Sunday, January 22, 2012

Baklava: a little history

If I could point to an environmental factor that was responsible for activating my cooking genes, and, thus, making me display my cooking phenotype, it would be a Greek dessert called baklava. Prior to this, I only dabbled in cooking, nothing serious, at least not to the point where I'd compile recipes. 

There was a Middle Eastern restaurant near my undergraduate college that sold these little treats. I still remembered what my first bite was like: crunchy, buttery, milky, sweet... I could eat it forever. However, baklava, at $1.00 per little piece (5 cm long cylindrical piece with the diameter of around 1 cm), was expensive for my student budget. Hence why, I prefer to make it myself.

To this day, I cannot make the same exact baklava that place sells (and they still sell it as I write this). But I'm happy with this version of baklava.


For the baklava:
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 tbs ground cinnamon
1 tbs sugar
1 roll phyllo dough
cooking spray

For the syrup:
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 tsp salt

1. Mix the nuts, and "marinate" them with ground cinnamon and sugar overnight (covered, of course).
2. Preheat oven to 350 F. On a baking pan (lined with about 2-3 layers of aluminum foil and sprayed with cooking spray), lay one layer of phyllo dough. Spray the phyllo dough, and place another layer of phyllo dough on top of the first one. Layer 5-6 phyllo dough spraying with cooking spray in between.
3. Spread the nuts, cinnamon, and sugar evenly.
4. Spray cooking oil on the nuts layer, and place one layer of phyllo dough on the nut layer, press firmly.
5. Continue layering the remaining phyllo dough with cooking spray in between them, pressing firmly after every layer.
6. Using a knife, cut the baklava into 5 x 5 cm square pieces (basically dividing the phyllo dough by 5-6 vertically and 3-4 horizontally).
7. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until golden brown and crispy.
8. While baking, make the syrup by boiling water and mixing honey, lemon juice, and salt.
9. When the baklava is cooked, pour the syrup evenly to the baklava.
10. Let cool before serving.

1. You can use any combinations of nuts. The one I had from the Middle Eastern restaurant had pistachio nuts. It's all to your preference.
2. I'm not sure why, but "marinating" the nuts make the cinnamon and sugar stick better to the nuts. So it's important to do so. If you're really pressed for time though, it's okay to skip the step.
3. I like to spread a thin layer of cinnamon and sugar just prior to baking the baklava, skip this step or follow it as you wish, it just adds more cinnamon flavor.
4. Keep a close watch on the baklava while it's baking.
5. Baklava can be cut into diamond shape, it's prettier, but it wastes the corners.
6. Work fast. Phyllo dough dries fast too, being that it's thin. I usually buy my phyllo dough frozen and this recipe only use 1 roll out of the 2 rolls that came in the box. The website also has their recipe of baklava that was my go-to recipe the first time I tried making baklava.
7. You can use melted butter to brush between the layers of phyllo dough, but I find that cooking spray's faster. I like my phyllo in the lighter side, so I prefer cooking spray. However, butter will definitely add that layer of flavor.

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