Last weekend my in-laws came to New York for a visit and we went back in time. During a blustery afternoon walk near the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, we stumbled on the most magical of places. A tiny brick house, complete with a sharply pitched roof, weathered wooden door, and enchanting vines creeping down from the window box above. Hidden amid the sleek glass buildings of Tribeca, it looked miraculously unchanged since the 1800s. Charming doesn’t even begin to describe it. We investigated a bit further. You’ll never guess what it turned out to be: a rare cookbook shop!
The shop was tiny and crammed full of strange and wonderful finds. I made my way through the shelves and cases and prints to the Jane Grigson section. I highly recommend Jane Grigson. She was a British food writer and a bit of a snob in the best possible way. I opened the gorgeous old American edition of Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book and happened to flip right to an entry in her glossary for coconut cream. It reads: “available in cans and apparently used in this country primarily for making pina coladas.” Can’t you just hear her muttering “Americans” with a smile and a judgmental shake of the head? I love her. I wanted to buy the book but was shocked by the price. That’s when my father-in-law John said “Merry Christmas!” and bought it for me.
With Ms. Grigson by my side, I’ve been feeling pretty confident. I’m almost tempted to seek out some whortleberries and arbutus. Her tone has that kind of bolstering effect. So much so that I even bought some persimmons without fear. Jane will help me figure this out, I thought.
Persimmons are my fruit nemesis. The first and last time I baked with them was a disaster. I had spent a fortune on beautiful fruit. I had visions of a glorious oaty jam bar with persimmon compote. Arrogant me. I thought I could just grab anything at the supermarket and make something tasty. Not so. The sweet persimmons cooked down into a disgusting, astringent mess in the pot. I threw out the lot and swore off baking with persimmons.
But they’re so pretty. And now I have Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book. So the other day I brought 3 gorgeous fruits home, positive that Jane could teach me a thing or two. Together we’d make something delicious. I turned to the index, then turned to the persimmon page. But while her 500-page book includes an essay on persimmons, she does not include one recipe. (Hamburg Eel Soup, on the other hand, well, that’s covered in full.) Jane does say in her persimmon essay that she has tried American-style persimmon puddings and doesn’t like “their heavy sadness.” Uh-oh. On my own again. I planned to tuck some poached fruit into buttery puff pastry. One batch of vanilla-poached persimmons turned out beautifully! But then the next batch remained gross and astringent. So now it’s official. Persimmons are mean and tricky.
What to do with all of this beautiful homemade puff pastry? I dug around and found a bunch of leftover cream cheese nubbins in the fridge, some long-forgotten hazelnut flour from the freezer, and a box of dried currants. And that’s how these currant and hazelnut pinwheels came to be. They’re a cross between pain aux raisin and rugelah, and they’re quite tasty. I’m feeling pretty good about myself, no thanks to Jane. What is it they say about necessity? It’s the mother of Hamburg Eel Soup.
You can grind skinned hazelnuts in a food processor to make flour if you don't have the ready made stuff handy.
For the cream:
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup (2 1/4 ounces) hazelnut flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large egg yolk
pinch kosher salt
one recipe quick puff pastry
flour, for dusting
1 cup dried currants
granulated sugar, for sprinkling
For the glaze (optional):
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 to 4 tablespoons milk
1. Prepare the cream: In a medium bowl, beat together the sugar, cream cheese, and hazelnut flour until smooth and creamy. Add the cornstarch, cinnamon, egg yolk, and salt and beat just until combined.
2. Cut the puff pastry dough in half. Wrap one half and refrigerate while working with the other half.
3. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to a 10-inch square. Use an offset spatula to spread half of the cream cheese mixture evenly over the dough. Sprinkle evenly with 1/2 cup of the currants. Roll the dough up into a neat coil. Wrap the coil and refrigerate until firm, about 30 to 1 hour. Repeat with the remaining dough, cream cheese mixture, and currants.
4. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Working with one coil at a time, using a serrated knife cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. Place 6 pieces on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cut side down. Place 6 pieces on another sheet. Using your fingers, work the top of each coil open slightly. (See the picture above.) You just want to give the dough some space so that when it puffs, it doesn’t push the filling out. Sprinkle each piece generously with sugar. Bake until puffed and golden brown, rotating the sheets halfway through, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining coil.
5. Prepare the glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk together the cream cheese and the confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Add enough milk to make a pourable glaze. Drizzle the baked wheels with glaze, if you like. These guys are best eaten the day they’re baked.