Saturday, April 1, 2006

The baklava saga continues

Those who know me know that I tend to make baklava for special occassions. And last night was certainly one of those. My dear friend Natalie (not my wife, different Natalie) was born on April Fools Day, so there was a surprise party for her. Plus, she just got accepted to a PhD program in South Carolina. And, as it turns out, one of her all-time favorite dishes is baklava. So one had to be made. Unfortunately, I ended up being in a hurry, but if there's one thing I've managed to figure out how to work fast, it's phyllo dough.

The Athens brand that's so common comes with two rolls of dough, and one roll has the perfect amount for a baklava in a 13x9 Pyrex dish. I made a crushed nut mixture of equal parts walnuts, pecans and almonds... for a total of probably about 2 1/2 to 3 cups of crushed nuts. I also made a spice mixture of probably about a cup of sugar, a Tablespoon of ground cinnamon, a quarter teaspoon of ground allspice, and a pinch each of ground cloves and ground nutmeg.

Without getting into the nitty gritty of working with phyllo, I did a bottom layer of 6 sheets, each brushed with a combination of melted butter and Greek extra virgin olive oil (normally, I would just use butter, one stick is usually the perfect amount). I sprinkled just enough of the spice mixture to lightly coat, and then about a third of the nut mixture. Then I did a layer of 5 phyllo sheets, and repeated, until I had 3 nut layers and a phyllo layer on top. Then I cut the unbaked baklava into 3 x 4 squares, and then cut the squares into triangles. Into a preheated 350F oven until GBD (golded, brown and delicious, about 30 minutes, turning once).

While that baked, I combined 3/4 cup of white sugar, 1/2 cup of water, the zest and juice of a lemon and an orange, a cinnamon stick and 6 whole cloves in a saucepan, and brought to a simmer. After about 10 minutes, I added about 1/3 cup of honey and let simmer for another 5 minutes. Then I strained into a bowl and waited for the baklava to finish baking. As soon as the baklava came out, I poured the liquid over it, until it just looked wet. When you do this, it sizzles. A lot. Don't worry, it's all good. I ended up with plenty of reserve, maybe I'll use it as a base for wassail. Let rest for at least half an hour before serving.

This recipe was a bit of a departure from my norm. I don't usually use the juice from the lemon and the orange, but what was I supposed to do after adding just the zest? Let them rot in my fridge? I also usually use more white sugar, more water, and less honey. But this ended up being probably my best baklava to date, so I'm happy with it.

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