Baklava.

Who needs a snappy title when you’re posting about baklava?  It’s the sweetest, most indulgent thing I make and it’s about time I stopped holding out on you.

Baklava has many variations, but essentially, it is crushed nuts between layers of filo pastry soaked in syrup or honey.  You can find baklava everywhere from Syria to Serbia served with tea or the thickest, darkest coffee you can imagine.  Baklava seems to have remained in a number of cultures after the spread of the Ottoman Empire and I’m happy to say that the Greeks continued to make it long after the invaders were gone.  Head to a zaxaroplasteion (a bakery that makes and sells lots of sweet pastries and biscuits) and you’ll have a choice of rich and glossy delights.

Recently, my local community organised an International Night at our parish hall.  The idea was to invite everyone in the area to bring food from their culture and share it.  There was African drumming, a food quiz, cheese tasting, chocolate tasting for children and of course, food from around the world!  It was a great evening.  The highlight for me and my son (The Tomato Monster) was definitely the gołąbki (Polish cabbage rolls).  We shared them and were devastated when they were all gone.  N was happy because she didn’t have any trouble getting him to sleep.  A belly full of Polish food ensured a restful night!

Last year I took along a big pot of beef stifado and a tray of baklava.  This year, I was pushed for time and decided to take my orzo and tomato bake and another tray of baklava.  You see, making bakalava isn’t that difficult, but it isn’t cheap and a full dish of baklava sitting in the house just isn’t conducive to a healthy heart.  Therefore, I only make baklava for larger gatherings.  International Night was the perfect excuse.  It meant that I could finally share with you one of the most special recipes from my kitchen.

There’s good baklava to be had in Mostar. The views aren’t bad either!

I’ve had some brilliant baklava in Bosnia where there are large Muslim communities who continue to make it and serve it with a host of other sweet treats.  The best examples were in Mostar which also had some of the most pleasant views.  Predictably, however, my preference is for the syrup-soaked offerings of Greece and so my recipe is closer to what you’d find there.

Get ready for the sweetest thing on the menu!

Baklava

12 sheets filo pastry

600g caster sugar

250g butter (melted)

200g walnuts

200g almonds

120ml golden syrup or clear honey

2 tblspoons ground cinnamon

1 tspoon vanilla extract

Begin by the chopping the almonds and walnuts in a food processor with the cinnamon.  Don’t turn them to dust.  We just need them finely chopped.  I’ve done this by hand in the past, but it takes longer, makes more mess and the results aren’t as good.

Place a sheet of filo on the bottom of your dish or tray and use a pastry brush to cover it in melted butter.  Repeat with another four sheets.

Now begin to sprinkle the nut mixture over the filo.  Cover this layer with another sheet of pastry and brush it with melted butter.  Continue to cover each layer with nuts and add a layer of filo on top until you run out of the nut mixture.  Butter and layer any remaining pastry and finish by brushing the top with butter.

Taking a very sharp knife, carefully cut the baklava into as many pieces as you like.  Some people prefer to cut diamond shapes.  I cut mine into squares.  Cutting the filo at this point will allow the syrup to soak into it every part of the pastry and nuts.  It is also easier to cut the filo without damaging it before you bake it.

Sprinkle some water over the baklava to stop the filo from wrinkling and slide it into the oven at 180C for about forty minutes.  It should come out golden.  If it starts to burn before the time is up, cover the bakalava with foil.

While the baklava is baking, make the syrup.  Pour the sugar and 450ml water into a small pan with the vanilla and syrup or honey.  Bring it to the boil while stirring then simmer it without stirring for a full five minutes and then set it aside until the baklava is ready.

Remove the baklava from the oven and pour the syrup over it while it is still hot.  It looks like there’s too much syrup, but trust me, the pastry will soak it all up.  Leave the baklava to cool for a few hours.  During this time, the syrup will soak in and become firmer and stickier.

You don’t need to refrigerate baklava, but you can if you wish.  Keep it covered and it’ll last for a fortnight.  (Though I have to say, that I’ve never heard of that happening-  baklava is just too good to keep!)

