Baklava. And a story.

Posted on April 3, 2013

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Folks,

At this point, you are very aware that the name of my blog is not just a clever tagline, but gets to the heart of what happens around here.

In sharing this incredible baklava recipe with you today—what I would consider a success of plucking and choosing what I liked best about two recipes, and creating something new for our Easter celebration with friends–I’m reminded of the worst (most disastrous) recipe I’ve made in all my years. This was a bacon baklava intended for Easter 2011 celebrations with dear friends. It was literally inedible, and made me choke and gag and lament the waste of bacon as I left the blackened ick to mold in the pan…I was not blogging at the time (yet!) and didn’t have any desire to take a picture by way of remembrance, so you just have to take my word for it, but my husband will also gladly vouch for the disaster that it was (He’s my biggest cheerleader but also my fiercest critic when need be. Which may or may not be often.)

So, on to 2013…

Food Network had this brilliant recipe found by specifying “rose water” in my baklava search…

Last year I was soo excited about combining two different imperfect recipes, to make a new, third, very excellent (my eaters can vouch for it!) baklava. BUT, unfortunately for me, in the haste of my many other preparations, it didn’t get documented in the moment so now it is lost to posterity. This year in the name of simplicity (yes, laugh if you want, but I’m really trying to make it easier on myself and my family–the tagline of this easter is–I want to be able to take a nap between brunch and our afternoon guests…) I wanted to just follow a recipe without lots of mental chef gymnastics.

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*I’m truly shocked at how many different kinds of baklava recipes are out there in the world! I kid you not I saw some that called for zwieback crackers in them!? Seriously? And I’m not out to make a walnut cinnamon tart–if I wanted to do that, I wouldn’t call it baklava. Rosewater is also a must for me–and thankfully there are many middle eastern grocers around me in Brooklyn so procuring it was not an issue.*

For the filling:
1 (5-inch piece) cinnamon stick, broken into 2 to 3 pieces or 2 teaspoons ground
15 to 20 whole allspice berries, or ground allspice 1-2 tsp

1/2 tsp nutmeg…I love it so I probably put in a bit more…
6 ounces almonds–they said blanched but I think whole is fine…
6 ounces walnuts
6 ounces pistachios
2/3 cup sugar (I used a touch less, just because)
1/4 cup water
3/4 teaspoon rose water
1 pound phyllo dough, thawed
8-12 ounces clarified unsalted butter, melted. If you’re a vigorous phyllo dougher like me, see notes below, you may use up to 12 oz–and your hips will not thankyou…but see other note below about a mid-recipe run!
For the syrup:
1 1/4 cups honey

1 1/4 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 (2-inch) piece fresh orange peel (can use more if you desire)

1/4 tsp rosewater

Oven needs to be at 350.

Prep the nuts by tossing them all in a food processor, with sugar and spices and pulsing/blending until chopped coarsely but not too fine.

Reserve a small amount (1/4 cup at most) of nuts mixture for the garnishment on top!

Combine the water and rose water in a small spritz bottle and set aside.

Here’s the DL on the phyllo layering>I hate how recipes will be long, wordy and redundant when it comes to these instructions, so here’s my remix of the instructions–hope you enjoy!

Butter bottom/sides of 9 by 13 pan

Trim phyllo sheets to be same size.

10 layers of butter/phyllo/butter.

1/3 nut mixture.

Spritz nuts generously with rosewater bottle.

6 layers phyllo/butter.

1/3 nuts.

6 layers phyllo/butter.

1/3 nuts.

8 layers phyllo/butter. More butter on top layer.

Voila, see so much clearer and so many less words.

Also, I think pastry brushes are really overrated. I find the tender phyllo responds much better to fingers laden w melted butter, scooping and spreading, maybe using a spoon to bring it on to each layer initially if you don’t want to be like this butter-slingin mamma that ended up with butter on her pregnant belly to show for it.

Cook for 30 min. Then take out, cut, and put back into oven for another 20 min. Yes, this sounds like too much cooking, but it did work for me…and cutting helps all the layers get crispy.

Cool for 2 hrs. I recommend going on a run during this time, especially because of how many calories are in this baby. See, I’m still healthy maddy even though i’m making pastries…

In last 3o min of those 2 hrs, prep the syrup by combining all ingredients in saucepan on high, bringing to a boil, stirring occasionally (try not to let yours boil over like mine did!?) for 10 minutes. Then take off the heat for about 3 minutes, removing peel and stick from syrup, before slowly glazing your lovely baklava squares. Do this in phases, giving the syrup time to sink in. Remember to also sprinkle the last bit of nuts on top for effect, glazing over them to hold them in place when serving. Try to find a small helper for this part of the recipe–makes it alot more fun…

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Then you let it cool, and try to leave it alone for an overnight…! Good luck. But a great Holy Saturday (pre-Easter) dish for that reason.

*My poor husband came in from a grocery run to find the stove top covered in honey/sugar/water caramelized mixture. He said to me–I really love that you cook, and it’s amazing stuff, but why is it that every time there has to be an epic mess involved? Quotable. He went to work cleaning it while I moved on to probably another recipe. Wow. That’s love.*

And I wanted to share with ya’ll the Easter significance of this dish, so google helped me out.

This masterpiece of a dessert has been claimed by many eastern cultures and religions throughout the years. See more here. Because of the aphrodisiac character of the ingredients–pistachios, honey, cinnamon, cloves etc–it was loved by Sultans and their harems, as well as wealthy families. But it was generally served on religious feasts due to it’s sweetness/rich ingredients, thus for Christians Easter and Christmas, and for Muslims Ramadan…even Jews apparently will make it for Rosh Hashannah, Purim, etc. Cool. Who knew? But apparently Christians are supposed to make it with 40 layers to symbolize the 40 days of lent–so that was a fail on my part 🙂

Don’t be intimidated by the phyllo–it’s actually quite simple. Maybe I should say–have courage. I too was once intimidated…and clearly failed at it a couple times…but it’s soo worth perfecting and being confident with in my humble O.

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A very blessed Pascha, or Passover, or whatever it is you’re celebrating these days.

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