Sunday, May 22, 2005

Miracle Baklava

baklava, originally uploaded by emily loke.

Until I recently started making it for A., I'd only ever eaten baklava once before. My mother had brought some home in a small plastic container, a puddle of syrup already beginning to form under the desserts. To my mother’s credit, she was a real enforcer of trying-new-things and keeping-an-open-mind; efforts which I am grateful for now, but had little appreciation for back when I felt hamburgers were a legitimate food group and broccoli was evil. I regarded the baklava with great suspicion: it didn’t look anything like the tea-time sweets I was used to – brightly coloured, bite sized cakes made from rice flour and flavoured with coconut and pandan – it just looked like a heap of nuts and pastry. Under my mother’s smiling encouragement, I took a tentative bite…and nearly choked on the cloying sweetness. I looked back up at my mother, my nose wrinkling before I could politely decline the rest, but she had already taken a bite herself and I noticed her face beginning to mimic mine. “Too sweet,” she said as she threw it out, but her assurance that ‘real’ baklava was better came too late – I had already written it off as something I would never eat again.

This happened many years ago, before I knew I would one day move across the world and date a European who held baklava – good baklava - right up there with meat and bread. I make it every once in a while now, for A. and his mother, who also loves the stuff. As for myself, the painstaking assembly required to make the dessert has instilled in me a greater reverence for what I once considered a mere mound of nuts and pastry and I find that each time I make it, sweet as it is, it grows on me a little more.

This recipe is from and produces wonderful results. I do only make half the required amount of syrup though: any more than that and it becomes too sweet for even A. and his mom.

½ package Phylo Pasty
1 ½ sticks melted butter
1 pound finely chopped walnuts
½ - 1 cup honey

1 2/3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
2/3 cup honey
2 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons rose water
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cloves

First, make the baklava.

1. Preheat the oven to 325
2. Mix the walnuts with enough honey for them to clump together
3. Brush butter over the bottom of a 13x9x2 pan
4. Lay down one sheet phyllo (folded in half) and brush surface with butter.
5. Lay down another sheet (folded in half) and brush with butter as well.
6. Spread a thin layer of walnuts as evenly as possible over the buttered phyllo.
7. Repeat steps 4,5,6 until you are out of honeyed walnuts.
8. Repeat steps 4 and 5 to finish.
9. Cut the baklava into diamond shapes (or squares) and pour remaining butter evenly over it, (Don’t worry, it’ll seep in once its in the oven.)
10. Bake for 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

Meanwhile, make the syrup.

1. In a saucepan, add the sugar and the water.
2. On medium heat, stir till sugar dissolves completely.
3. Throw in the cinnamon sticks, honey and spices, and bring to a boil.
4. Once boiled, take it off the heat and stir in the rose water.
5. Set aside to cool.
6. Once cooled, strain the syrup.

Finally, put it all together.

1. Once the baklava is out of the oven, re-cut the lines you made before baking.
2. Pour 2 cups of the strained syrup over the baklava evenly.
3. Leave it to sit for at least 4 hours before serving, it improves over a couple of days
4. Serve with remaining syrup (about 1 cup or so), or you can pour the rest of the syrup over it to taste. Can also be served with chilled natural yoghurt.