Baklava

April 4th, 2010

The Mediterranean cuisine has been popular all over the world for its delicious taste as well as for the healthy ingredients. The first known inhabitants of Greece were some people of the Stone Age around 7000 BC who came from the east. The Greeks arrived about 2000 BC from the north. Flour, honey, pastry and nuts have been the style of Greek food since fifth century BC as mentioned in the comedies of Aristophane the famous Greek philosopher. After the partition of the Roman Empire in AD 330, Greece became part of the Byzantine Empire based in Constantinople, which is now Istanbul. This lasted for more than eleven centuries. In 1453 the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople and Greece lived under Ottoman control for the next four hundred years. By the time Greece emerged as an independent nation again in 1830 their cuisine became Middle Eastern.

Greek desserts are typically very sweet with a lot of fat content. One of the most popular one is Baklava, a dessert made with phyllo pastry, nuts and sweets. Another variation of the Baklava is Sourota, which is a Baklava Roll. When I was in a Loreto School in Calcutta India, one of my classmates was called Athena and was originally from Greece. Her grandmother used to come from Greece every summer to visit her. I took a few notes while watching her make this dessert and I have worked on refining this recipe ever since. This is the sweet result.

Ingredients:

2 Cups Shelled unsalted Pecans

2 Cups Shelled unsalted Walnuts

2 Cups Shelled unsalted Pistachios

2 Cups Almonds without skin

1 Cup Brown Sugar

1 Cup Corn Syrup

1 Tsp. Ground Cinnamon

½ Tsp. Ground Cloves

½ Tsp. Ground Nutmeg

1 Tbs. Grated Orange Zest

2 Tbs. Brandy (Optional)

1 Lb. Phyllo pastry

16 oz. Unsalted Butter melted

Pre Heat oven to 325 degrees

In a food processor or grinder, first grind the nuts finely. Take a bowl and mix well the ground nuts, brown sugar, corn syrup, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, about quarter cup of the melted butter, orange zest and the brandy. This is the filling for the phyllo pastry.

Take about 2 Tbs. of the butter and grease the bottom of a 14 by 18 by 2 inches deep pan or casserole. If you have a smaller pan cut the phyllo pastry to fit the pan. Frozen phyllo pastry should be defrosted in the refrigerator and not over the counter because at room temperature the pastry sheets will stick to each other. Work with one sheet at a time and keep the rest covered with a damp cloth or plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out. Try to be fast while working with phyllo sheets and always pre heat your oven before you put your Baklava in.

Take eight sheets of phyllo one by one and brush both sides liberally with butter. Place them one on top of another in the pan. Put one thin layer of the nut mixture evenly on top of the eighth layer and press it down very lightly. Take three more phyllo sheets, butter each one on both sides and layer them on top of the nut mixture. Put another thin layer of nut mixture on the phyllo and continue layering about three sheets between each thin layer of nut mixture until you have used up the nuts. After you layer the last nut mixture put eight phyllo sheets buttered on both sides as a covering for the Baklava.

You may spread out and overlap sheets so that you cover the entire pan. If you have leftover nut mixture you can freeze it for future use. You can freeze unbaked Baklava and then thaw and bake it some other time.

With a very sharp knife score the top of the Baklava diagonally from upper left to lower right and from upper right to lower left to make little diamond shapes. This is the traditional shape for Baklava but any other shape is fine. Do not cut all the way through. Leave the bottom quarter inches of the Baklava uncut. Pour about three tablespoons of butter over the top of your Baklava and bake at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes or until golden but not brown in color.

The Syrup

1 Cup Sugar

1 Cup Honey

1 Tbs. Grated Lemon Zest

2 Tbs. Lemon Juice

1 Stick Cinnamon

1 Cup Water

Boil the syrup ingredients for about 20 minutes or until it thickens up like syrup.

After you take the Baklava out of the oven, pour the hot syrup carefully over the top and let it sit for at least five hours or overnight. It will be very easy to separate the Baklava into the diamond shapes before you serve. Enjoy!

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