Wednesday, December 15, 2010

#3 Bake Holiday Treats

For some people their favorites desserts involve dense layers of chocolate or mile-high cheesecakes. For me it's all about the baklava. In college I worked at a Middle-Eastern coffee shop and fell hard for the stuff. I would treat myself to a piece every Sunday after my evening shift finished. I usually ate it on my walk home or with a cup of coffee while writing papers late into the night.

I've never attempted to make my own but I thought this year I'd give it a go. I wanted to find a recipe that would get me results similar to the baklava I enjoyed every Sunday. I can say that this recipe certainly delivers. My only quibble is that the nut layers overpowered the pastry layers. When I make it again, I will reduce this amount from 1 1/2 cups to considerably less.

And while this might not be a typical holiday treat, I think it will become a holiday tradition in our house. It's not difficult to make, but it's best to have an extra set of hands helping you out as you build the layers. If you ask me, it's the perfect holiday activity for a cold December day with Nat King Cole crooning in the background. This baklava only improved with time (not that it stuck around for very long).

This recipe makes a LOT of baklava so you'll have plenty to share with friends and family. Enjoy!


Adapted from Gourmet

For syrup
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup water
1 lemon, halved
1 orange, halved
1 1/2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
2/3 cup honey (get some good local honey if you can snag some)

For baklava
3 1/4 cups whole almonds with skins (1 lb), finely chopped
2 1/3 cups walnuts (1/2 lb), finely chopped
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 (1-lb) package phyllo dough (17 by 12 inches; about 28 sheets), thawed if frozen

Make syrup:
Combine sugar and water in a 2 1/2- to 3-quart saucepan. Squeeze juice from lemon and orange into sugar mixture. Add fruit halves and cinnamon sticks. Bring mixture to a boil over moderate heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved, then simmer 10 minutes. Stir in honey and return to a boil. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Pour through a sieve into a large measuring cup or bowl, pressing hard on, then discarding, solids. Chill, uncovered, until cold, about 1 hour.

Assemble and bake baklava:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.

Whisk together almonds, walnuts, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt until combined well.

Generously brush a 13- by 9- by 2-inch glass baking dish with melted butter. Halve phyllo sheets crosswise and stack sheets. Keep stack covered with 2 overlapping sheets of plastic wrap and then a dampened clean kitchen towel. Lay 2 sheets of phyllo in bottom of baking dish and brush top sheet generously with butter. Continue to layer 2 sheets at a time, staggering sheets in each double layer slightly to cover bottom of dish, then brushing every second sheet generously with butter, until you have used 10 sheets of phyllo total. After brushing top layer of phyllo with butter, spread a rounded 1 1/2 cups* of nut mixture over it. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons butter.

Repeat layering 3 more times. Top with 10 more sheets of phyllo. (You will use 50 sheets of phyllo total.) Butter top and let baklava stand at room temperature to harden slightly (to facilitate cutting), 10 to 15 minutes.

Using a sharp knife, cut baklava into 16 equal rectangles, then cut each piece in half diagonally. (Be sure to cut all the way through.)

Bake baklava until golden, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Transfer dish to a rack to cool, then slowly pour cold syrup around edges of hot baklava, in between all cuts, and over top. Let stand at room temperature at least 8 hours. (Cover once baklava is at room temperature.) Do not chill.

*I felt there was too much filling in each layer. I would reduce this to 3/4 cup or 1 cup.

Cooks' notes:
• Syrup can be made up to 5 days ahead and chilled, covered.
• Baklava keeps in an airtight container up to 2 weeks.


Liza said...

What a beautiful picture! I love baklava, but would have probably never considered trying it myself. I love that your pictures inspire me to believe that my mediocre skills might possibly be able to pull something like this off.

Myndi said...

You should totally give this recipe a try! It's way easier than it looks!