Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Baklava Lesson

There is a family joke about baklava. Five years ago we were in Colorado Springs for the holidays and my sister-in-law (not the short one) made baklava for dessert. We were all salivating over it and when it came time to serve it, she attempted to cut it with a knife. No go. The pastry was rock solid. After many attempts, the electric knife was used to saw the baklava into serving portions. Needless to say, she has not lived that down. So this trip, when Brilliant Daughter reminded her about it, Gracious Aunt offered to teach her how to make it…properly this time.

The family recipe came from Grandma Julie, Mr. B and Gracious Aunt’s Lebanese grandmother (a tiny little spitfire of a woman who made cooking large feasts look easy). This version differs from the Greek baklava in that it does not use honey, but a simple syrup with orange blossom water that is boiled to the soft ball stage. This makes it slightly less sweet, but yields the same flaky dough and sugary goodness that we love.

There are a few tricks to making baklava:

· Do not use a glass pan. Do not use a dark roasting pan. Use a light nonstick or ceramic pan.

· Using a 9”x13” pan requires that you cut the phyllo to size prior to using. Just place the bottom of your pan on top of the sheets and cut off any excess. You can use a slightly larger pan that will accommodate the full phyllo sheets, but make sure that it is high enough so that the syrup won’t run out.

· The phyllo leaves or sheets dry out very easily, so you need to keep them between dampened tea towels (of the cotton or flourcloth variety)

· It is traditional to clarify the butter that you use on the phyllo, but you can omit this step (and decrease the amount of butter you use)

· The walnuts need to be ground, but not too fine. You don’t want a paste on your hands, you just want very small pieces.

· Once assembled, you must cut the baklava into its traditional diamond shapes BEFORE putting it in the oven.

Don’t be intimidated by this recipe. It is really very simple and does not require any fancy tools. I use a plain old paintbrush that I keep only for pastry dishes to brush the butter on the phyllo leaves. The orange blossom water is available in liquor stores, Whole Foods, and most international markets.

Grandma Julie’s Baklava

1 1/2 cups ground walnuts

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 box phyllo dough

1 1/2 cups butter, melted*


1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

¾ cup water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons orange flower water

*or 2 cups of butter, melted then clarified

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pull phyllo out of the box and place on damp tea towel. Cover with a second damp tea towel. Mix sugar and walnuts and set aside.

Brush a 9” x 13” pan with some of the melted butter. Place one layer of phyllo dough in the pan. Brush with butter. Continue to layer dough and butter until half of the phyllo leaves are used. Sprinkle evenly with the walnut/sugar mixture. Continue to layer with phyllo and butter until all the leaves are used. Pour any remaining butter over the whole pan. Cut rows diagonally in one direction and then diagonally in the other direction to make diamond shapes. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until well browned and crispy.

Forty-five minutes after putting pan in oven, begin the syrup. Mix all ingredients in saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook until 235-240 degrees on a candy thermometer or until it reaches the soft ball stage. Remove from heat.

Remove baklava from oven and pour the syrup evenly over all. It will sputter and bubble. Take care not to splash yourself with the hot syrup. Return pan to oven for 10 minutes.

Let cool thoroughly before re-cutting the baklava and serving.

Cutting the baklava before baking
Making the syrup
Pouring syrup onto baked baklava

1 comment:

Chef Kate said...

Love how you made this in a Pampered Chef stoneware piece! Stoneware really makes a difference!!!