Baklava

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Baklava, a crispy, nutty, syrupy treat, is enjoyed in a number of countries across the Middle East, Central Asia and the Mediterranean, with a few variations by region. Making it isn't difficult, but perhaps slightly time consuming. The end result is well-worth the effort and far fresher and better than any pre-made baklava that I've had. The layered phyllo dough sheets are buttered and interlaced with nuts and are baked first without any syrup. Once baked, the baklava is soaked in syrup for several hours, so be sure to make it earlier in the day or the day before serving.


Baklava is typically very sweet, with the syrup loaded with sugar, so that people will rarely brave more than one piece. In this recipe, I made the syrup using dark brown sugar and a bit of lemon juice, along with honey. The end result is slightly less sweet, with the taste of honey more prominent.


When purchasing your nuts be sure they are not salted (I had a hard time finding unsalted roasted pistachios). Chopped pistachios also make a great garnish by creating a nice contrast if you sprinkle a few bits on top.


Baklava
(Makes enough for one 9x13 inch dish)

You will need

For the dough:
2 cups chopped walnuts and pistachios, plus more pistachios for garnish
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 lb frozen phyllo dough (containing 40 sheets)
2 sticks unsalted butter (1/2 cup)
9x13 inch baking dish
Pastry brush

For the syrup:
1/2 cup wildflower or orange blossom honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup water
Juice of 1/2 lemon (about 1 1/2 tbsp)
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions:
1. Defrost phyllo dough according to package instructions (usually a few hours on a counter or overnight in a refrigerator). Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Chop nuts on a cutting board until finely chopped (1/8 inch pieces or less), or grind them in a coffee grinder until coarse. Mix nuts with cinnamon, coriander and cardamom and set aside.
3. Melt butter in a saucepan until liquid. Remove dough from packaging and lay it on a parchment paper. Trim the dough so that it will fit in your baking dish. Cover the dough with another parchment paper so it will not dry out. Brush the bottom of your pan with butter lightly.
3. Working quickly, lay one sheet of phyllo dough into your baking dish, brush it lightly with butter. Place another sheet on top and brush with butter. Repeat until you have 8 sheets. Sprinkle about 1/4 of the nuts in a thin single layer, then cover with one sheet of phyllo dough and brush with butter. Repeat, until you have 8 sheets, then top with 1/3 of the remaining nuts. Repeat again, layering 8 sheets brushed with butter, then topping it with 1/2 of the remaining nuts. Repeat with another layer of 8 buttered sheets, and top with remaining nuts. Cover with remaining 8 sheets, brushing each with butter.  With a sharp knife, cut your baklava lengthwise and crosswise on a diagonal to have about 32 pieces. Bake in the oven for 1 hour until golden brown.
4. To make the syrup, combine honey, brown sugar, and water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Whisk in the cinnamon and lemon juice. Simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
5. Once baked, remove the baklava from the oven and pour the syrup evenly over it. You will hear baklava crackling; this is good. Sprinkle each baklava piece with a few chopped pistachios. Set aside for about 4 hours or overnight for the syrup to become fully absorbed (you should leave it uncovered at least for a few hours). Serve and enjoy. Baklava can be stored at room temperature covered with parchment paper for several days.

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