Saturday, February 26, 2011


Xkunvat knot
It all started with a project...and a book.

The project: a presentation for my Maltese Culture class about our ideas on modifying a traditional recipe.

The book: The way we ate a wonderful book about traditional Maltese recipes by Matty Cremona.

Inside this lovely and insightful book, I met a recipe I had never seen before. Xkunvat - a traditional, festive pastry which was prepared for carnival and the 'quccija'  (a baby's first birthday party). It is actually a pastry, prepared with Anisette liquer and deep fried... then drizzled with honey and sprinkled with hundreds & thousands.
Xkunvat pillows

The whole thing caught my interest, because carnival is coming up soon, so it is a good time to discuss this seasonal recipe. I also hate the above mentioned hundreds & thousands... hate them with passion. There is no way I am putting them on anything I cook. I see them as being a children's thing, while the Anisette in the pastry definitely makes this sweet and adult item. So the challenge was to make this sweet look festive, with a more adult oriented look.

I thought about using coloured sugar or of colouring the pastry itself... but I doubt that would have made them look adult like at all.
Xkunvat pillows

In the end, I settled on mixture of lemon & orange zest with some red apple peel to add colour.

Now, on to the taste. By following the recipe, the dough smelt wonderful and I had to try a pinch (raw). It had a very lovely anisette taste with a hint of the orange blosson water. It promised to be good. The pastry was also really easy to work with and it was fun trying to create shapes and origami out of the dough. (the dough puffs up upon cooking - so none of the lovely creations were saved :-D )

Unfortunately, I was disappointed after deep frying them. I am not saying they were not good. Drizzled with honey, they tasted quite similar to 'imqaret'. The problem was, I could not taste the Anisette anywhere! And I had used half a cup of the liquid!!

So conclusion - I will make these again, but will substitute some of the Anisette for more orange blossom water, and some water, to make the dough. I will then make a sauce out of the Anisette and some honey in order to preserve the Anisette taste in the sweet.

Original recipe can be found on the Taste magazine web site. My modified recipe below.

Traditional Xkuvat shape

Xkunvat (Modified recipe):

  • 200g of flour
  • 25g of butter
  • one egg-yolk
  • one heaped tablespoonful of sugar
  • 2 + 2 tbsps Anisette
  • 2 tbsps orange blossom water
  • about 1/2 cup water
  • oil for deep frying
  • honey
  • zest of one orange
  • zest of one lemon
  • finely chopped peel of red apple 

  1. Rub the butter into the flour until sandy
  2. Stir in the egg-yolk, sugar, 2 tbsp Anisette and the orange blossom water.
  3. Knead briefly and slowly add enough water to make a smooth dough.
  4. Wrap dough and allow it to rest for 30 minutes
  5. Roll out dough very thinly and cut it into strips with a pastry-wheel. You can also cut into small squares to create cute little pillows. Also knot 3 or 4 thin strips together for another fun shape.
  6. Bring clean oil to the boil.
  7. Roll up the strips and drop them into the oil. The roll will open up and twist.
  8. Once golden, remove immediately. Do not allow to brown.
  9. Drain them on paper to remove excess oil.
  10. In the mean time, mix honey with the anisette in a bowl.
  11. Pile the cooled up pastry on a plate. At this stage, you can add a light powdering of icing sugar, to create a better contrast with the fruit peel
  12. Drizzle with the honey/Anisette mixture and scatter the rinds and peel for a festive look, and an even better taste.

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