Friday, September 4, 2009

Operation Baklava

The last few weeks have been busy busy. I've been getting back into the swing of things at school. No classes this semester (or ever again - thank goodness), but a lot of pre-dissertation hurdles to finish, and a lot of research and teaching assistant stuff.

Sadly, I haven't been doing much cooking or baking. But, last night Alfred and I (okay mostly Alfred) made a Persian themed dinner for a group of our wonderful friends (he made Shirazi salad and Tas Kabob - which I wrote about on here a few months ago). Dessert, as usual, was my domain, and it provided me with a much needed excuse to get back in the kitchen.

I wanted to make something that fit in with the Persian theme - the problem is I am not a huge fan of most Persian desserts, which include a lot of rice puddings and fried dough soaked in syrup. I love Persian raisin cookies, but that didn't seem like a nice enough dinner party dessert. So, I settled on baklava, which I have never made before - mostly because I was really intimidated by the recipe.

Persian baklava is a little different (and in my opinion better) than that from other countries. It is not just sweet, it is very flavorful - the nut mixture includes lots of spices, and the syrup includes rosewater. For those of you who have never had baklava it is essentially thin layers of dough (phyllo dough) filled with a mixture of finely chopped nuts. Once baked the dough is doused in a rich honey flavored syrup.

Because I was a little nervous about this one (and b/c I was kind of busy with other school stuff) I prepared as much as I could in advance. We were having dinner on Thursday. On Tuesday I prepared the syrup and I chopped the nuts and combined them with the spices. Then, the plan was to assemble the baklava and bake it on Wednesday so the syrup could soak in well overnight.
Everything was going great until I got to that last part - the part involving the dough. I bought frozen phyllo dough, and thawed it for two days in the fridge. I opened the box, cut open the dough - expecting to find thin sheets of perfect dough - instead I found a mass of shattered "stuff." My heart sank! The recipe says to lay a sheet of dough in the pan, brush it with melted butter, then repeat this over and over again - it was simply impossible with the mess of "what was once dough" on the counter in front of me. I decided to try to make the best of it, and it turned out ok - but I was too upset to try and take step by step photos. Here is the recipe - below it are links to two sites that go through the steps with pictures very well.

Persian Baklava:
11/2 C. Water
11/4 C. Sugar
1/4 C. Honey
Zest from 1 Lemon
2 T. Rose Water

Pastry and Filling:
1 Box thawed Phyllo Dough (find this in the frozen food section near the pie crust)
5 T. Melted Butter
11/2 C. Finely Chopped Nuts (Walnuts, Almonds and/or Pistachios)
2 t. Cinnamon
1t. Cardamom
1/2 t. Nutmeg
1/2 t. Cloves

Prepare syrup first - it must be cold when you pour it over the baked pastry.

To prepare the syrup combine all the ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat, let simmer for 10-15 minutes until slightly thickened and golden. Strain syrup into a heat proof container to remove lemon zest (you can keep the zest and let it cool on some wax paper - you will have candied zest). Cool on counter until room temperature, then refrigerate.

To prepare the filling combine the nuts and spices.

When you are ready to assemble and bake the baklava, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. The pastry (supposedly) fits best in a 10x13 inch pan (folded in half the dough should fit perfectly - see the blog links I posted below for a visual of this).
First, use a pastry brush (or a soft paint brush) to lightly coat the bottom of the pan with melted better.
Second, fold a sheet of phyllo dough in half and put it in the bottom of the pan (again, it should fit just right). Light brush the dough with butter. Repeat with 3 more phyllo sheets.
Third, Sprinkle 1/3 of the nut mixture over the dough. Cover nuts with another folded sheet of dough, brush with butter. Repeat this twice more until all the nuts are used.
Finish the baklava with 3 more folded, buttered sheets on the top.

Prior to baking the pastry, use a sharp knife to cut it into small squares, triangles or diamonds.

Bake the pastry for 30 minutes at 350 degrees, then reduce the temperature to 300 degrees and bake an additional 30 minutes. Remove the pastry from the oven and immediately pour the cold syrup evenly over the hot pastry.
Cool completely (preferably overnight) then enjoy. Best served with a cup of hot tea or coffee.

The following sites have great step by step instructions and photos:
P.S. The same night I made the baklava a baked a really yummy chicken pot pie for dinner - I didn't get any pics of it, but I plan on making and blogging about again soon, so stay tuned for that!

I am also very pleased to be including this recipe as part of this month's A Worldly Epicurean’s Delight (A.W.E.D.), which is focusing on Persian cuisine. This month's event is being hosted by Vanessa of Sweet Artichoke, so be sure to head over to her blog!

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