Small, Good Things: Victory, Snatched from Defeat

(Turkish Eggs in Yogurt 
with Butter-Pepper Sauce)

(Turkish Eggs in Yogurt 
with Butter-Pepper Sauce)

I was on fire, having cracked the code — or so I thought.

Ever since my neighbor returned from Copenhagen bearing a gift of kardemommesnegel (cardamom snails), from an apparently unbelievable Danish-Japanese Andersen Bakery, I was determined to replicate the sweet, perfumed and buttery-crispy pastry — a true Danish — redolent of more freshly cracked cardamom than international law likely allows.

I found a convincing but convoluted recipe. Gathering the green cardamom pods, I recruited the neighbor and her visiting daughter to help crack and extract about five tablespoons of seeds for the dough, filling, glaze and topping.

Borrowing a massive KitchenAid mixer and cleaning off my rarely used marble pastry slab, I assembled the other ingredients — three types of sugar (dark brown, light brown, granulated), vanilla bean paste, flour, yeast, milk and butter (lots of butter) — to make the laminated pastry dough. In short order, my humble farmhouse kitchen became a well-organized pastry kitchen. My mise en place was a thing of awesome beauty and pride.

I practiced twisting and curling the snail shapes with Play-Doh. I was ready.

On Tuesday, the day of reckoning, the dough was proofed and laminated repeatedly. And although the cardamom, butter and sugar filling seemed scant by weight, shaping went smoothly. One last proof of the snegel and into the oven they went.

The smell was intoxicating. Because they weren’t turning the expected mahogany brown, I left the snegel in the oven longer than specified, but otherwise my confidence ran high. After being pulled from the oven and glazed and dusted with more cardamom and sugar, the pastries cooled just long enough for me not to burn my delicate palate.

But something was off, besides the color. Salt? More salt was needed, and much more cardamom. But something far more serious was off. The flakiness was missing. This wouldn’t do.

A quick consult followed with my guru culinaire, who had more experience, and Time-Life’s The Cooking of Scandinavia. The recipe for Danish pastry dough required probably twice as much butter and over two days’ worth of intermittent laminating and proofing. My spirit flagged, and my eyes started to roll.

It occurred to me, as well, that this recipe hardly qualifies as small or good in any cardiac or caloric way, and I started to feel guilty about sharing it.

Then my eyes fell on an additional recipe my adviser sent as a personal aside and I decided to present that as a kinder, gentler and humbler (not to mention faster) suggestion for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Çilbir (pronounced chil-burr) is a criminally simple Turkish dish of accessible ingredients that make an unexpected statement. The eggs are typically poached, but after all that laminating, frying seemed so much easier and satisfying and was all I could manage after my crushing defeat.

I’ll get back to you about the “snails.”

(Turkish Eggs in Yogurt with Butter-Pepper Sauce)

Serves 2

  • 1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt, at room temperature
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
  • Zest of ½ lemon, grated
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper (substitute ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes plus ¾ teaspoon smoked paprika)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, chives, mint or other herb (or combination), minced, for garnish
  • Warm crusty bread or flatbread to serve

1. Prepare the yogurt base: In a small bowl, stir together the yogurt and garlic. Add dill and lemon zest; stir to combine and season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide the yogurt between two shallow bowls; use a spoon to spread it evenly and create a divot in the center for the eggs.

2. For the sauce, heat butter and olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. When foam subsides, add Aleppo pepper and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Season with salt and pepper to taste, remove from heat while the eggs cook.

3. Poach (poaching is the traditional method) or fry the eggs. Re-warm the sauce if necessary. When the eggs are done place them on top of the yogurt. Top with the pepper sauce, garnish with herbs and serve with warmed bread or flatbread.

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