Have you had enough sugar yet? If you are Greek, have you had your fill of baklava, kourabiedes and melos? It seems that each week lately is filled with one holiday event or another.
I somehow find myself immersed in my own world these days, the mad cafe, to find peace and harmony as the holidays ramp up.
It’s fun creating memories and reconnecting with friends, sending Christmas cards and wrapping presents.
Anna is still trying to corner me about whether or not Santa is real. Though I’m sure she knows the answer, she’s either hanging by a thread or is waiting for me to cut it. I’m not falling for it. My answer is always the same: “Do you believe he’s real?” I know… answering a question with a question is reminiscent of my PR days, but it seems to work in this case.
The other day I felt so tired, I fell asleep and totally forgot to put money under Anna’s pillow when she lost one of her primary teeth. I felt so badly in the morning, as the money was still on my nightstand and Anna just gave me a suspicious look. I gave her a coy smile and said that the tooth fairy probably got mixed up. She didn’t fall for it, but at least she smiled because I tried.
A favorite dessert we enjoy this time of year is the classic baklava. It’s not my favorite, personally, but most of the family loves it and I don’t mind making it. My mom still doesn’t get why I go into the trouble of making it from scratch, especially since you can find it very easily. But, I don’t like the commercially prepared baklava at all. I don’t trust the cheap ingredients and you can’t taste the love 🙂
So, if you are up for it, try out this recipe. Of course, I know you have your own recipe and I’m sure your aunt, mom, yiayia, and sister make it better – and I don’t argue with that! This recipe has my family eating the baklava out of the pan instead of waiting for a plate, so I take it as a good sign. Happy holidays and baking!
Prep time: 60 minutes – Cook time: 45 minutes – Yields: one 9×12″ pan.
Note: I insist that you use really good honey for the baklava syrup. We are lucky because on our olive groves in Karpathos, we also
have a beekeeper who stores honey in our old “stavlo” (hut). He will give us some of the honey in exchange for allowing the storage and I am most grateful! Exactly as I do with the salt and the olive oil I bring back, I treat this honey like gold and share it only with very special people in my life.
1 package of phyllo dough (thin sheets). You can find at the freezer section at the supermarket – make sure you thaw out the phyllo before using.
2 cups of unsalted butter, melted (you will need for brushing)
2 cups of walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups of almonds, very coarsely chopped
2 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
Whole cloves – for decoration only
FOR THE SYRUP:
1/2 cup of good honey (if you are even thinking of using corn syrup instead, don’t call it baklava, please)
3 cups of sugar
2 cups of water
1 tbsp vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon
Preheat the oven to 350F.
In a bowl, combine the walnuts, almonds and ground cloves. Mix in the cinnamon. Set aside.
You need some serious work space, so make sure you clear a table or counter space to have everything handy.
Measure the phyllo sheets to fit into the pan. You may have to cut them to fit, or I just fold over the excess (just remember to brush with butter first before you fold). You want to make sure the phyllo dough does not dry out in the air. Have a damp dish towel handy to cover the laid out phyllo and lift up as you need each sheet to lay into the pan.
Using a pastry brush, start with brushing melted butter on the bottom of the pan. You want a nice full layer, but don’t overload either. Balance is key with baklava! Carefully, lay one sheet avoiding air bubbles. Spread with your hands gently. Brush butter on the sheet, and repeat with 5 sheets. If you have excess phyllo each time, simple butter and fold over.
Once you’ve reached 5 sheets for the base, sprinkle some the nut mixture. Sprinkle enough to cover the area, but don’t overdo it! Then lay 1 sheet of phyllo gently and butter on top. Sprinkle more of the nut mixture. Repeat with laying 1 sheet of phyllo and sprinkling the nut mixture until mixture is done. For the top layers of the baklava, you’ll want to have at least 5 sheets brushed heavily with butter in between. Once you reach the top layer, brush with butter.
Very carefully, with a paring knife, cut through the top 5 sheets only – not all the way to the bottom. See the photo for shape suggestion, though I’ve seen baklava cut in squares. I get impatient with the cutting process, so I ask Michael to do it for me. Add the cloves for decoration in between each piece.
Bake for about 45 minutes until the top layer is golden brown.
Meanwhile, while the baklava bakes, make the syrup. In a medium sauce pan, simply stir in the water, sugar and honey until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 2-3 minutes and add the vanilla and lemon zest. Turn of the heat and set aside.
Once the baklava is ready, take out of the oven and IMMEDIATELY pour over the syrup using a ladle (syrup will still be hot). The sizzling sound is probably my favorite part of this recipe! Make sure the syrup is evenly distributed.
Note: you will have heard that either the baklava should be cool, or the syrup should be cool — that one of the two needs to be cool before you pour on the syrup, but I disagree. Having both warm makes for an instant crystallization of flavors.
Serve warm and only in awesome company! Baklava keeps well at room temperature and you just need to cover it once it has completely cooled – no refrigeration required.