June Daring Bakers–Baklava!

 

Does it ever seem that when one learns something new, suddenly this new knowledge is everywhere, being mentioned by friends, being offered randomly by strangers, showing up as one browses online?  This is how it always seems to play out in my life and when it does,  I am left wondering what I had missed before.  Or I ponder, is it not that I had never noticed, but by some happy circumstance I was meant to learn about this, at just this time?

I am speaking of course, of baklava.

Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava.

While I have been familiar with Baklava for years, arising out of my previous obsession with all things in the Greek kitchen.  A few years back I fell in love with feta cheese, tomatoes, olives, spanakopita, tzatziki, hummous, Greek salad, lemons, parsley, honey, fruits, and phyllo-lined pastries.  My friends even surprised me with a Greek-themed 21st birthday party–togas included.

When I was on study abroad, I took tons of pictures of Greek pastries at all the farmers markets.

Not only was I surprised to learn how to make phyllo from the daring bakers this month, but I was further offered a sampling of Turkish baklava at one of the foodcarts in Portland, when I was up visiting for a work meeting.  I had a really nice conversation with the lovely man about the differences between Turkish and Greek baklava; a difference I was previously unaware of.  And I’ve been inspired by one of the greatest little blogs, Roost.  In the headlines this past week too, I have seen over and over Greece and Turkey, both making news for separate issues.

Needless to say, despite this overwhelming support for my baklava endeavors, my first attempt at making phyllo didn’t turn out as nice as all the wonderful examples I’ve seen at the markets.  Rolling out the dough was a wonderful experience; you never can make the phyllo quite as thin as the store-bought dough, which is machine cut.  Instead of making layer upon layer of dough, five or so sheets per layer works adequately.  Although my baklava looks undercooked, it certainly did not taste that way.  On the contrary, the Turkish baklava I tried at the foodcart was much darker, but far too crispy for my taste.

The real opportunity I found, was in trying a couple of different versions of pastry filling from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, a cookbook I’ve had for a while and never seem to be able to decide on what to make.  I made a date-paste filling and a more traditional, albeit heavily-spiced, filling with walnuts, almonds, cashews, and honey.  Additionally, I made the traditional Middle Eastern sugar syrup, Atr, poured over the top of the baklava.  This is a real treasure, as it uses orange blossom water, (which does indeed smell like flowers).

On a side-note, using this cookbook, which isn’t really Greek but does include notes about variations between countries, and having dicussions at the Turkish cart, has led me to be slightly confused about the differences between Greek, Turkish, and other Middle Eastern versions of this lovely pastry.  I feel it’s safe to say that the version I made was a combination of all three.

Phyllo Dough
1 1/3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 cup less 1 Tbs. water, plus more as needed
2 Tbs. vegetable oil, plus more for coating the dough
1/2 tsp. vinegar
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine flour and salt.
  • In a small liquid measuring cup, combine water, oil and vinegar.
  • Add liquids to flour mixture, and mix until a soft dough forms.  Add more water if the dough appears to dry.
  • Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for approximately 20 minutes.  Pick up the dough and throw it down on the table a few times during the kneading process.
  • Once done, shape the dough into a ball and roll lightly with oil.  Wrap the ball tightly with plastic wrap, and let rest for about two hours.
  • Unwrap the dough and cut off a chuck that is slightly larger than a golf ball.  Roll out on a heavily floured surface, until it is as thin as you can possibly get it.  Keep the remaining dough covered, to prevent drying out, while you are rolling.
  • Once the dough is as thin as you can roll it, pick it up and stretch it like a pizza dough.  This will allow it to get a little thinner.  Set aside and continue to roll out all remaining dough into these thin pieces.

 
Syrup (Atr)
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup + 2 Tbs. water
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. orange blossom water
  • Bring sugar, water, and lemon juice to boil in a small saucepan.  The lemon juice will prevent the syrup from crystallizing when it gets cold.
  • Once boiling, lower the heat and simmer gently for eight to ten minutes.  Beware not to cook the syrup too long (it will appear much thinner when hot, than when it cools), or it will set much like a hard candy!
  • Stir in the orange blossom water and simmer for a minute or so more.
  • Allow to cool, then chill in the fridge until ready to use.
 
Nut Filling
1 oz. walnuts
1 oz. almonds
1/2 oz. cashews
1 1/2 Tbs. honey
3/4 tsp. vanilla
3/4 tsp. lemon juice
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
  • Combine nuts, honey, vanilla, lemon juice and spices in a food processor and and pulse until finely chopped.
 
Date Filling
3 oz. dates
About 1/2 cup water
  • Cut the dates up into small pieces.
  • Put them in a small saucepan with the water over low heat.
  • Cook, stirring, until they turn to a soft paste.
  • Once they are thick to your taste, remove from heat.
 Preparing the Baklava:
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Trim your phyllo sheets to fit your pan.  (I used a 9 x 5 bread pan, which was the perfect size for the amount of phyllo dough). You can best trim the phyllo by laying it all together and using a pizza wheel.
  • Pour out some olive oil into a small bowl, and using a pastry brush, lightly coat the bottom of the pan.  Lay down your first layer of phyllo.  Brush lightly with oil, and lay down four more layers, oiling after each. Sprinkle 1/3 of the nut mixture and date mixture on top.  (Half of my pan was the nut mixture and half was date).
  • Continue layering and oiling four more times.  Repeat with the date and nut mixture, using 1/3.
  • Continue layering and oiling four more times.  Repeat with the last 1/3 of the date and nut mixture.
  • Lay down five more layers of phyllo.
  • With a sharp knife cut your layers of phyllo into your desires shapes.  Opt for smaller pieces, as this is a very rich dessert.
  • Brush top of phyllo with one last layer of oil.
  • Bake for 30 minutes; remove from oven, and cut pieces again.
  • Continue baking for 30 more minutes (this is where I fouled, by not baking again.  The result is a lighter color, but it’s certainly not undercooked at this point).
  • When top is baked to your desired golden consistency, remove from the oven.  Immediately pour the cooled syrup over the top.  This will look like a lot but it will all soak in.
  • Cover dish and allow to sit for several hours or overnight.
  • The next day all the syrup will be absorbed, you can remove the baklava from the pan, and dig in!
 
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