal phylo rectangles. Place 2 pieces of phylo, one on top of the other, and oil the top very lightly with the tip of your finger. With a heaping teaspoon of the almond mixture, form a line on the bottom half of the longer side of the phylo rectangle, leaving about 1/2 inch space at the bottom and on either side. Roll, like a cigar, to enclose the filling. Lightly oil the finished roll and place on the baking sheet, seam-side down. Continue rolling the rest of the phylo. You will fill both trays.

Bake the two sheets together for about 10 minutes, until light golden, changing their position after 6 minutes.

Let cool a bit, then sprinkle the cigars with just a few drops of lemon liqueur or brandy. Dust with confectioner's sugar. Let cool completely and store in airtight boxes. If you manage to resist, they will keep for a week, at least.

Savory Almond Rolls

Instead of sugar, add 1 1/2 cups grated hard myzithra, or parmesan cheese, to the almond mixture. Omit the cinnamon, and add 2-3 teaspoons Aleppo or Marras pepper, or plenty of freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

If you like, brush the finished rolls with milk, and sprinkle with sesame seeds and Fleur de Sel, before baking.