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Molten lava burgers.

It was only a matter of time before I posted a proper burger recipe and this is it.  Slow Food is important for a number of reasons, not least because you should end up with a tasty end product that knocks shop-bought items out of the park.  However, I’ve cooked plenty of things from scratch and wished I’d gone to the shops instead.  My burgers, for example, haven’t always been worth the time and effort I put in.   I’m happy to say that I’ve finally made a delicious burger that is going to revolutionise my summer eating!

Forget fast food joints and shiny posters of burgers that don’t represent what you’re actually sold.  Grab some quality ingredients and spend a few minutes making these meaty marvels.  Not only are they really easy to make, they’re very tasty and easy to adapt to your own tastes.  Life’s too short to eat grey patties between sugary bread.  Give dehydrated onions and wilting lettuce a miss.  Instead, go for fresh and fun molten lava burgers!  Hmmm…that sounds like it should be on a poster.

Molten lava burgers

375g minced beef

1 red chilli (finely chopped)

1 onion (finely chopped)

4 tblspoons fresh chives (finely chopped)

45g butter (melted)

2 tblspoons tomato ketchup

1 tspoon smoked paprika

1 tspoon Dijon mustard

half tspoon ground cumin

Cheddar cheese

salt and pepper

I made three large patties, but you could make smaller ones.

I began by putting all of the ingredients except the chilli and the cheese into a medium-sized bowl and mixing it up with a wooden spatula.  Season the mixture with plenty of salt and pepper.  I didn’t work the mixture too much because I didn’t want a tough texture for the burger.

I cut some thick slices of cheddar ready to go into the middle of the patties.  I then took some of the beef and made a large round patty.  I gently pressed the cheese onto the beef leaving a little room around the edges.  I sprinkled lots of the chopped chilli onto the cheese.  Next, I took some more beef and pressed it onto the patty making sure to completely cover the cheese.  I also checked that there were no holes for the cheese to ooze out of during cooking.

Now lots of recipes will recommend searing the burgers in a hot pan and then transferring to the oven to finish.  I didn’t do that, but I got wonderful results.  I fried the patties in butter on a low heat until nice and brown before turning them over.  I basted the patties with butter from the frying pan every now and again to keep them full of flavour.

The slow cooking meant that the meat cooked all the way through and just needed a few minutes in a hot oven at the end to bring it up to 71 degrees.

The biggest tip I can give you is to leave the patties alone while they cook.  Don’t prod them, don’t flip them, don’t lift them every minute for a peak at the underside.  Just let those bad boys cook.  Check them only occasionally to make sure that they aren’t burning.  If you keep bothering them, they’ll begin to crumble, you’ll have bits of burned onion in your pan and there will be smoke everywhere and cheese pouring out of the sides.  Let sleeping burgers lie.

Towards the end of frying, I tilted the pan to gather the butter in a little pool and slid the patties into it.  This helped cook the sides of the patties because they were quite thick.  You may not need to do this.  It just depends on the size of your patty.

I usually pile my burgers high with all kinds of silliness, but not this time.  The burgers were so tasty that I simply housed them in a toasted cheese-topped bap and served them with salad.  The chilli cheese was a real treat, but the flavour of the burger itself was the best thing.  You can’t beat slow food.

Got a sweet tooth? Okay, prove it!

Nothing is too sweet for me.  Have I said that before?  Probably.  I’ll eat every last mouthful of every sugary delight you care to serve me.  Chocolate dome cake, caramel fudge, mud cake, baklava, treacle tart, butterscotch this and praline that;  do your worst.  My brother draws the line at halva, my mum stops at dulce de leche chocolate mousse cake.  All the more for me, I guess.

In my opinion, if a cake leaves you wanting more, it has failed.  A cake should satisfy every sugary urge and leave you wanting nothing.  If I didn’t have such a sweet tooth, I would suggest that the recipe I’m sharing this week achieves this and more.

