Wednesday, February 5, 2014
GREAT NEWS! BAKLAVA is easy to make.
If a restaurant we choose is open all afternoon, and many are not, we often like to dine around three or four o'clock for a late lunch early dinner. It seems to fit our schedule and we are hungry then. The restaurant will be quieter and we can linger without feeling pressured to turn the table.
On a recent afternoon, at a neighborhood Greek Restaurant, we arrived at the same time a woman was delivering desserts. Pritchard Parker spotted the tall dark chocolate cake. I spied the tray of Baklava.
I hadn't eaten Baklava in years and I knew before I ordered that I was going to save room for dessert. Indeed, I loved that little morsel of buttery phyllo with sticky cinnamon scented chopped nuts.
I told my husband on the way home I was going to try my hand at Baklava. I even had a box of phyllo dough in the freezer. And nuts leftover from Christmas baking.
I looked at many recipes before proceeding. Some had too much butter and some too little. Some used bread crumbs mixed in with the nuts but I didn't like that idea. Some used too much or too little syrup.
Working with phyllo is not as difficult as some people want you to think. It is very thin and tears easily but it is also extremely forgiving. The final result matters not if some of your sheets tore; just fit the pieces in the pan and keep going.
Phyllo sheets also dry out quickly, so keep them covered with a piece of parchment then a damp towel as you work.
Some recipes also tell you to cut the phyllo leaves to fit your pan. Nay, I say. What are you going to do the the excess? Phyllo is not cheap, so just wrinkle, fold, pleat, scrunch, and make them fit--the more layers the better.
Taking concepts from different recipes, this is what I did.
One (1 pound) box frozen phyllo dough
1 cup butter, melted
4 cups chopped nuts (I used a mixture of pecans, walnuts, almonds, pistachios)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. tangerine zest
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 large strips tangerine peel
1 cinnamon stick
Move phyllo from the freezer to the refrigerator 24 hours before you want to make the Baklava. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter.
Combine the nuts and ground cinnamon.
Open and carefully unfold the phyllo sheets. Lie flat and cover first with a sheet of parchment then a damp kitchen towel.
Using a clean (preferably new) pastry brush, butter the bottom of a 13x9 inch baking dish. Remove one sheet of pastry from the stack and fit into the pan. Brush with butter. Repeat until about one-fourth of the sheets have been used. Top with about one-third of the nuts. Then start layering more phyllo sheets, buttering each one. Proceed in this manner, making 4 layers of buttered phyllo and 3 layers of chopped nuts, ending with a layer of pastry. If you have an odd number of sheets in your box, layer more at the bottom of the dish to make a good foundation.
Cut through all layers into serving pieces before baking. If you want traditional diamond shapes, cut diagonally from corner to corner.
Bake for 50-60 minutes until golden brown.
Meanwhile, make the syrup: combine sugar, water, honey, vanilla, lemon juice, tangerine peel, and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until slightly thickened.
Remove the Baklava from the oven and evenly pour the syrup over the top. Let set for several hours for the syrup soak into the layers before serving. Better the next day.
Lightly cover the pan with wax paper or parchment for storage; don't seal or it will become soggy.