Once a month, we host a dinner party and go by some sort of theme. Tonight’s dinner theme is Greek foods. Nothing more fun, and yet I find, challenging than Greek foods. Why? I find many recipes require a lot of time spent in the kitchen. When I think of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” I recall the Mom in the kitchen quite often! “I make lamb.” She made me smile through that movie…
So, I took on my biggest challenge yet… Baklava. I think I have purposefully avoided creating this dessert as long as I can, and last night, I changed that. Was it daunting? No, not at all, but it was repetitive. I love bloggers who review this dessert and say, butter the phyllo and repeat! Ok, no big deal, right? Repeat? 40 times!! You see, there is a new love and respect I have for the baklava bakers out there who makes this dessert daily. I personally have no problem making a difficult dessert, but when something is repetitive, 40 times over, it pushes even my limits.
BUT, there is a reward at the end. The flavors, and the amount that is made! Think about it. When you go to a store to buy it, how much does a slice or two cost? In the end, the payoff is there!
My recipe is unique in that I combined two recipes from Fine Cooking and Closet Cooking. I liked what Fine Cooking had to offer in their choice of nut used and cinnamon mixture, and like Closet Cooking’s syrup recipe.
Ingredients for the phyllo squares/spice mix (courtesy of Fine Cooking):
- 1-lb. “twin pack” phyllo dough (two 8-oz. packs, each containing about twenty 9×14-inch sheets)
- 1 lb. unsalted shelled pistachios or almonds, preferably raw
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp. ground cardamom (or just use more cinnamon if you don’t have cardamom)
- 10 oz. (1-1/4 cups) unsalted butter
Ingredients for syrup (courtesy of Closet Cooking):
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 2 inch slice lemon peel
- 2 inch slice orange peel
- 3/4 cup honey
Directions from Fine Cooking:
Thaw the phyllo overnight in the refrigerator. Then put the phyllo box on the counter to come to room temperature, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.
Make the filling:
Put the pistachios, sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom in a food processor. Process until the nuts are finely chopped (the largest should be the size of small dried lentils), 15 to 20 seconds. Set aside.
Assemble the baklava:
Unfold one pack of the phyllo sheets and stack them so that they lie flat on your work surface. Cover the top with plastic wrap, letting some excess plastic fall over all four edges. Dampen and wring out a kitchen towel and drape it on top of the plastic wrap; this will hold the plastic in place and prevent the phyllo from drying out.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Brush the bottom of a 9×13-inch metal pan (preferably with straight sides and a light-color interior to prevent overbrowning on the edges) with some of the butter. Remove a sheet of phyllo from the stack, re-cover the rest (be sure to cover the remaining sheets each time you remove a new one), and put the sheet in the bottom of the pan.
Brush the sheet with some of the melted butter but don’t soak the phyllo (remember, you’ll have about 40 layers of buttered phyllo by the time you’re done). Repeat until you have layered and buttered about half the sheets from the first pack—about 10 sheets in all. If your pan has slightly angled sides, arrange the sheets so the excess falls on the same side of the pan and cut the extra off every few layers with a paring knife.
Sprinkle about one-third of the filling evenly over the phyllo.
Repeat layering and buttering the remaining sheets from the first pack and sprinkle on another third of the filling. Open, unfold, and cover the second pack of phyllo. Layer and butter it as described above, sprinkling the remaining filling after layering about half the phyllo, and ending with a final layer of phyllo (you may not need all of the butter). Cover loosely and put the pan of baklava in the freezer for 30 minutes (this makes it much easier to cut the pastry). Before baking, use a thin, sharp knife (I prefer serrated) and a gentle sawing motion to cut the baklava on the diagonal at 11/2-inch intervals in a diamond pattern. Try not to compress the pastry by pressing down on it with one hand while cutting with the other. Not only are you cutting serving portions, you are also cutting pathways for the flavored syrup to permeate the pastry, so be sure to cut the pastry all the way to the bottom of the pan. If you have an electric carving knife, this is the perfect time to use it.
Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes until top is golden brown.
Create the syrup while baklava is baking. Directions from Closet Cooking is listed below:
Bring the water, sugar, cinnamon, lemon and orange to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the honey and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove the cinnamon, and peals from the syrup. Pour the syrup over the baklava when it comes out of the oven. Let the baklava cool for a few hours.
This recipe is often better if made the day before so the syrup can set in.