Peanut butter and chocolate are a popular combination right now and the internet is awash with all kinds of cakes that bring together these two favourites.  One thing that I noticed was the lack of chocolate log action in this department.  Enter The Last Piece of Cake.  I tested the best components from a number of peanut butter and chocolate recipes to come up with a cake so delicious, it would surpass my previous efforts.  The result was a peanut butter and chocolate log of epic proportions.

Essentially, I made a chocolate log filled and covered with a fluffy peanut butter icing and then coated in a darkly decadent peanut butter and chocolate ganache.  This approach has been made popular by the American cake recipe book, Sky High.  My version holds true to the decadence of the original idea.  I’ve noticed, however, that some famous blogs warn readers to cut only the thinnest of slices because of how sweet the cake is.  Pathetic!  To these bloggers I say, “Halt your feeble whimpering and let the people enjoy a huge slice of one of the tastiest cakes in the blogosphere!”  To you, dear reader, I say, “Have a go at putting together this  joyful  bundle of ingredients and rest assured that it will bring a peanut butter and chocolate smile to every face that tries it.”

Peanut butter chocolate log

(For the cake)

115g caster sugar

45g melted butter

40g Fairtrade cocoa powder

4 eggs

Icing sugar

(For the icing)

250g smooth peanut butter

250g icing sugar

110g softened butter

double cream

(For the ganache)

200g dark chocolate

3 tblspoons double cream

2 tblspoons golden syrup

2 tblspoons smooth peanut butter

To make the cake, put the eggs into a glass bowl over a small pan of water and heat gently.  Whisk the eggs continuously.  Take the eggs off the heat when they are foamy and tip them into a mixing bowl.  Use an electric mixer to whisk the eggs for another five or six minutes.  Keep going on the highest speed until there are no bubbles left and the texture is silky and smooth.

Sift the flour and cocoa into the eggs and fold them in gently with a spatula until they are combined and there are no dry bits.  Gently mix in all of the melted butter.

Pour the batter onto a baking tray lined with baking paper.  My tray is about nine inches by fifteen inches.  Make sure the batter is spread equally so that it cooks evenly.  Put it into the middle of a hot oven (190C) for about ten minutes.  When a skewer comes out clean, you’ll know the cake is done.

To roll it, you’ll need to get some baking paper ready on your work surface.  Dust it with plenty of icing sugar.  This will prevent the cake sticking to the paper and breaking up.  Tip the cake out onto the dusted paper and carefully roll it up.  Take time to roll it carefully because it is hot and also delicate at this point.  Leave the roll to cool down on a wire rack.

Now it’s time to make the icing.  Yum!  Clean your electric whisk and use it to mix together the peanut butter and the softened butter.  Add the icing sugar in stages until fully combined.  Don’t put it all in at once, or you’ll finish up looking like Casper The Friendly Ghost.  If the icing gets too dry, add a little double cream.  Keep going until there is no more icing sugar to add and the icing is a nice, thick and creamy consistency.

Now it’s an assembly job.  Unroll the cake and peel off the paper without breaking it.  Using roughly half of the icing, spread a thick layer all over the cake right up to the edges.  Roll it all back up and put it on a plate.  Use a spatula to spread the rest of the icing all over the log.  It should be completely covered in the peanut butter icing incuding the ends.  There might be just a little left in the bowl for you to enjoy!  Put the log in the fridge for about half an hour to an hour to firm up.

Once the icing is firm, make the peanut butter and chocolate ganache which will coat the log.  Melt all of the ingredients together in a glass bowl over a small pan of water and mix it well.  Let it cool a little before you use it.

Okay, so I had a slice before the ganache had set. I just couldn’t resist!

The ganache should be thick and spreadable.  Pour it onto the log and spread the ganache all over.  Place the log back in the fridge for the ganache to set.  I’ll admit, I couldn’t wait and I had a slice while the ganache was still melted.  The cake tasted far better once the ganache had set, but it’s your call.

When you can tap the top of the log and it has set properly, it’s time to dig in.  My advice?  Cut a beautifully thick slice and let your cares float away!  Let me know what you think…