For the last few weeks we have been wandering through the Middle East. Last week we sweetened up with a honey cake. I had thought at that time of including baklava, that tooth achingly sweet confection, which comes from…? Larousse Gastronomique describes it as a Middle Eastern creation: it seems to have been present throughout the domain of the former Ottoman Empire: and its true origin seems to be yet another thread in the eternal dispute between Greece and Turkey. But the main reason that baklava didn’t feature last week is that many recipes don’t use honey. This blogging malarkey isn’t easy.
A few words about ingredients and equipment. You will need a shallow tin about 40 x 25cm. Be careful when buying your filo. You will need a dozen sheets the size of your pan. Jusrol produce 270g packs with 7 sheets in each. Different supermarkets sell filo in different pack sizes. On the nut front, no need to buy more expensive walnut halves, as you are going to blitz them anyway. If you don’t like walnuts you can use pistachios only. It is probably worthwhile making the sugar syrup first, as it must be cool before you use it to cover and soak the finished baklava. You will need a sharp knife to cut the shapes, but a pizza wheel might be useful.
150 – 200 g melted unsalted butter (you may need more); 2 x 270g packets of ready made filo pastry (see above); 150g walnut pieces (see above); 150g shelled unsalted pistachios; 250g caster sugar (or 150g sugar and 100ml honey); 250g water; 1 level tsp ground cinnamon; ½ tsp ground cardamom; ½ tsp ground cloves; 15ml rose water (optional).
Preheat your oven to 180°C/Mark 4. Lightly grease the tin. Prepare the filling. In a food processor on pulse mode, separately blitz the walnuts then the pistachios. Make sure your mixture still has a slightly coarse texture and isn’t reduced to the consistency of breadcrumbs. Put the nuts in a bowl and mix with the spices, and rosewater if using. Carefully unroll the pastry and check the sizing is correct. (You can cut into sections if need be.) If you’re not ready to use it immediately, cover it with a damp dishtowel to prevent cracking.
Layer the first four sheets of filo in the tin, brushing each one with melted butter. After the first four, spread over half of the nut mixture and repeat the process with another four sheets of filo, buttering as before. Add the other half of the nut mixture and top with another four layers of pastry, each one buttered, especially the top layer.
You must cut this into shapes before cooking. Squares or diamonds are traditional. Use a very sharp knife and make sure you are cutting right through to the base, otherwise you will have an unhappy time later. It makes it easier for the syrup to permeate at the next stage: some suggest leaving the last layer of butter until after the slicing.
Bake for 30 – 35 minutes in the middle of the oven, until golden brown. Keep an eye on it. If it seems to be browning too quickly, turn the oven down to 170°C/Mark 3.
Make a sugar syrup by putting the sugar/honey and water in a pan and heating gently until the sugar dissolves. (If you try to melt sugar too quickly you will end up with crystals.) Once the sugar and the honey have melted, bring to the boil for a few minutes, then leave to cool.
Remove the baklava from the oven and pour or spoon half of the syrup evenly all over. Leave for 5 minutes then pour on the remainder. Allow the whole trayful to cool before removing the slices and serving.