World Cuisine Wednesday
History of Baklava
In the states, we commonly associate Baklava with having originated from Greece. Although the Greeks did play an important roll in the forming of the sticky sweet, nut-filled treat that we all love and know today, it is believed that it emerged from Turkic routes. The pastry dates back to the 8th century BC., and depending on whom you ask, you will likely get people from each respective country (particularly¬†those from Eastern Europe and the Middle East) laying claim to its heritage. Circa 3rd century BC, Greek mariners brought Baklava to Athens from their travels, and the flakey baked good was a hit. It was at this point in history that an important modification was applied to the dough. The Athenians created phyllo dough by taking the original crust recipe and rolling it into paper thin sheets. Make your own syrupy layered treats that are chock full of¬†¬†nutty goodness by preparing the following recipe.
Yield: 2 dozen
Prep time: 60 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
You will need: a 9×13 inch pan
- 16 ounce package phyllo dough (make sure it is completely thawed before using, otherwise the sheets crumble)
- 1 cup butter (melted)
- 1 pound chopped nuts (walnuts & almonds)
- 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- ¬1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- (or 1 teaspoon vanilla in place of the lemon and orange)
- 1/2 cup honey
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. I used walnuts and almonds, but you may use just walnuts, too. Or, try substituting hazelnuts for the almonds. Use a food processor to chop the nuts into smaller pieces. Mix in the cinnamon and cloves.
3. Butter the bottom and edges of the pan. Lay out 2 sheets of phyllo dough across the bottom of the pan and brush the surface with butter. Repeat this step 3 more times. You want the bottom of the pastry to be 8 sheets thick. (Tip: to avoid the phyllo dough from drying out while preparing the Baklava, drape a damp piece of paper towel or cloth over the unused pieces)
4. Butter the 8th layer and sprinkle about 3 tablespoons of the nut mixture evenly over it. Repeat this step (using the 2 sheets of dough for each layer) until you have 8 pieces of phyllo left (these will be used for the pastry‚Äôs top).
5. Follow the instructions to step 3 again for the final layers.
6. With a sharp knife, cut the Baklava into squares (or diamond shaped pieces, if you’re more daring) before placing the pan in the oven.
7. Bake for about 30 minutes until the top is light golden brown.
8. While the Baklava is in the oven, prepare the syrup. Mix the sugar and water together. Bring to a boil.
9. Reduce the heat to medium low. Add the honey, lemon juice, and orange zest (or use vanilla in place of the lemon and orange, if you’d like). Simmer for about 20 minutes and stir occasionally. You aren’t trying to achieve soft-ball stage, you’re cooking off the water used to dissolve the sugar.
10. Allow both the Baklava and the syrup to cool, and then pour the sauce over the Baklava. (It’s best to let the syrup soak into the pastry before serving. So either make it a day before you plan on sharing, or give it a couple hours to meld.)
11. Baklava will keep for about a week, but be sure to loosely cover the top of the pan with aluminum foil. Otherwise if the container is sealed too well, the pastry will get soggy.
This particular recipe combines ingredients that are more commonly used in Greece, these being the cloves, cinnamon and citrus. There are many variations of Baklava, but they all keep with some basic guidelines by consisting of nuts, phyllo dough and a sweet syrup. Once, only the wealthy could afford to indulge in such luxuries as Baklava, and it was something to be savored during special occasions. Historically, sugar, spices, and nuts were lavish ingredients, and by today’s standards it could be compared to purchasing a sweet plated in 24 karat gold. Short of booking airfare to Athens in order to satisfy your craving for some genuine Baklava, this recipe just may be the next best thing.