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!)

Cherry chipotle pulled pork rolls.

“You’re gonna cook pork in Cherry Coke?”, my brother exclaimed.  “Why would you do that?”  Well, my little well-meaning bro, because it’s gonna taste great!  As you may have gathered, I’m a big brisket fan and I get quite excited at the prospect of cooking large pieces of meat over long periods of time.  I usually build up to these moments.  I’ll spend a few weeks just cooking regular meals and pottering around with sauces, cakes, bread and other recipes.  Then, I begin to get an idea in my head about the next slow-cooked meat dish and I think through all of the details and ingredients.  When it’s all clear in my head, I set a date, and that, my friends, is when I know that I won’t rest until that dish is cooked.  Today is that day.

When my dear brother comes round to visit (and therefore, to eat), I cook meat.  G is a big food fan, but has a special place in his stomach for meat.  He keeps his emotions well hidden for the most part, but meat can move him.  I’ve been planning to make some pulled pork and when I had a look online, I saw what could be the most comforting pulled pork recipe ever.  It won’t surprise you to learn that it came from The Pioneer Woman.  Being a southern girl, her recipe calls for Dr. Pepper, but I’ve always been a Cherry Coke kinda fella.  I figured that a good glug of Cherry Cola would be just the ticket for a big shoulder of pork.

So then, got my three-month old boy in his car seat, windows down and we drove over the hill towards the butcher’s with The Goonies chase theme playing just loud enough that he could sleep and daddy could feel giddy.  I got 1.5kg of pork, a bottle of Cherry Coke and hopped back in the car with a huge grin on my face.  Back home, it was less than five minutes before a lot of pork and plenty of flavour was in the oven for the long haul.

Once it was done, I decided to use it in a rather unexpected way.  I made little filo rolls!  I reckon these could be made in miniature and served as a starter.

So with a nod to The Pioneer Woman, I present one of the tastiest ways to enjoy pork shoulder.  I have a feeling that I’ll be posting another recipe or two this week using the pulled pork, unless I eat it all in one night, that is!

Cherry chipotle pulled pork rolls (pulled pork adapted from The Pioneer Woman)

1.5kg pork shoulder

500ml Cherry Coke

2 onions (quartered)

200g chipotles in adobo sauce

filo pastry

melted butter

salt

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The meat needs to cook for six hours, so start early!  Spread the onions on the bottom of a casserole and place the meat on top.  Rub plenty of salt onto the pork and then pour the chipotles over it.  Rub the sauce over the pork with the back of a spoon and then tip all of the Cherry Coke over it.  That bad boy is ready for the oven; 150 degrees Celsius for six hours.  It’s a good idea to turn the meat every hour or so to let all of that flavourful loveliness get into it.

When the pork is done, remove it from the gravy and use two forks to shred the soft meat.  Put all of the meat back in gravy and mix well.  I found that there was enough meat to soak up the gravy and my butcher had trimmed most of the fat of the pork.  This meant that I didn’t have to skim off excess fat from the gravy.  You may have to, depending on how fatty the cut of meat is.

Obviously, it’s gonna be hard to resist eating some of the pork, but once you’ve done that, move onto preparing the rolls.  Place a sheet of filo on a dry work top and gently score down the middle using a plastic spatula.  This will create two lengths that you can roll up.  Brush melted butter over the entire piece of filo and then spoon a generous amount of the pork at one end of the pastry.  Begin to roll the pastry up and gently tuck in the sides as you go.  Place the rolls gently onto a baking tray lined with baking paper and brush with more melted butter.  Cook them for thirty minutes at 190 degrees Celsius on the middle shelf until golden.

It’s up to you how many you make.  With 1.5kg of boneless pork shoulder, you could make one heck of a lot!  I made six good-sized rolls with a generous amount of pork inside.  That’s because I’ve got plans for the remaining pulled pork and filo pastry.  I served the rolls with a little salad and a cool dollop of mayo.  My word, I was a happy lad.  Don’t worry, I saved a few for my little brother.  He ain’t heavy…but a he will be after a few of these beauties!