Saturday, April 3, 2010

How to Make Baklava

"Baklava is a dessert of Turkish origin, dating from the fifteenth century, today popular also in Greece and throughout the Middle East.  Layered with nuts and drenched in sugar syrup or honey, it is the best known of all the phyllo pastries.
In Greece it was originally an Easter specialty, made with 40 layers of pastry representing the 40 days of Lent."              from The Joy of Cooking, pg. 918

Good enough reason for us to make it; that and it's supremely nummiful.  It's also a bit fiddly, as you will see.

Before beginning any recipe, it is important to assemble all your ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Butter the bottom and sides of a 13 x 9 - inch baking pan.  (Oooops - forgot to butter the pans.  Oh well.  We don't have a 13 x 9 pan, so we used two 8 x 8 pans, unbuttered...)

Finely chop or coarsely grind:
3 cups coarsly chopped nuts (walnuts, pistachios, almonds, and/or pecans), toasted.

We used red millet, canary seed, white proso millet, oat greats, safflower seeds, nyjer seed, buckwheat, 1/2 cup sesame seeds, 1 1/4 cup walnuts, 1 1/4 cup pistachios.

Stir together in a small bowl:
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (ooops - no lemon.  Skip that ingredient)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter (it wasn't enough)

Stack flat on a work surface:
1 pound phyllo dough

(Or you may choose to make your own.  If you choose this arduous route, please give yourself an extra 4 hours and a glass of wine.)

Trim the phyllo into 13 x 9 - inch sheets (8x8, roughly) saving the scraps for another use (trash).  Cover the stack with plastic wrap and a damp towel.
Place 2 phyllo sheets in the baking pan and brush the top sheet evenly with the melted butter (or with nasal mucous, whatever you like).

Add 2 more sheets and brush with the butter, then repeat once more for a total of 6 sheets.  Sprinkle with half of the birdseed nuts and then half of the sugar mixture (since we were making two pans, we had to quarter these measurements as best we could).

Cover the filling with 2 phyllo sheets, butter the top sheet, and repeat until there are 6 sheets on top of the filling.  Cover with the remaining nuts and sugar mixture.
1/3 cup gruyere cheese

(This step is optional and may help to relieve the anxiety and/or frustration you will experience in handling the phyllo dough.)

Cover with all of the remaining phyllo sheets, adding them 2 at a time and buttering only the second sheet each time.  Brush the top with the remaining butter (there was none).

Using a sharp serrated knife so that the patry will not be crushed, cut through all of the layers  to make 2-inch diamonds or squares.

This is important because you will not be able to cut the baklava once it is baked without crushing the pastry; it also allows the syrup to soak in and around each piece (thereby ensuring maximum cavity production).  Bake for 30 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees.  Continue to bake until the baklava is golden brown, 46 to 60 minutes.  During the last 30 minutes of baking, combine in a saucepan:
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 1/3 cups water
1/3 cup honey
Zest of 1 orange, removed in large strips (a potato peeler did the trick.)

Bring the mixture to a gentle boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes.  Strain the hot syrup (let the fear of God enter you at this moment) and pour evenly over the baked baklava.  Let cool completely, at least 4 hours (HAH! Very funny!  Good luck on that one) at room temperature before serving.

Happy Easter and enjoy the Baklava with your favorite feathered friends.  You may now eat the gruyere.