• Fri, Dec 8 2006

Baklava / Baqlawa

Responding to a request here for Baklava / Baqlawa:

Baklava is found all over the Mediterranean, and apparently, this Christmas, in homes all over the world that have fallen in love with this pastry. My favorite baklava is light, crisp, and not too sweet. Here’s a recipe that I follow most of the time, varying according to mood and available ingredients. But first, a short blurb about phyllo / fillo dough, from The Professional Chef, 8th Edition:

[Phyllo / filo dough is]… a lean dough made only of flour and water and, occasionally, a small amount of oil. The dough is stretched and rolled until it is extremely thin. Butter, instead of being rolled into the dough, is melted and brushed onto the dough sheets before they are baked so that after baking, the result is similar to puff pastry.

Phyllo should be available in the freezer section of your grocery, right next to pie crust and puff pastry sheets. Thaw phyllo overnight in the refrigerator, then let stand for a while at room temperature before using. Remember that it dries out quickly, so keep it covered with a damp towel while you are working to keep it from turning brittle.

To make baklava, you need

1 pound phyllo dough, thawed

For brushing:

1/2 cup melted butter, or ghee/clarified butter, or if you want a healthier alternative, melted Earth Balance or Smart Balance
(If you’re trying to avoid saturated fat, use 4 tbsp olive oil + 4 tbsp canola oil instead — heat up in a microwave-safe container with a large lemon wedge for about a minute, let stand for 10 minutes and discard lemon wedge.)

Nut filling:

1 3/4 cup toasted whole almonds (or walnuts, or pistachios, or a combination of any or all of these)
4 tablespoons sugar (more if you like the filling sweeter)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg or allspice
(or 1 teaspoon ground cardamom in place of the cinnamon and nutmeg combination)

Syrup:

1 1/2 cups sugar (may be reduced to 1 cup if you want a baklava that’s less sweet)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup honey
4 lemon wedges or peel from 1 orange (scrape off any pith)
2 3-inch cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons rose water or orange water (optional)

cooking spray or melted butter or additional oil for greasing pan

Prepare the nut filling: Chop the nuts by hand or pulse in the food processor, and toss with the sugar and spices. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×13 pan. Remove phyllo from package and unfold — if phyllo isn’t sized to fit your pan exactly, cut it to size (you’ll have to find some use for the cut-off pieces later, I usually make individual baklava in muffin tins). Keep unused sheets covered with a plastic sheet and a damp towel to prevent drying out. Lay one sheet of phyllo in the pan and brush (or spray) with butter (or oil blend or Earth Balance/Smart Balance). Repeat with more phyllo sheets until you’ve used up half of the package and half of the melted butter/oil. Be careful not to tear the sheets, but if you do, don’t despair — they won’t show much since you’ll have a layered product when everything is done. Sprinkle nut filling on top, evenly, paying attention to edges and corners. Top with remaining phyllo sheets, again buttering/greasing between sheets. Cut pastry lengthwise into strips about 2-inches wide. Cut again, this time diagonally, to form diamonds. Refrigerate for an hour before baking. Bake in preheated oven 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 300 degrees F and bake another 30-45 minutes or until golden, puffed and crisp.

While baklava is baking, prepare syrup: Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium heat 5 minutes, or until sugar dissolves. Discard lemon wedges or orange peel and cinnamon sticks. (You can also microwave this mixture in a microwave-safe container for a couple of minutes, then let stand for 5 more before discarding the peel/wedges/cinnamon sticks.) Chill while waiting for baklava to be done.

When baklava is done, remove from oven and spoon the syrup evenly over the hot pastry. Let cool to room temperature. To serve, cut through the original lines.

Baklava can also be rolled (called Baklava Orthi). To do this, have a layer of several sheets (about 5), buttered or oiled, on your work surface. Top with the filling, then roll lengthwise, tightly. Cut into 2-inch pieces then spray or brush with additional butter or oil. Place pieces on greased baking sheet, cut side up, and bake as usual, then drizzle with the syrup; at this point you can go ahead and serve, or bake 15 minutes more or so to crisp the edges once more. (Cooking Light had a recipe once for rolled baklava, in which the rolled baklava was dipped in kataifi/kadaif (another Mediterranean pastry that would be in the same shelf you found your phyllo dough). Looked extremely yummy.)

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