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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Baklava! Don't be scared away.

        If you're like me, everything you know about baklava comes from the one time you got to eat in around the holidays. There is always one specific person who makes it, and everyone is excited as it makes its appearance on the table. Unfortunately, there was never anyone in my family who made baklava so I was always left hoping it would show up at a holiday party or get together. Alas, that was few and far between....why? Well, I think it is due to a little bit of urban legend. No, not the urban legend that makes up the stuff of bad dreams, rather 'cooking urban legend'. Oh yes, there is such a thing...harken back to my first post on this blog...the dreaded 'souffle'. A recipe that comes with such heavy consequences as to send the frazzled retro women running and screaming out of the kitchen is an image we can all conjure up. In part, this is why people today often limit themselves in the kitchen and don't venture into unknown territory.
       Let me assure you, baklava is not to be feared, in fact it is pretty fool proof. Somewhat time consuming maybe, but not complicated in the least. As every retro women would already know, there is nothing like sashaying into the party with the most coveted dish there and letting everyone assume it took hours of labor, yet you look fresh and lovely and rested. Ahhh yes, I believe this is the very secret bakers of baklava have attempted to protect with stories of work and strife in the making of it. I encourage you to channel your inner retro women and show up to the holiday party with baklava this year, let the party ooohhh and ahhh and just sit back and graciously accept their praise.

There are several versions of baklava, the two most popular are the Greek and Middle Eastern. Greek baklava is made using honey and Middle Eastern is made using rose water. The recipe below is the Middle Eastern version, don't be scared to try rose water, it adds a delicate and subtle flavor that will leave people guessing. It is inexpensive and can be found in any health food store and often in a regular grocery store in the organic food department.

What you Need:

For the Pastry

1 lb. of finely chopped nuts (walnuts, pistachios, almonds) You can use any combination, I use whatever I have left over in my freezer from previous recipes.
1 lb. of phyllo dough (this will need to thaw first, allow 2 hours)
1 cup of melted butter
1/3 cup of sugar
1 tsp. of ground cinnamon
1/3 tsp. of ground cloves

For the syrup:

1 cup of water
1 cup of sugar
2 Tbs. of rose water (or 1/2 cup of honey)
2 Tbs. of lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly butter a 13x9 inch baking dish.

Finely chop your nuts, I used a blend of left-over nuts I had on hand.

Open your phyllo dough and lay it out (super easy to work with, tears and imperfections won't show up)

Lay out your baking dish next to your cup of melted butter.

Place one layer of phyllo dough in the dish and lightly brush with butter, continue this until you have 8 sheets of buttered phyllo.

Mix chopped nuts with  1/3 cup of sugar, cinnamon, and cloves 
and spread thin layer of nut mixture onto buttered dough.

Continue layering and buttering until you have 3 layers of phyllo and spread with thin layer of nuts, continue with this until your nut mixture is gone. Finish the top of the baklava with a minimum of 8 sheets of buttered phyllo (just like you did on the bottom)

Cut into diagonal squares before baking

Cook at 350 for 20-30 minutes or until brown with crisp edges.
While it is baking, start the syrup mixture.

In saucepan mix water and sugar, bring to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add rose water and lemon juice.

Take baklava from oven and poor hot syrup mixture evenly over hot pastry.

Allow to cool for at least 4 hours before serving. Store very loosely covered at room temperature. I like to serve each piece placed in a cupcake holder.

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