Monday, December 19, 2011

Sugar, Sugar

I never got the pleasure of meeting my great-grandmother, but luckily I can keep her (buttery) traditions alive by doing some holiday baking. As somewhat of a sequel to my first Greek dessert post, baklava has become another one of my favorites. 

Made by countries across the Mediterranean, Middle East and South Asia, this sticky-sweet pastry has its variations. However, it generally consists of sheets of phyllo dough covered in butter with nuts in between which create that melt-in-your-mouth sensation. With every possible combination of almonds, pistachios, walnuts, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, rose water, and honey - baklava wins a lot of points for its unique flavor pairings. In Turkey, there were so many types I didn't even have time to try them all!

Even with the plethora of options, I have to point out that I have never come across a baklava that is quite like my fam's so I encourage you to try it.  Historically, it's made for special occasions and i generally stick with this rule since it's a bit of a time commitment. But don't worry, once you get set up with your butter and dough, it's a breeze especially if you throw on a episode of your favorite t.v. show. Oh, and I should mention that the recipe makes a large batch so don't be shy, share share share!

::Greek Baklava::
1/2 lb. unsalted butter (melted)
1 lb. phyllo (defrosted)
whole cloves
4 cups chopped walnuts
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cup water
juice of 1/4 lemon

1) Make the syrup by bringing the sugar and water to a boil, then simmering for 10 minutes, stir well. Let syrup cool while you assemble the pastry. Syrup will not be thick.
2) Brush the bottom and sides of a 11" x 13" pan with butter. 
3) Unroll the phyllo onto a platter and cover with a clean, damp cloth as the dough dries out very fast.
4) Layer six phyllo sheets in the pan, buttering well between each sheet. Phyllo sheets should fit the pan almost perfectly. If phyllo rips, just patch together.
5) Mix filling ingredients in a bowl.
6) Sprinkle about 3 tbs. of the mixture onto the phyllo then layer another sheet over and butter. Repeat this step11 more times for a total of 12 layers. Use a nice soft pastry brush to minimize rips.
7) Layer 6 more sheets of phyllo with butter, just like in step 3. 
8) Butter the top well and fold in loose edges to make the top look as neat as possible so nothing is prone to burning.
9) With a slanted X-Acto blade or very sharp knife, make horizontal cuts in the pastry, going only about half way deep. Then, make diagonal cuts in the other direction to achieve the diamond shape. You will have some funny triangle pieces in the corners. You can adjust the amount of cuts according to your desired size pieces but err on the smaller side - baklava is pretty rich. 
10) Stick a whole clove in the center of each diamond.
11) Bake at 300 degrees for about an hour, until the top is lightly browned. 
12) Pour the cooled syrup over the baklava right after it's removed from the oven. Cover and let sit overnight so that the pastry soaks up the liquid. 
13) The next day, recut along the knife cuts, this time going all the way to the bottom of the pan.
14) To serve, place each piece in a muffin cup and remind everyone to remove the clove before enjoying!

Credits: pistachio baklavawindow display

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