My late cousin Leonidas loved sweets, but he had health problems that meant he had to avoid butter and eggs. At some point, inspired by rolled baklava, he created these wonderfully simple, vegan crunchy, almond, and lemon phyllo rolls.
They are more like cookies than a real dessert dish, but they are dangerously addictive.
Leonidas used to bring them to our festive lunches and dinners, and he was proud to share the recipe with anyone who asked—and most people did. See at the bottom my savory variation, with cheese.
Makes about 85 pieces
1/2 pound (225 g) almonds, with skins
1/4 to 1/3 cup (50 to 65 g) sugar, to taste
Zest of 3 untreated lemons, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pound (455 g) phyllo, at room temperature (defrosted according to package directions)
Olive oil, for brushing the phyllo
Lemon liqueur or brandy, for sprinkling the rolls
Confectioner’s sugar, for serving
Preheat the oven to 375˚F (190°C).
Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and toast very lightly, tossing once, until just fragrant, about 8 minutes. Keep the oven on. Grind the almonds, neither too finely nor too coarsely—they should be the consistency of coarse bulgur. In a bowl, mix the almonds with the sugar, lemon zest, and cinnamon.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
With a good chef’s knife, before removing the plastic wrap from the phyllo packaging, cut the phyllo roll into 4 equal, smaller rolls.
Unroll one of the pieces. You will have a long stack of sheets. Cut the stack into 4 equal rectangles. Remove the top 2 rectangles of phyllo and keep the rest covered with plastic wrap so the phyllo doesn’t dry out. Oil the top phyllo layer lightly with the tip of your finger.
Spread a line of the almond mixture, about a heaping teaspoon’s worth, 1/2 inch (12 mm) from the bottom of the long side of the rectangle, leaving about 1/2 inch (12 mm) free on either side. Roll up the phyllo as if it were a cigar to enclose the filling, oiling the phyllo with your finger as you roll. Place the “cigar” on the baking sheet, seam side down.
Continue stuffing and rolling double rectangle sheets of phyllo the same way. You will fill both trays.
Bake the cigars in the preheated oven, rotating the trays after about 8 minutes. They should cook for about 15 minutes total, until light golden.
Let cool a few minutes, then sprinkle the cigars with a few drops of lemon liqueur or brandy and dust with confectioners’ sugar.
Let cool completely and store in airtight boxes. In the unlikely event that you manage to resist the allure of the cigars, they will keep for at least 1 week.
Savory Almond and Cheese “Cigars”
Enjoy this addictive finger food, which is an ideal accompaniment as an aperitif with drinks. Instead of sugar, add 1 1/2 cups (150 g) grated hard Myzithra or Parmesan cheese to the almond mixture. Omit the cinnamon and add 2 to 3 teaspoons Aleppo pepper or freshly ground black pepper, to taste, and proceed as above. If you like, for a savory crust, brush the finished rolls with milk and sprinkle with sesame seeds and fleur de sel before baking.