Baklava sweet treat to make at home
Baklava is a flaky, nutty, sweet dessert from the Middle East. I first encountered it in Lebanese restaurants and now know that it has been a long-time favourite in countries that neighbour Lebanon.
Some sources say that it — or its predecessor — originated in Assyria in about the eighth century BCE. Its place in the culture of Turkey shows up in accounts such as this one that I read in Jacques L. Rolland’s “The Cook’s Essential Kitchen Dictionary”. Rolland describes the Baklava Processions, which began in the late 17th or early 18th century. On the 15th day of Ramadan (the ninth month of the Lunar calendar) each year, the elite Janissary troops in Istanbul marched in full regalia to the Topkapi palace, where each regiment received two trays of baklava as a gift from the Sultan. The baklava was then hung in sheets of cloth from a pole and paraded back to the troops’ quarters.
Baklava consists of layers of finely chopped nuts, enveloped in crisp phyllo pastry and soaked in sweet syrup. The nut filling can be made from walnuts, almonds or pistachios, either by themselves or enriched with other ingredients, and the syrup is lemon-spiked honey or sugar water.
Various types of Middle Eastern pastries are identified by their characteristic shapes, and baklava is usually cut into diamonds or triangles. The prepared dish is cut into diamonds before it’s cooked and separated into pieces after baking. Note that the recipe that follows is not cut into the traditional shapes, but shaped into a circular coil that is cut into narrow wedges.
I was a little nervous when making baklava for the first time over the holidays. Surprisingly, I found it easier than making pies; this may reflect my poor piemaking skills and won’t be true for everyone.
Use frozen phyllo pastry — available at larger grocery stores — to make this dish and cover sheets with a damp towel after opening the package. The sheets of pastry are thin and break easily if allowed to dry out, but they are no trouble to work with if you kept them damp.
I had some of the nut filling left after filling the springform pan as directed and used it and some of the remaining sheets of phyllo to make diamond-shaped baklava in a rectangular baking dish.
Honey Nut Baklava Roll
Adapted from The Canadian Living Test Kitchen: “The International Collection: Home-Cooked Meals From Around the World”. Transcontinental Books, Montreal, 2011. 175 mL (¾ cup) butter 10 sheets phyllo pastry
Filling: 375 mL (1½ cups) chopped walnut halves 150 mL ( cup) slivered dried apricots 75 mL ( cup) chopped almonds 75 mL ( cup) chopped pistachios 50 mL (¼ cup) fresh bread crumbs, toasted 25 mL (2 tbsp) granulated sugar 5 mL (1 tsp) cinnamon pinch ground cloves
Syrup 150 mL ( cup) granulated sugar 125 mL (½ cup) liquid honey 1 strip zest 1 cinnamon stick 15 mL (1 tbsp) lemon juice
Filling: Stir together walnuts, apricots, almonds, pistachios, bread crumbs, sugar, cinnamon and cloves; set aside.
Syrup: In saucepan, bring 250 mL (1 cup) water, sugar, honey, lemon zest and cinnamon to boil, stirring. Reduce heat and boil gently until syrupy, about 12 minutes. Stir in lemon juice; simmer for 1 minute. Let cool. In small saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Skim off foam; pour clear melted butter into bowl, leaving milky liquid in pan. Place 1 sheet of the phyllo on work surface, covering remainder with damp towel to prevent drying out. Brush sheet with butter. Top with second sheet; brush with butter. Spread generous 125 mL (½ cup) of the filling along 1 long edge; roll up and fit around edge of greased 2.5 L (9 inch) springform pan. Repeat with remaining pastry, butter and filling until pan is full, coiling rolls around edge of pan, then in spiral toward centre, and pressing firmly to form compact rounds. Brush with butter. Place on 30 cm (12 inch) pizza pan. Bake in a 180 C (350 F) oven until phyllo is golden and crisp, about 40 minutes. Remove from oven; pour syrup over coil. Let cool on pan on rack, pouring any syrup that leaks onto pan over coil. (Make-ahead: cover and store at room temperature for up to 24 hours.) Makes 16 servings. Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.