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.
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!
12 sheets filo pastry
600g caster sugar
250g butter (melted)
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!)