I made baklava last week. In case you do not know what this is, it is layers of phyllo dough, buttered and layered with chopped walnuts, honey and cinnamon. In case you do not know phyllo is impossibly thin sheets of pastry dough (you can read a book through them) that is often used in making strudel and other pastries.
I bought the phyllo on sale, intending to make a pastille (a Moroccan dish of chicken and phyllo layered with spices and dusted with powdered sugar). But the leftover chicken I had intended to use became Bill's supper one night so I had to find another use for the phyllo. I decided on apple strudel.
I have a friend who makes apple strudel from scratch, including the dough. This involves much resting and rolling and stretching of the dough to get it thin enough. It also requires much patience as the process is long and tedious and the dough is practically guaranteed to tear. Since I already had the phyllo I decided to go ahead with that. I diced apples and tossed them with cinnamon and sugar, layered the phyllo dough (which also requires patience that I do not have) and rolled up a pair of lumpy, crooked strudels. No matter, I baked them and they tasted just fine. The only problem was I still had half a box of phyllo left over.
I considered other dishes and perused my cookbooks but baklava seemed to be the most likely suspect. I coerced Bill into cracking all the walnuts we had in the house and chopping them coarsely. I based my recipe on two different versions from two different books, one proclaiming to be a prize winner. As I made the baklava I remembered the last and only time I had made it before.
When I was in sixth grade I found a recipe for baklava in a girls' magazine. Not knowing what it was I asked my mom who told me I would love it and we would make some. To my knowledge this is the only time I cooked with my mom, a possible exception being a time I baked (burned) a batch of cookies. Mom bought the phyllo, we layered it with butter and cinnamon, walnuts and honey and baked it.
At that age I had never been taken to a Greek restaurant. The wonders of braised lamb and roasted potatoes, Greek salad, flaming cheese and baklava were unknown to me. I agreed the baklava was delicious. For an unknown reason we never repeated the experience.
I layered and baked and thought of mom. I called brothers and sisters to chat about mom, about baking with her, about baklava and about anything else that came to mind. It felt good to connect with them by phone, and with mom by baklava. In case you want the experience, here is a fairly easy recipe for baklava. Warning: working with phyllo dough is a thankless task. It is temperamental and fussy. Maybe you know somebody like that?
I made a half recipe but here is the full recipe. Makes a 9 x 13 pan full, or 30 pieces.
4 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 package (1 lb.) frozen phyllo dough
2 - 3 sticks of butter, melted
cinnamon & sugar
pinch of ground clove or nutmeg, (optional)
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups water
juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup honey
orange flower water (optional)
Thaw phyllo according to package instructions. Toss walnuts with 2 tsp. sugar and 2 tbsp cinnamon.
Divide phyllo dough sheets into five equal portions. layer one portion in a greased 9 x 13 inch baking dish, spreading the layers to cover, if necessary. Top with 1/4 of the nut mixture. Repeat layers until there are 4 layers of phyllo and nuts. Top with the final layer of phyllo. Tuck in the edges of the phyllo and cut the baklava into squares or diamonds with a sharp knife. You should get 30 pieces depending on size.
Melt butter and pour over the baklava, making sure the entire surface is covered with butter. You can insert a knife around the edge of the pan to make sure melted butter flows down between all edges. (I used rather less butter than called for and thought it was almost too much). Sprinkle a bit of cinnamon over the top, if desired, and bake in a 350 f. oven about 35 - 45 minutes until very brown.
Meanwhile, bring sugar and water to a boil and simmer about 10 minutes. Add honey and lemon juice and simmer 5 minutes more. Add orange water (optional). Pour the syrup evenly over the partially cooled baklava. Serve at room temperature (or slightly warm if you cannot wait that long). Bill suggested serving with a spoonful of Greek style yogurt.
Quotable quotes; in the category You Ain't Never Had A Friend Like Me!
"How about a little more baklava?"
Robin Williams as the Genie in the Disney film "Aladdin"