Baklava

Baklava

After a somewhat wild night this weekend (in which I was lured by the promise of an excellent all-male Lady Gaga cover band who were, in fact, little better than your average garage band escapees with extra eyeliner and a disturbing habit of pulling out skinny black combs to touch up their heavily gelled hair), I am:

  1. Missing my new $50 umbrella, which I managed to leave at the club after using it for less than a day. A few (too many) drinks can make one forgetful, and
  2. Massively aching and severely bruised along my left hip, ribs, and arm from another tumble down a set of wet stairs in the same pair of dependable hiking shoes that I wore to traverse slippery, perilous rocks in Iceland when standing next to the massive Gulfoss waterfall where one slip could have resulted in icy death. The bruise from that previous fall, mind you, has not even fully healed yet. I am starting to look like a domestic abuse victim and can you imagine how that conversation would go? “What happened?” “Uh, I fell down the stairs.”
  3. And, as embarrassing as it is to admit, I am unable to fully recover from an all-nighter in less than 24 hours, with over a third of them spent sleeping.

I could hardly be called old by any objective standard, but man, am I starting to feel it sometimes, and never more so when I feel all the aches and tiredness in my body and think to myself, you have seriously got to stop doing this shit. The is-it-worth-it? factor gradually begins to shift to the no side of the spectrum.

Let’s move on to talking about things that are worth it, every time.

A friend from Greece, M, had her Name Day last month, and I had wanted to make her this dessert since she has yet to find baklava in America that meets her lofty standards. For reals. M is authentically, Europeanly thin. She regularly enjoys good food, good wine, and fine art. She doesn’t enjoy any sweets whatsoever except for baklava. Making even a remotely decent one for her would be a tall order indeed.

I love how, at its core, like most baked goods, baklava is merely dough, sugar, and butter, but the taste and texture of this particular combination is so different from your usual cakes and cookies. The dough is so very, very thin, and it’s almost a pain in the ass to handle. But fortified with enough butter, soaked to the bone with an orange-infused, aromatic honey syrup, this treat is utterly delectable.

M said this was the best baklava she had tasted. She may have just been trying to be nice, but hey, I’ll take it, because this was really, really good. Moist and flaky, yet soft, even a little chewy. Sharply sweet, but not the kind of sweet that makes one ill. Take it from someone who has a sensitive sweet tooth.

Baklava

When I watched Rachel Allen make this on the Cooking channel, I knew I had to do it too. It’s funny because I’m not too crazy about oranges or orange flavoring, but like the lemon thing, I’m having all sorts of onset cravings for citrus and keep thinking about recipes that include them as much as possible. Maybe I have scurvy.

I also love the geometric visual of baklava diamonds still in their baking pan.

Baklava

Baklava
(Recipe barely adapted from Rachel Allen)

(I’m not gonna lie — I’ve been good and am now incorporating the kitchen scale more into my life, so I didn’t go the extra mile here to convert these numbers into volume measurements. Might I recommend using a kitchen scale as well? Not having to clean extra cups and spoons? Is amazing. You know, aside from the whole benefit of having super-accurate measurements in your recipes.)

11 ounces shelled pistachio nuts and almonds
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 stick of butter plus 2 tbs, melted
1 (16 ounce) package frozen filo dough, thawed (about 25 to 30 sheets)

For the syrup:
8 ounces water
12 ounces granulated sugar
4 ounces honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Zest of 1/2 an orange
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons orange-flower water

Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

In a food processor, grind the nuts until they are coarsely, but not fully ground. Mix the nuts with the ground cinnamon. Using a soft pastry brush, lightly butter a 9 1/2 by 7 1/2-inches ovenproof dish. Gently unfold the filo pastry, covering it immediately with a clean, damp tea or kitchen towel, to stop it from drying out, and cracking.

Start layering the sheets of filo pastry into the dish, brushing each sheet with the melted butter before placing the next layer on top. After six layers, spread a third of the nuts evenly over the filo.

Alternate the 6 sheets of filo-butter layer and a third of the nut mixture twice more, and then top with 6 more layers of filo pastry. Butter the top of the last layer, and trim off any overlapping pastry with a sharp knife to create a neat edge. Cut into small diamonds, about 1 1/2 to 2-inch squares, making sure the knife goes all the way through the bottom layer.

Bake until golden brown and crisp, about 40 to 45 minutes, reducing the temperature to 325 degrees F, during cooking if the baklava looks as though it is browning too quickly.

To make the syrup:

In a saucepan set over a medium heat, combine the water, sugar, honey, cinnamon, orange zest, cloves and orange-flower water, if using. Simmer for about 15 minutes, allowing the liquid to reduce by about 1/3. The liquid should thicken slightly. Stir occasionally, and then leave to cool while the baklava is baking.

Remove the baklava from the oven, and spoon half of the cooked syrup all over the top. Leave for 5 minutes, and then pour the remaining syrup over top. Let the baklava cool completely before removing the individual pieces from the dish with a palette knife.

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